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Motivation Articles  ›  Staying Motivated

The Before-During-After Journal

The Write Way to Build Your Intrinsic Motivation

-- By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert

The Before-During-After Journal
You already know how important it is to track your calorie intake and output in order to lose weight. The same thing is true about your responses to exercise and eating.

For most people, it's easy to notice your negative responses when things don’t go as planned. In fact, it's even easier to get so caught up in these negative thoughts that they seem to sap the motivation right out of you. When this happens, you aren't literally losing your motivation—you're simply running into the natural limitations of extrinsic motivation. You haven’t figured out how to shift into “intrinsic motivation mode” as needed.

Making this shift requires the ability to notice your positive responses to exercise and eating, and to give them the same significance you give to your negative responses. This may take a little practice, starting with the Before-During-After Journal.

To create your own Before-During-After (BDA) journal, all you need is a simple journal (online or on paper) and a few minutes to write before and after you eat and exercise. Here’s how to do it:
  1. Before: Whenever you don't want to exercise or stick to your meal plan, stop and write down how you’re feeling in your BDA journal. This can be very short and simple—just a note about how you are feeling or what you’re thinking about, without analyzing it. Record whether you are tired, bored, angry, upset or worried about something, etc.
     
  2. During: Go ahead and do whatever you decide to do—exercise or don't, stick to your meal plan or don't, etc. Pay attention to how you feel about your decision and your actions. Did the decision make you feel better or worse? Did your decision help solve the original problem, make it worse, or have no effect? Write down the decision you made and a brief note about how you felt while you were doing whatever you decided to do. Again, short and sweet is fine—don’t try to psychoanalyze yourself or read yourself the riot act if your choice wasn’t the one you hoped for. Just make sure that when you DO decide to exercise or with stick to your meal plan, you make sure to put this in your BDA journal, too.
     
  3. After: At the end of the day, sit down with your BDA journal for a little while and go through your notes. What patterns do you see, in terms of what seems to help and what doesn’t? What lessons can you take from this and use tomorrow, or the next time a problem comes up?
Chances are, you’ll notice that you feel better when you stick to your goals and plans, and that the short-lived pleasures of eating that treat or skipping your exercise session are quickly replaced by feelings of guilt and frustration. You’ll also spot some consistent patterns that can be altered with small changes in your daily routine, like doing your exercise as soon as you get home from work instead of waiting until after dinner. These small changes can help you tap into your internal motivation.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • This is a great article that really got me thinking. I have lost 40 pounds, but keeping it off and continuing my healthy lifestyle journey has been a real struggle. I think this may be the impetus I need to start journaling. - 11/16/2013 8:43:19 AM
  • BAMAJAM
    Thank you, Dean Anderson, for this wonderful infomation---- Many can benefit from all this advice-- and I am truly appreciative! - 2/13/2013 1:10:09 PM
  • Great I am going to do this.Even when I was in school writing things down helped me do better. My motivation can always use a boost. - 10/3/2012 8:42:20 AM
  • I had previously read your article on " 4 Steps to Lasting Behavioral Change" and it lead me to this article. Both are excellent...I didn't know how to say it, but I needed that "internal" self awareness and self monitoring you describe. Starting a journal today to do just that! Thanks a million!!!!! - 6/13/2012 10:51:37 AM
  • So weird that I found this on the motivation page today because I started a journal this morning. I felt that I needed to write how I was feeling about my plateau and the stress I'm feeling from other things, and how they were compounding. This is a great suggestion, I'll incorporate it in! - 5/24/2012 12:33:02 PM
  • BUTTONS241
    Just what I needed. Well written. - 1/16/2012 11:50:39 AM
  • Been procrastinating getting my journal. NOT ANY MORE! Going out today to get a new small moleskin book with graphic pages and elastic closure band. Perfect for purse. I know this will work. - 12/11/2011 11:10:26 AM
  • This article is what I need right now. I am struggling with depression so cataloging what I feel about my own motivations will help me in the long run, I hope. - 5/10/2011 10:17:15 AM
  • I'm so "on this page" today! Thanks for your practical comments & for pointing in a useful direction to apply & make POSITIVE changes! - 11/15/2010 3:18:39 PM
  • Excellent article. I believe the mind is very powerful. If you continually say that you will NEVER lose the weight, I believe that you will not. Also his statement "find what works best for you" is great. - 11/2/2010 11:46:37 AM
  • Coach Dean, what did you do, crawl inside my ear and have a look inside my brain when I was napping?! How do you DO that??? Reckon I'll have to give this a try to shut the Dragon Lady up for good... :) - 5/12/2010 5:54:52 PM
  • This is an awesome article.....have kept journals however not been journalling lately....this has morivated me to re-start again so that I can be aware when the negative creeps in and do something about it so that it doesn't get a hold and pull me backwards..... - 5/11/2010 5:49:08 AM
  • Coach, this is perfect! I have the extrinsic because I need to keep my job, but intrinsic is my struggle. I am going to grab this and start tonight! - 3/6/2010 7:34:54 PM
  • This makes a whole lot of sense. I'm starting right now! - 3/1/2010 8:52:08 PM
  • KWESELY
    Thanks, Coach Dean. This article is perfect for me, and I'm adding it to my favorites. - 9/16/2009 3:45:18 PM