Health & Wellness Articles

Become Your Own Best Motivator

Take this Quiz, Never Lose Your Motivation Again!

There are several kinds of motivation problems that people run into, and each requires a different set of strategies. Let's start here with a little quiz to find out which motivational problems you might be dealing with.

Get out a small piece of paper to mark your answers to the following five questions. Respond to each statement with "True" if you think it applies to you more often than not or "False" if you think it doesn’t apply most of the time. Next, indicate on a scale of 1-10, how big of a role you think the statement plays in your motivation problems. If you think it plays almost no role, give it a one. If you think it is by far the most important factor in your motivation problems, give it a 10.

1. True or False: My motivation seems to depend on what the scale (or tape measure, fit of my clothes, etc.) says. I feel motivated when I see results, but unmotivated when I don’t. SCORE (1-10): _____

2. True or False: I feel like I am in a constant battle with myself. In my “normal” state, I want to eat whatever I like, whenever I want it, and/or my body just naturally gravitates towards the couch. It’s very hard to make myself do what I know I need to do. SCORE (1-10): _____

3. True or False: I really want to eat healthy and exercise most of the time, but I just can’t seem to resist the temptations that I run into most days. SCORE (1-10): _____

4. True or False: I think I would do much better if I had more control over my life and my time. There are just so many demands on me that I can’t fit exercise and healthy meals into my day as often as I want to. SCORE (1-10): _____

5. True or False: I do well for a few hours (or days or weeks), but then I have a bad time and things really go downhill. All I see is what I did wrong, not all the things I did well. I get flooded with negative feelings, and just want to give up. SCORE (1-10): _____

Interpret Your Results: Identifying Problems & Solutions

If you marked this statement True, and gave it a high score (5+), you are relying too much on external (extrinsic) forms of motivation and need to work on developing your internal (intrinsic) motivation.

There is nothing at all wrong with extrinsic motivation—we all need to see some concrete, measurable progress towards equally concrete and measurable goals. But, since these external results are so fickle and unpredictable when it comes to weight loss, you also need some internal motivation to keep you going when the scale (or your body) isn’t cooperating with your expectations. Here’s a simple exercise you can do to find out which sources of internal motivation might work best for you:

Imagine you live on a planet where scales and mirrors have never existed, where everyone wears one-size-fits-all unisex robes that effectively disguise their actual physical appearances. There are no standard height and weight charts, and your doctor has never heard of the Body Mass Index or waist-to-hip ratios. How will you decide whether your body is the way you want it to be? If you decide some changes are necessary, how will you know whether you are making progress towards those changes?

For example, ask yourself how you’re handling everyday tasks, like squatting down to pick something up, getting up from a chair, or working on your feet all day. If you’re carrying some extra weight, it may begin to affect your performance or comfort level when doing these activities. To make things easier, you may decide to reduce your calorie intake to get back down to a manageable size and building strength to make moving easier. Set a concrete, measurable goal that will make you feel better—like getting up out of the chair without using your arms—and set up an exercise program that will strengthen your muscles and improve your endurance. Keep track of your progress by noticing changes in your ability to handle your daily activities.

Use the same approach if your physical condition is causing problems with your moods or energy levels. Remember when you felt mostly good and ask yourself what you did to feel that way (not what your weight may have been). Start doing more of what you did then, as best you can, and experiment with different exercises and foods until you come up with options that help you feel the way you want to.

You get the basic idea here: weight is not the real problem, and losing weight is not the real solution. The problem is how you feel and what you can do. The solution is doing things that make you feel better (physically and mentally) and improve your functional abilities. To find out what those things are, you need to look inside yourself and observe what happens when you try different things.

Once you have some ideas along these lines, try to turn them into specific goals and measurable outcomes you can incorporate into your SparkPeople program.

If you answered True to this statement and gave it a high score (5+), you may have some inaccurate assumptions about what motivation means and feels like.

Many people seem to think that "being motivated" means not having to struggle with opposing desires. Not so. It is our nature as human beings to pursue both the gratification of our senses (eating what we like when we want it) and the psychological gratification of achieving meaningful but more abstract goals (being healthy, fit or attractive).

Judging one of these pursuits as superior to the other is to deny half of what and who you are, and set yourself up for endless inner conflict and turmoil—not exactly the stuff motivation is made of, right?

Your motivation will be much stronger and consistent when you focus on making conscious choices about what you can do consistently to meet all of your needs and desires.

A True response to either or both of these questions and a high score (5+) indicate that you may be assuming that your behavior is dictated by external factors (the needs of other people or the “appeal” of tasty foods), rather than by internal factors (your own values and decision-making processes). It is very difficult, if not impossible, to stay motivated when you believe you have little choice about what to do or how to manage your own feelings and desires.

One thing you can do to begin transforming these assumptions about who or what is controlling your behavior and choices, is to put the "I" back into your vocabulary. Take a closer look at how you define problems and situations in words. When you start using "I" statements to describe problems, as suggested there, you will automatically reprogram your mind to look for ways you can put yourself in control of what you think, feel, and do.

If you answered True to this and gave it a high score (5+), you probably struggle with some strong either/or and all-or-nothing thought patterns, as well as an overdose of perfectionism. These habits are real motivation-killers. The emotional upset they cause when things inevitably don’t go perfectly makes it impossible to stay focused on what really matters: what you can learn from your slip-ups to do better next time.

Unfortunately, just telling yourself to stop being such a perfectionist and to start thinking in both/and terms rarely solves this problem. You need to learn more about how this problem develops and how to effectively break the cycle of pessimism and self-defeat. See The Challenges of Maintaining a Healthy Weight - Part 2 for more help.

For a more detailed look at these issues, read:
Mastering the Mysteries of Motivation - Part 1
Mastering the Mysteries of Motivation - Part 2

This article is Step 5 in SparkPeople's Mind Over Body series, a 10-step program to ending emotional eating and creating a permanent healthy lifestyle. View the full series here or continue to the next step.

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Member Comments

    This article was very helpful with me learning how to stay on take with my motivation to lose weight. I have a lot to work on to meet my goal. I think and feel more positive about my weight loss and stop letting little setbacks and negative thoughts take over my goal of losing weight.
  • HILLSLUG98239
    My only "True" was Question 3, and I scored it as a 10. But I completely disagree with the idea that this has anything to do with external factors: it's very internally-driven
    . I LOVE food. I can workout for hours, and then blow it all by giving in to the urge to have that second cookie. I can always justify a treat, and I almost always kick myself for doing it.

    I'm not sobbing, though: this is just a part of my quirky personality. And I'm the first person to light up my social media statuses whenever I stretch my will power and fight off the cookie monster.
  • PLIDC1
    I love Coach Dean for saying this! "Imagine you live on a planet where scales and mirrors have never existed, where everyone wears one-size-fits-all unisex robes that effectively disguise their actual physical appearances. There are no standard height and weight charts, and your doctor has never heard of the Body Mass Index or waist-to-hip ratios. How will you decide whether your body is the way you want it to be? If you decide some changes are necessary, how will you know whether you are making progress towards those changes?"
  • This is a truly excellent article. I particularly appreciate the explanation that it is not weight loss or a certain size that matters. It's how we feel! That should be motivation enough. I know I feel better now that I am healthier. I aspire to be even healthier!
    I scored very high in all of these. These points were very clarifying for me, though. It's a different approach about motivation than what I usually read, and it really hit home.

    I've written a short list for each point to post on my bathroom mirror (I'll try to remember to change locations of the list so I don't end up "not seeing it" after a while)

    What it comes down to, is it's all a matter of slowing down and thinking about the choices we make.
  • This article really helped me put things into perspective. I am pretty motivated and do quite well most of the time but sometimes I think that I want to eat whatever I want...lately I have been thinking about a Big Mac value meal, which probably doesn't even taste good...for medical reasons I can't have the Coke or bread so this probably isn't an option anyway, but I was worrying about not being able to eat what I want whenever I I guess it is okay to think this way at is just part of human nature, and we just have to make choices to get us through these times. And if we for some reason make choices that we do not like in the end, then we pick ourselves up and move on.
  • My results were quite bad, I scored 'True' with 5+ marks in every question. But this article is so helpful I have printed it to keep it away and read it again and again. I have realized that I need to work on my motivation and this is a good starting point.
  • Great Article! Very helpful
  • Yes a very good article and one that I think is going to be the one that gets me on the right track.
  • Yikes, I answered True to all the questions. The funny part is I already knew this stuff about myself it is just very difficult to change. But I keep trying and there were some great strategies in the article to work with.
  • Powerful article, thank you so much. I have been on Sparkpeople for a while - but this is the best and most appropriate article I have read, it may change my life!!!!
  • Great article, it did help me understand some of the motivational issues. My main problem is I really enjoy being on the computer and have trouble getting away, then when I do there is always pet stuff to do. But I'm going to start making a mile walk to the store and back.
  • Oh la, I've scored close to 10 on each and every question.
  • Great article and quiz. I am also encouraged by the fact that I think I'm finally getting it! My "10" is number two and one of the big differences between this time and all the other times I've lost weight is that I'm trying really hard not to deprive myself. I realize that I can't be successful long term unless I meet ALL my needs and desires...includi
    ng those for yummy and not always healthy foods!

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.

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