Why motivation is not enough

Every workplace has them.  The colleagues who breeze into the office after a morning gym session, getting out their Tupperware of homemade overnight oats, fresh and ready to start the day before you’ve even taken a sip of coffee.  ‘That takes some dedication’ you think. ‘How do they have so much motivation to keep that up’.

In fact, it’s likely you have about the same amount of motivation as an elite athlete, or CEO of a multimillion-pound company. So, if it’s not motivation that determines whether you succeed in your goals or not, then what is it?

Motivation is fleeting

What is motivation? It’s not much more than a desire to do something. An emotion. And emotions are difficult to hold onto for very long.  It’s asking a lot if you must rely on feeling motivated each time to propel yourself into action.

Like will power, motivation can be seen as a finite resource which costs the brain energy.  Every time you make decisions or resist temptation throughout the day it gradually depletes.  When you look at it this way, it becomes obvious why people often start a new regime successfully on a Monday morning, but by Friday, or even the same evening it’s long forgotten.

The life span of being motivated is short, so inevitably you will falter. It’s a valuable resource for short term goals, but unfortunately getting fit and healthy takes longer than a couple of days.

The underestimated power of habit

Habits are so powerful because they happen so often.  They account for 40 percent of our daily behaviours.  That’s a powerful statistic.  How would your life be impacted if nearly half of your behaviours were different?

Most of us already have a daily routine.  These actions don’t rely on emotion or strategic thinking. You don’t need to summon up all your passion to comb your hair or work out the logistics before brushing your teeth!

They’re automatic and don’t tax the brain too much.

Now imagine if you could put your healthy behaviours on autopilot? How easy would that be to keep up all your good intentions.

Changing old habits

Becoming aware of your current habits is a good place to start before changing your behaviour. Once you do this you can insert minor changes to create a different outcome.

Write down what you do each day in as much detail as possible.  For example, every day at 11am you have a cup of tea and a biscuit.

A good way to change this habit is to first identify the reminder, routine and reward.  What are you feeling at that time? Are you hungry? Are you bored? Are you tired and need a sugar hit? It is this trigger which then dictates your action. Next, consider what you are rewarded with in this context? Is it the biscuit itself, or just the getting away from your desk?

Once you’ve identified your trigger and reward you can then experiment with various tactics to change the routine.  If your trigger is hunger, bring in a healthier alternative such as a piece of fruit instead.  If it’s boredom, maybe just going for a quick walk would do the trick? Either way you are still rewarded with feeling full, or with a change of scenery.  This reward will further reinforce the positive behavioural change, and eventually will become routine and effortless.

Setting up your environment for success

To create a new habit, you need it to be as easy as possible.  Decide what your goal is and then list all the potential barriers that prevent you from doing it. Be very specific.

Sticking with the example above, there could be a surprising number of barriers preventing you from succeeding with this new behaviour.  Maybe there are always biscuits lying around the office that other people have brought in and you find them hard to resist.  Or perhaps you won’t have time for a walk.

Once you’ve identified these friction points, you can work out ways to remove them.  You could let your work colleagues know that you won’t be eating the biscuits to keep you accountable, you could move the biscuits further away from you and out of your eyeline, or you could replace them with fruit.  Instead of going for a walk, just take a few deep breaths or a quick turn around the office or have a quick chat with a colleague.

Making your new habit as frictionless an experience as possible will give you a higher rate of success.

Start small

If you start off with a goal to run 5k three times a week, having done no previous exercise, it’s unlikely you will even start. Big goals a good way to keep you looking forward to the future, but thinking on them only, rather than your smaller process goals won’t get you far.  Starting small is less exciting but it will get you started.

Given the frequency of habit in our lives, even the smallest positive change in trajectory can make a big impact.  For example, an extra 2,000 steps a day could roughly add up to an extra 8 pounds of fat loss over a year if you changed nothing else (depending on your physiology).

Making them stick

It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Once you’ve created your new habit, it will take time for it become routine. There are various schools of thought on how long a habit takes to build, but more than a month tends to be the consensus.

You might not succeed the first time round. But rather than totally give up; be curious as to why it didn’t.   If you failed a work project you wouldn’t just turn around to your boss and say ‘sorry, didn’t work! Let’s never try that again’.  You would investigate how and why it failed so that you could make those changes for a more successful product in future.

By taking an iterative mindset to constantly tweak your environments by keeping what works, and throwing out what didn’t, you’ll have a higher chance of success.

So, whilst you might not immediately be joining the AM workout crew and batch cooking your chicken rice and broccoli, just changing one little thing for good will have a huge impact on your life.


FreeGym Blogger Legend. Personal Trainer at Fitology. Powerlifting Level 1 Coach.

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