“You have to want it badly enough.” Have you heard that phrase before? Or, has your level of motivation ever come in question from your personal trainer, family members, or friends? Have you been offered an incentive such as some branded swag, gift cards, money, etc. to reach your fitness goal? These statements and actions try to address and improve your motivation through external factors or guilt when you’re not hitting your goals. In my experience, guilt does not work. It just doesn’t. I feel that it’s easy to lose the sense of support in a personal trainer/mentor/teacher when they guilt or shame you into performing differently. That’s just poor coaching. And, offering incentives doesn’t work either, long term. In fact, offering incentives can have the opposite effect.
A few months ago, I read the book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” by Daniel Pink. (I highly recommend this book, by the way!!) In this book, he writes that these external motivators, or Extrinsic Motivation, works for tasks where there is a linear process to achieve a goal. It does not, however, work well (with some exceptions) for tasks that are not organized in this manner. To achieve tasks where there are multiple solutions to an answer or where creativity is needed, Intrinsic Motivation is more successful. Extrinsic motivation actually reduces performance and can develop short term thinking, among many other things. Does this sound like the path to success when trying to establish long term habits to develop lifestyle change associated with fitness and weight-loss? I don’t think so! So, what is intrinsic motivation, and what affects intrinsic motivation?
Intrinsic motivation is the motivation that comes from within ourselves. It is not the promise of a free month of personal training if you win the weight-loss contest. It is not the idea of being able to fit into that dress for your upcoming event. And, it is not thee $100.00 gift card you get after signing up with a new gym. Sure, they may motivate initially, but this does not work for long term success. Pink presents that there are three different components that contribute to building intrinsic motivation. These three components are Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
Autonomy – What is autonomy? Autonomy is You being in control. You say what goes and what doesn’t go. Do you have a say in what exercises you do and don’t do? Do you have a say in what you can eat? Did your nutritionist tell you that you’re not allowed your favorite food? Did your personal trainer tell you that you HAVE to perform a certain miserable exercise? Who are they to set rules like that! Part of working with anybody on your path to fitness is working as a team. It shouldn’t be You vs. Them to achieve your goals, but rather, You AND Them working together to achieve your goals. When your team understands you and is willing to work with you in your likes/dislikes, you’re able to create more autonomy in how you change your lifestyle and how you achieve your goals.
Mastery – is working to get better at what you do; that may be working to get better at your diet habits or your exercises. In the Mastery part of his book, Pink discusses the idea of a “flow” state. The idea where you’re in the middle of a task that is not too difficult and not too easy. A state of being that is “inscrutable and transcendent” (pp. 112). Look to achieve that state when exercising. Don’t start off too difficult. It will suck. Start off with a reasonable challenge! Same thing with food, don’t overhaul your diet immediately. Start small; build from there. He also discusses that mastery is a mindset, it can be difficult, and that we can never reach true mastery. The latter part of this statement may sound depressing, however, it’s the continual pursuit of mastery that is fulfilling and worthwhile. One of the important takeaways here is the understanding that there will be setbacks, but the key to keep moving forward is having a learning mindset. Understand that you don’t know everything, but there is a path of growth. It won’t always be easy. It won’t always be fun, but willingness to learn and grow will help you down the path to mastery.
Purpose – The big question here is “WHY?”. Who are you? What are your goals and why are these your goals? Truly. Deep Down. Fitting in that dress, or pants, again – doesn’t count. Why do you want to fit in that dress, or pants, again? How did that make you feel? Why did you feel that way? Why do you want to feel that way again? When you’re contemplating making a behavior change; look to your purpose. Make sure your goals and your gym’s/personal trainer’s goals and purpose align. If you’re on different wavelengths for purpose, it might be rough going. Before starting an exercise routine write down your purpose. Put it somewhere you can see it on a daily basis. Discuss it with your trainer!
Let intrinsic motivation be the force that compels you towards your health and fitness goals. Assess the three components of intrinsic motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Sit down and have a conversation with your trainer or nutritionist. Figure out your true purpose to why you’re pursuing this path. Keep that in the forefront of your mind. It’s easy to be enticed by flashy, external rewards, but the true driver to your success will come from within.