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What is motivation and why is it so important?
Motivation means having a reason to act or behave in a particular way. We can have the best of intentions but without motivation nothing happens. Being motivated is integral for taking action and facilitating change in any area of your life, including towards your health and well-being, which is the focus of this post.
Very few of us are really motivated:
Most of us struggle to not only find motivation, but also to keep it too. Just think about how many times you have said to yourself either ‘I can’t find the motivation,’ ‘I can’t stay motivated,’ or ‘I was motivated but then I lost it.’
Why we find it hard to maintain motivation:
So why do we find it so difficult to become and stay motivated? The reason is because we are not in alignment with who we are (our true-self). As a result, we tend to go about motivation in the wrong way, including by having an over-reliance on external goals, as well as through constant self-criticism.
*An over-reliance on external goals – This includes things like doing a fun run, or getting in shape before summer or for a birthday. The problem with being motivated by such goals, is that even if you do eventually reach them, at some point or another, your mind will no longer see a reason to continue the behaviour, and so the motivation stops. This occurs because your behaviour is often merely a means to an end, and never truly the reward itself. The result being that you need to find something else to motivate yourself, and also continuously try to summon up enough will power to stay motivated with it again. Don’t get me wrong, having external goals is not the problem. They only become a problem when you use them as your main source of motivation, as opposed to being motivated from within.
*Constant self-criticism – This is the carrot and stick approach – the carrot is ‘I want to feel good about myself’ and the stick is ‘I don’t want to feel bad about myself.’ This is a fear-based type of motivation – I am not ok if I fail, therefore I must try harder and succeed so I will be ok.
Many of us think we need self-criticism to motivate and keep ourselves in line. And whilst some amount of constructive criticism is useful in motivating ourselves to change, most of us do this in a non-constructive way. This is the nasty, harsh, belittling, you’re worthless, you’re bad, you’re no good type of criticism. This language may sound extreme, but if you were to actually write down (especially on a bad day) some of the things you say to yourself, you would be surprised at both how nasty and how frequent it really can be, eg. I’m fat, I look ugly, I can’t do that, etc.
The problem with this approach is that whilst it may initially motivate us, it often leaves us feeling stressed out and even depressed which is not exactly the most conducive mood for motivation. It also makes us lose faith in ourselves. If we constantly tell ourselves ‘I’m no good, I’m not worthy, I can’t do it,’ then we don’t feel confident to take on new tasks. The more we do it the more we become aware of failure – ‘I’m not even going to try because the consequences of failing are just too devastating – it’s better just not to go there.’ And so, we become less inclined to try and to keep on trying.
So why do we do it then? Well one of the main reasons why we are so attached to our self-criticism is that even though it is so painful, it’s because it gives us the Illusion of control. Think about it, how often have you said to yourself things like ‘I shouldn’t have failed.’ This implies that while it is theoretically possible that you will never fail… it’s because you have done something wrong… you shouldn’t have done this, you shouldn’t have been that, etc. We love the illusion that it is theoretically possible to be perfect. To never have things go wrong, and do anything we want to do. However, the reality is that we don’t have full control over everything, but yet we still criticize ourselves for it. We think if, ‘well maybe if I just tried that little bit harder, I could be perfect’ and that is not reality.
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