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Answering These Two Questions Is The Secret To Motivation

Forget what you've heard—you should ask yourself these two simple questions when setting a goal to boost your workout motivation.

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If you’re looking for the secret to enhancing your fitness motivation then this take on the topic may just rock your world. After all, you’ve read all of the motivation “tricks” out there, perhaps even from articles written on this topic in the past, and still made no real consistent movement toward healthy activity. In fact, you’ve probably experienced what I call “motivation stagnation.”

Here’s What You’ve Probably Heard

You know all about external motivation, in which rewards, guilt, coercion, health directives and doctors’ “orders” all push you to exercise “because you have to.” You know how long that lasts, right? Perhaps a few days, weeks or possibly even a few months, right? You drain your self-discipline, your willpower and whoosh, it’s gone like last year’s New Year’s resolutions.

You know all about intrinsic motivation, in which the sheer enjoyment of the process of exercise, keeps you going and going, almost on autopilot—loving everything from buying the clothing and packing your gym bag to the fun you feel with your friends at the gym sweating it out with you. You find the workout routines interesting, stimulating and challenging.

You’ve read about the need to feel self-confident, the importance of thinking rationally, rather than in an “either I do it perfectly or not at all” way. You know the value of creating goals that are specific, measureable, easily attainable, very realistic, tied to time markers, set enthusiastically and coupled with rewards. You are aware of the usefulness of creating calendars and tracking progress, the importance of making it fun and convenient. And yet here you are—reading another article on motivation.

And Here’s The Real Secret To Motivation

Here’s the secret. While all of these tips, tools and tricks are useful for getting many people going, they aren’t enough. You see, to pack your gym bag the night before you go to the gym (or, as I saw in one article, “sleep in your gym clothes”—yeah, right!), you already have to have some type of motivation. After all, to be motivated to set SMARTER goals, to create calendars, to be motivated to organize a group of buddies that you are accountable to for a morning yoga class or run, is one thing. To actually hit the track, attend the class or lift some dumbbells is another. Hiring a qualified personal trainer is one thing—showing up for your training session is another.

The Key Questions To Ask Yourself

So I’m going to suggest that there are two very personal, additional ingredients that underlie the all too common “25 tips to get you exercising” articles. It’s two things:

  • What do you require from yourself?
  • And what’s it worth to you to achieve a healthier, fitter, happier life?

Here’s some help in answering these two essential questions to ensure the tips you’ve accumulated will really build the type of motivation you can count on that is free of self-discipline, and ensure that your approach is internal, fun and filled with positive social support.

Imagine you are standing on one end of a bridge. That’s your present. Make a realistic, accurate assessment of the obstacles in your way of performing moderate-to-vigorous physical activity—be sure to include your self-talk, your capabilities, your perceived strengths and weaknesses. Then imagine standing on the other side of the bridge, having overcome each and every one of these obstacles to increased physical activity. After being fully immersed in this vision, see yourself on the cover of Motivated Magazine, yes, YOU!

The reporter asks you, “One year ago you were busy reading all kinds of articles about motivation escalation, cultivation and automation, and did nothing to really increase and stay with your exercise. Now you haven’t missed one planned workout with your trainer and are working out consistently five days a week. What did you do to get across that bridge over the past year to become our cover story?”

What’s your answer? What do you tell the reporter you did to become the cover story? Look back over the “past year” (pretending a year has passed) and describe the steps you took to land on the cover of this magazine.

Here’s where your answers to the two questions I posed come in handy. Let the answers appear in your mind—they will. Your personal goals will become clear, your positive self-talk will emerge strong and, as you allow yourself to get in the flow of deeply understanding what you want and the value you place on it, your path to the other side of the bridge will become clear. This is thinking backwards from the future. Your future self will thank you for what you do today.

This simple exercise makes it clear that when you fill your thinking with positive expectations, see yourself on the other side of the bridge, know clearly what you expect from yourself and what you value when it comes to your health and wellbeing, life will change. It’s when you don’t have what you know you deeply want that you’ll make everything happen—from a reservoir of passion, joy and natural drive. That’s the real secret of motivation.

About the Author: Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D., the Senior Fitness Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for ACE. He has served as Chief Psychologist for San Diego’s Children’s Hospital and Health Center and the San Diego Police Department and has been on the clinical faculty of UCSD’s Department of Psychiatry. 

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