The main reason why 99% of our attempts to fix our health fail is this:
Habits, motivation, and willpower.
Here’s the thing: you know that changing your health is all about changing your lifestyle.
But the thing is that people all too often tell us “what” to do (eat more of this, eat less of that, move more, stretch), but we’re almost never given the “how” to do it.
(Great, so I know what’s healthy food, but how do I actually apply this in habits?)
Here’s The Big Problem Though…
How do you keep yourself motivated?
Let’s look at another life category: parenting.
How do you get your kids to do their homework?
Probably the ‘ol carrot and stick method, right?
“If you do your homework, little Jimmy, I’ll give you a cookie!”
“If you don’t do your homework, little Jimmy, I’m going to rain hellfire down upon you and yell until you do!”
In other words, extrinsic rewards.
Back to your health – we sometimes tell ourselves “okay okay, I need to start going to yoga to fix my back pain and lose weight. If I go tonight, then I’ll treat myself to some ice cream later.”
“And if I don’t go, I’m going to continue hating myself and being angry at myself.”
Here’s the thing: Research shows that these external incentives don’t work that great (particularly in the long run).
Will Paying You More Make You Do Your Job Better?
In 2009, scholars at the London School of Economics analyzed fifty one studies of corporate pay-for-performance plans. Their conclusion?
“We find that financial incentives… can result in a negative impact on overall performance.”
People become more engaged in the short term, but long-term this has been shown to destroy intrinsic motivation. Higher incentives lead to worse performance long-term.
… Think about it.
Paying people MORE, actually resulted in them doing worse. How is this possible?
Maybe money isn’t as strong as a motivator as we once thought !
Dan Pink in his incredible book Drive: The Surprising Truth Behind What Motivates us, found three strong motivators of people (at work) instead:
#1 Meaning (and activities they intrinsically like):
“Want your kid to start doing sports or something physical? Rather than saying “You can have a sleepover this week if you go to soccer practice,” find a sport the kid actually likes. Otherwise you’ll be stuck in the same situation every parent is – bribing, cajoling, or manhandling your kid into going.”
“Are you the boss? Tired of lazy employees that are just soaking up a paycheck and investing the least-amount-of-time-possible? Rather than offering them increased pay, offer them increased work perks, like:
– More freedom (Work from home)
– Less pressure (Results Only Work Environment [ROWE]) – “No checking in or out. Just get the work done.”
– Total autonomy in their projects — “Here’s the project, figure out how to solve it. I won’t be hovering over you.”
… That’s for staying motivated at work, but what about for improving your health or losing weight?
Solution: Avoiding “Wedding Day Syndrome”
Okay – so we know some facts about intrinsic motivation:
- Research shows that it works better long term
- People tend to be happier and more fulfilled when they’re intrinsically motivated
- It is inherently rewarding – regardless of the outcome (e.g. whether or not you succeed at fixing your health goal)
In kids, intrinsic motivation drops from grades 3-9, although researchers aren’t quite sure why (Uh, how about school – forcing yourself to get good grades for no reason?)
(Remember that pesky meaning thing? Read more here if your life feels meaningless.)
Also, in young students, it’s been shown that giving context for material (e.g. how in the heck is this relevant to my life?) increases their intrinsic motivation. Makes sense, right? (2)
So we tend to be driven by a few things:
- The feeling of being in control, like we can produce results in our own life
- The belief that we can achieve our goals
- And knowing that we’re pushing towards a goal that’s actually important and relevant to our life
It’s the difference between playing a game because it’s fun… and playing a game because you want to win.
It’s the difference between doing yoga because it makes you feel good… and doing yoga so you can have a celebrity fit body.
It’s the difference between learning a language because it’s engaging and exciting… versus learning a language to impress others.
… Can you see how #1 might be more powerful? And much easier to do over the long run?
Two Key Formulas To Apply For Unlimited Motivation
First, use emotional triggers.
Use emotional triggers to remind yourself why this process is meaningful.
Use some kind of reminder, for example:
- An old picture
- Your old pair of jeans
- An old pill jar that reminds you of your back pain
- Something that reminds you how hard your life is when you’re sick
Why? Remember research has shown that you’ll stay more intrinsically motivated if you’re reminded of the purpose that you’re doing this for.
Second, use the “confirmation” principle.
It’s human nature to make progress, and rather than acknowledge that we made progress (e.g. my back feels better, and I’m losing weight), to keep looking at the huge mountain we still have to climb.
Here’s what I want you to do: On the days that you manage to go for a 10 minute walk, or eat healthier, or go 24 hours without sugar, do one thing: sit down for a moment and realize how much better you feel.
In fact, researchers have found that one of the main reasons that long-term exercisers continue to exercise is because…
… It makes them feel good!
Aka intrinsic motivation – makes sense, right?
After just a few days of saying “Wow, that 10 minute walk did make my back feel better and boosted my mood” or “Wow, I feel fantastic after going without sugar and white bread for 24 hours,” these will become intrinsic motivators.
Mood, happiness and feeling great will all become intrinsic methods of motivation.
So whenever you positively engage in a new health habit (that makes you feel better), remind yourself, and confirm that you felt better. It will help to internalize the new habit.
No more carrots and sticks, okay?
Thoughts on This? Other Tips for Motivation?
Share your thoughts below.
P.S. If you want to bypass motivation, and focus on the real “secret to success” – habit change – you can learn more about the six habits of dozens of people that have lost 100+ pounds and kept it off. Click here to learn more.
2. Diana Cordova, Mark Lepper (1995) Intrinsic Motivation and the Process of Learning:Beneficial Effects of Contextualization, Personalization, and Choice