What’s Motivating Us?

Healthy and motivation are two words that get used together. Understanding what is motivating us to improve our health can help long term success.

Let’s have a brief psychology lesson to understand the drives to do things.

The definition(s) of motivation are:  the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way. The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

There are a few types of motivation. First, extrinsic motivation is when we do something because of an external influence. An example is, “I am going on a diet so I can fit into the dress for the wedding”. The reward may be appealing, and doing some new behaviors are acceptable; however, the changes may only last for a short amount of time. Also, some motivation may lie in not wanting to disappoint or you feel obligated to others.  In which case, you do it just because you want to avoid conflict. Extrinsic motivation can sometimes be helpful to get the ball rolling but usually we need a little more behind the behavior to make it stick.

The next two types are intrinsic and autonomous motivation. Instead of someone telling you to do something, you want to do it out of your own desire. Intrinsic motivation comes from our deep desires, values and beliefs. For example, “I am going to eat salmon 2 times a week because I know it will benefit my health. I want to be in good health to live a long life to watch my kids grow”. The motivation comes from loving the family and the benefits of overall good health.

Autonomous motivation is when we get enjoyment from an activity. An example would be, “I am going to walk in the park this afternoon, because I am feeling stressed, and the blooming flowers will help me relax”.  There is enjoyment felt by this activity and the reward of less stress.

Self-motivation, like intrinsic and autonomous, brings an energy that is more successful. Intrinsic and autonomous motivation are more likely to lead to long term success with lasting changes. When there is a genuine interest and enjoyment out of doing the new behaviors, there is more success. It’s like when people ask what is the best type of exercise? The answer is the one you LOVE to do, because it is the one you’ll do. There must be a vested interest in whatever the change is we are trying to make.

How does this impact a health goal? The doctor, parent, nutritionist, best friend, etc. can try to tell you to make changes. Nobody likes to be told they must do something. We want to do the things we want to do and are in line with our desires, values, and beliefs. If the behaviors are not meaningful, the more challenging, frustrating, and possibly unsuccessful the work. So how next time you hear your neighbor tell you about the world’s best and easiest diet but you are truly not interested, just tell her good luck.

Now how do you get motivated if you need to make a change…like doctor’s orders? Think about why making changes could tie into what’s important to you. For example, say you were just diagnosed with high blood pressure. Lifestyle changes are one great start for helping this. The only thing you hear is how the diet for high blood pressure is bland and no salt. One of your passions is gardening, especially vegetables and herbs. What if, to get started on the new eating plan, you use your passion for gardening and turn what you grow into exciting new foods that are naturally lower in salt and high in flavor. PLUS, you’ll be getting activity which is also helpful for blood pressure. With this positive mindset, the motivation for addressing the “doctor’s orders” may be more appealing.

Motivation is the general desire or willingness to do something. Get clear on what is your desire for making changes and that will drive your success.