Words that Don’t Serve Part 1: Motivation

This is part one of a short series on words we often use in wellness that I have come to deem non-serving.

The first word I want to call out is “Motivation.”

Here’s why.

When was the last time you felt motivated to do something really kind and nourishing for yourself? Maybe it was a new program you were excited about. Maybe it was a nice, slow morning and you had plenty of time and energy. Maybe the temperature, mood, or timing hit you just right. Maybe you were feeling extra strong that morning.

Whatever it is, that motivation is just based on circumstance. It is not based on a long term habit change.

So, to think you’re going to be motivated to do the little things that make a big difference, like get up and move throughout your day, drink your water instead of soda, work on your flexibility, or walk at lunch… won’t happen, will it?

Are you going to stand up in an hour and be SO MOTIVATED to make a salad? Probably not. If you’re hungry, you might be so motivated to grab a doughnut! And that’s not moving you in the right direction, is it?

I would also like to bring up trainer or coach “motivation.

Can I motivate you to start once? Sure. Will you be motivated the next time? Highly unlikely. You might like me. You might actually love class. But that motivation, even for a workout that you know serves you, will likely fail. I can use all the fancy coach language, and you’re likely to eventually be like “eh…”

So instead, can you count on me to empower you? Give you tools? Help you with a schedule? Sure. Those things will actually help you take the next step.

Yelling motivational phrases will probably not do that for you.

If you’re struggling to be “motivated” to do the work you need to do to be healthy, stay healthy, or get to a new lifestyle, you’re not alone. You’re just like everyone else.

I’m not motivated to workout. I bet Katie Ledecky isn’t always motivated for her 5 AM swims. Keeping up motivation is simply not what’s happening with anyone who is taking care of themselves long term.

The difference is systems.

What time do I get up? What do I do then? What time do I exercise? What’s my workout of the day? How do I function during the work day? How do I eat?

All of those answers are just systems. I don’t depend on motivation to get up at 5:00. I set an alarm clock, and when it goes off, I get up. I don’t depend on motivation to walk at 6:30. I have certain things I do in the morning, and at 6:30, I leash up the dog and we go. I don’t depend on motivation to return to my workout space an hour later and lift or practice. I see the kids out the door and I head up to workout.

These are habits I created over time, one at a time, without ever thinking that I needed to be motivated to do it.

A couple of side notes:

I have slipped. Covid-19 era threw me off just as much as the next guy. But it was temporary, and I re-established my habits over time to get back in the swing.

I know my habits have long term effects. I don’t expect my shoulder to be as strong as it was before it froze up… but it will happen, because I’ll do my exercises every day until it does. When I recognize that success is habits and systems, not motivation and whims, I set myself up to do the things.

So let’s get over needing to be “motivated,” and let’s move forward on things that make us successful. One system at a time.

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