Why Motivation Almost Never Works
"Most people approach goals and personal improvement the hard way. Rather than changing their environment, they strive to overcome their current environment."
-Benjamin P. Hardy
According to Statista Research Department, at the beginning of 2021, "about half of Americans wanted to get in shape. The most popular New Year’s resolution was 'doing more exercise or improving my fitness'. This counted for more than 50 percent of respondents. Additionally, 48 percent of Americans made their New Year's resolution 'lose weight'.
If half the population wants this then why are they not succeeding?
The problem is, most people wait until they 'feel like it' to work out or eat healthy. There is one secret. Relying on motivation almost never works.
Motivation can be put in the same category as 'emotion'. It comes and goes, it's fickle, and changes by way of environment. Ultimately, it's unreliable. Most people don't want to get up before work and spend 45 minutes in a high intensity interval training class. Most people don't want to pick a side salad over fries when asked at a restaurant. The reality is, most often, you aren't going to 'feel like it'.
So, let's view motivation like a 1-UP award. In the popular video game Super Mario, Mario would occasionally get the opportunity to pop up and hit a 1-UP or extra life. It was an extra chance to beat the game. Similarly, look at motivation as an extra boost, but don't rely on it to succeed. Ride the wave of feeling energetic and motivated to go to the gym after work one day, but don't expect the same feeling to show up tomorrow.
Here's what you can rely on. You must use both simultaneously.
1. Exercise willpower and grow the muscle
2. Changing Your Environmental
1. Exercise Willpower and Grow the Muscle
There were several definitions for willpower, but they all circling the same drain. Willpower is the "control exerted to do something or restrain impulses." It is "the capability of acting or of producing an effect based on desire, inclination, or choice." And it is "the unwavering strength of will to carry out one's wishes."
According to several studies by the American Psychology Association, willpower is similar to a muscle. It "can be strengthened over time. But, people have a set amount of willpower and if it is overused, it can be depleted." While researchers point out that "repeatedly resisting temptation may drain stores of willpower", it is never completely exhausted. They went on to explain that like a muscle, willpower will become fatigued from "overuse in the short term" but strengthens and grows stronger when regularly exercised.
So the best way to build willpower is practice it. This means you should shoot for majority gains when you first start out on a health plan. So, most mornings get up and do a HIIT workout you don't feel like doing. Most meals choose a side salad even when everyone else ordered french fries. Most days stretch your body instead of laying on the couch for hours. Most day set aside time at the beginning of the day to pour into yourself and address your needs before attending to others. (Obviously, these are just a few examples. Pick what works for you.) A small step is still a step. The more reps you do, the larger your muscle grows.
Taking action creates new feelings and a new state of being. Action creates motivation.
2. Change Your Environment
“When you commit to an enormous goal that far exceeds your current capability, willpower won’t solve your problem. Rather, you’ll need a new environment that organically generates your goals — a context that forces you to become more than you currently are. Once you design the right conditions, your desired behavior naturally follows.” -Benjamin Hardy
Whenever I start coaching a new client, one of the first things we do is talk about their food environment at home. What is in your cabinets? Healthy snacks or junk food? How is your kitchen set up? Is it clean and tidy, encouraging you to cook food at home? What's in your refrigerator? Do you have any meal-prepped items in there in case you get in a pinch this week?
You will never win if you're constantly fighting your own environment, attempting to overcome temptation again and again. Remember, willpower gets fatigued. So, create any environment at home that doesn't force you to make so many hard choices.
Keep cut up fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator as snack instead of potato chips. Make sure your kitchen is clean before you go to bed. Meal prep certain items each week to make sure healthy choices are always easy to grab. (ie. rice, sheet tray of cooked vegetables, hummus, sliced cucumber, etc.)
Create the right conditions for yourself so you have a better chance of succeeding.
While you can't always rely on feeling motivated, there are steps you can take to make sure you follow through on your commitments to yourself.