When you see a person lose a lot of weight or make a positive health transformation, you're probably wondering how they did it.
What was the thing they did that helped them be successful? What is their secret? While weight loss boils down to more than "one thing", a lot of people will credit their "drive" and "motivation." But what exactly is motivation and where does it come from? And even more importantly, how do you get it, keep it and use it to lose weight.
What is Motivation?
Motivation is the desire to perform voluntary movements to achieve the desired outcome. In other words, it is the drive that makes you want to make a change and stick to it.
Motivation is a very broad term that a lot of people throw around at the beginning of a big change, hoping that if they have a lot of it, they can be successful. The thing is, motivation does not stand alone--it's the initial spark that sets the fire, and keeping it can be a just as much of a challenge as finding it in the first place.
It is an internal drive. A choice you make for yourself to pursue something new. Recognizing this will help you cycle motivation and create the discipline necessary to achieve results.
Where Does Motivation Come From?
Mostly it comes from you.
Motivation is sparked through our neurotransmitters, which are designed to release chemical messages that keep us alert and on task. Often times, motivation is a product of dopamine - the well-known feel-good chemical in your brain.
Dopamine is produced in two different parts of the brain. It is made in the substantia nigra, a tiny strip on either side of the brain. Dopamine from this area of the brain helps produce movement and speech.
The other area of the brain that produces dopamine is the ventral tegmental area, in the center of your brain. When dopamine is released from this area of the brain it signals to us that something good or bad is about to happen. This helps us produce motivation to take action (1).
It is actually a common misconception is that dopamine is the "pleasure" chemical - it does much more than that. While it is fairly well understood that it influences our desire to chase rewards, it is not only released in times of pleasure. It is also used in times of stress, or loss and is strongly linked to our motivation (2).
Why Self Motivation is Key
I hate to break it to you, but there is no secret to weight loss or increasing motivation. It requires hard work and consistency from you. Nobody else is going to equip you with the gusto you need to finally lose the weight - you've got to want it for yourself.
You cannot hack your brain chemistry to increase motivation, but you can change the way you respond to dopamine by training your mindset to harness these tools more efficiently.
We all know what it feels like to lack motivation at some point or another. We sit in the same spot, comfortably wishing we had the energy or the drive to actually make a change this time.
But the thing is you do.
Motivation can be difficult to find sometimes because it requires you to be uncomfortable, to do some hard work. Change does not happen when you go with the flow, you have to push yourself and fight for what you want. And without self-motivation to do so, it's pretty likely nothing will ever change.
You really have two choices: keep things the same and complain about what you want to change, or find the reason you need to move in a different direction.
How to Get Motivated to Lose Weight
Because motivation comes from within, it is pretty personal. This means the best way to achieve it can be different for everyone. Some are motivated by family, health scares, or other people's transformation stories and others find motivation in just wanting to look and feel better. There are endless triggers you can use, the trick is finding the right one for you that sticks.
But if you're having trouble finding it, don't worry, there are a few different things you can try to inspire some incentive or help you grasp what it is that is really driving you to make a change.
Find Your Why: What Motivates You?
What is your motive? Take some time to really think about why you want to make a change in the first place. What is it that you hope to get out of this change? Or what was the final straw that got you to the point to start thinking about doing things differently?
A lot of times your "Why" is your motivation.
Visualize the Change
Imagine what this change can do for you. Think about how you will feel, what your life will be like when you reach your goals. What are the benefits of making a change? And what will happen or what will your life look like if you continue down the same path you're on?
Visualizing can help remove fear, doubts, and trick your brain into believing that your goals aren't only possible, but that you are already on your way there (3).
Get Inspired By Others
Sometimes hearing how someone else achieved significant weight loss can be just what you need. Not only is it inspiring to see others achieve success, but it makes you feel like its possible for you too. Especially if you have something in common with the person or story providing the inspiration.
Research suggests that inspiration is a powerful tool in motivating others. It can facilitate progress towards your goals and may improve your wellbeing overall, helping you stay positive and enjoy the process more (4,5).
Watch below to learn how John got started on his 110-pound weight loss journey.
Understand Your Locus of Control
A big differentiation between someone you perceive to be successful & someone you view as less successful is what type of locus of control they have (6).
Typically the successful person will be a "no excuses" type. They believe that they have the ultimate control over their life. They are less easily influenced by outside forces. They own up to their mistakes, not pawning off blame onto another force.
- "I was late because I didn't account for the rain when leaving for work"
- "Even though I was tired, I decided to go to the gym because I know sleep will feel much better having hit my goals for the day"
- "I decided to have an apple as a snack instead of the donuts Ron brought in because I didn't want to ruin all of my hard work"
This type of person has an internal locus of control. Ultimately they believe that their actions and decisions will lead to their success.
On the contrary, there is always that person who seems to come up with an excuse no matter the occasion.
- "The weather made traffic so much worse on the freeway"
- "I didn't get enough sleep because my neighbor was up all night partying and so I don't want to go to the gym"
- "I was going to eat
healthybut Ron brought in donuts so I had one"
Yeah, we all know these people. Heck, we might even be one of these people. These people have an external locus of control. They believe the world is the master of their fate. They are easily influenced by outside forces. Often times casting blame onto those forces rather than on themselves.
But these are also the people ALWAYS asking successful people "what motivates you," as if it will lead them to a new found sense of dedication and success.
The thing is, if you keep blaming the outside world for why you can't do something or how tough it is to accomplish your goals when things get in the way, you will never be successful.
You have to differentiate yourself from the world, take back control over your life. You have to own up to the good and the bad about yourself. It is the only way to really hold yourself accountable. If you continuously pawn off the blame onto someone else or some outside force, you are not taking any responsibility for your decisions.
No matter what, those influences will be there. The same exact situation can be handled completely differently based on how you chose to take ownership of it. For example, Ron brought the donuts in both scenarios. However, the decision-making process was executed differently because of their ability to handle outside influences. The coworker with the external locus of control decided that because the donuts were brought, he had to partake. The internal locus of control decided that because he was on a diet, he would rather eat an apple than a donut.
Don't Look for a Quick Fix
Focus on small changes and don't try to overhaul everything all at once, in an as fast amount of time as possible. Not only does this set you up for failure, but the process itself becomes overwhelming and discouraging, causing you to lose your motivation pretty quickly. Change takes time, and often requires hard work, chunking this out into more feasible goals can help you plan better and make the process feel less difficult - meaning you are more likely to stick to your diet and achieve your goals in the end.
Start by changing one or two things that feel more manageable. These could be bad habits that are holding you back or areas where you feel a small change may make the biggest impact. For example, if your diet is way out of whack and you have a hard time eating healthy, start by cutting out dessert after dinner, or adding one vegetable a day. These goals may seem small at first, but small actions can lead to bigger impacts. In addition, giving yourself the opportunity to celebrate a win, even a small one, is motivating in itself.
Need some more incentive to start small?
Consider that cutting out one can of soda a day or removing 1.5 Tbsp of full-fat mayonnaise from your daily sandwich could help you cut enough calories to lose almost 15 pounds in a year. Or that walking 1 mile at lunch, can help you burn enough calories to lose 10 pounds this year.
Not only are these smaller changes easier, but they can slip into your normal routine and inspire you to make bigger, harder changes when you start to see results.
How to Stay Motivated to Lose Weight
Motivation also isn't always there. It comes and goes and it's completely normal to lose it more than once when trying to achieve a bigger goal.
The key is understanding that this is part of the process and finding ways to pick yourself back up if you lose inspiration or just fall off track.
Here are six ways to help you keep the motivation flowing:
1. Enjoy Your Weight Loss Journey
A major key to lasting results hinges on the ability to enjoy the journey. Take the hardships, figure out new ways to conquer them and test yourself each and every day.
Don't just focus on the end result. If you fall into a pattern of only looking forward to the reward, you will lose sight of the process pretty easily. You may even look for ways to cheat the process. Which will never lead to the same results as pure hard work and discipline. Not to mention, it's harder to establish the habits you need to maintain your results if you're rushing towards the finish line.
Bottom line, if your health change is making you miserable, it might be worth taking a step back and figuring out why that is. Perhaps your diet isn't the right fit for you, or maybe you are being too restrictive with yourself.
2. Use a Support Network
Having someone on your team can make a huge difference. Whether they are joining you in making a change or just serving as a cheerleader, research suggests that social support may be a key influence over your weight management (7,8). And it doesn't seem to matter whether it is over social media or in person.
It's no wonder why so many successful weight loss programs use a community approach to losing weight.
And on the flip side, surrounding yourself with people who undermine your achievements or hold you back in some way can have negative impacts.
Not ready to join a team? Consider just sharing your goals on your own social media. Not only will this help hold you accountable, but you might be surprised when others jump in on the bandwagon or show support (9). And you could be inspiring others without even realizing it.
3. Focus on Consistency Not Perfection
Staying consistent could be the single most important factor when it comes to weight loss.
Try not to focus on how fast or perfectly you achieve your goals, and instead shift your thinking towards consistent progress.
You might be able to hit your goals perfectly for multiple days or weeks at a time, but perfection isn't sustainable long-term and some days are bound to be harder than others. Not to mention falling off the wagon can bruise your ego and hinder your motivation.
Consistency is more about focusing on hitting your goals most of the time or repeating the same behaviors for an extended period of time so that the average some of your behaviors continue to move you in the right direction overall. If you are consistent with your eating, food tracking or exercise, your a more likely to see results. This is why picking smaller goals and aiming to stick to them most days of the week has been shown to promote more sustainable weight management (10).
Movement creates movement. Think progress over perfection, and remind yourself that putting one foot in front of the other to get to the desired goal. Any sort of movement is better than no movement whatsoever.
4. Embrace Failure
Failure does not mean the end. Weight loss is a journey and failures are nothing but a few bumps in the road. Better yet, thinking of failure as opportunities to strengthen your approach and resolve might even help you.
Embracing creates acceptance, and acceptance creates flow. The saying 'what you resist, persists' can be applied here. Resisting the bumps on the road will create walls and tension, versus surrendering to whatever one defines as a failure.
Keeping a positive mindset, even in defeat, is key to maintaining motivation. And staying positive is really all in how you look at it. Everything we've achieved in our lives, from learning to walk, speak, or play a sport, likely involved many failed attempts. If we had just given up each time we failed, we would have never made it.
Failure is a part of growth. It is how we learn to adapt, fine tune and get better at what we are trying to succeed at. Learning to embrace failure with this type of mindset can teach you resilience and equip you with the know how to stick to your diet better and live a healthier life overall. The longer we stay in it and the more we learn, the better we get!
So instead of beating yourself up when failure hits, treat yourself with some kindness and see what you can get out of this opportunity you stumbled upon. What did you learn? How can you use this to get stronger, better, and achieve more overall?
5. Reward Yourself in Healthy Ways
The amount of motivation you have is directly related to how difficult you perceive the change to be, and how likely you are to be rewarded.
For example: if your boss told you that if you did an excellent job on the next presentation you would get promoted to that position you really wanted, you would probably master that presentation. You're voluntarily choosing to engage in the necessary movements to produce these results because you see a high reward attached to them.
Finding opportunities to pat yourself on the back, no matter how small, can be a great way to motivate you to keep going. Look for non-food ways to celebrate little victories (this way you won't wreck your progress) like buying a new pair of shoes, taking yourself out to a movie, getting a massage, going on a weekend trip, taking a day off work to relax, etc. Whatever it is that helps you keep those good vibes going and makes you want to accomplish more goals.
If you do want to have a cheat meal, don't use them as a reward. This will only strengthen a poor relationship with food and might make sticking to your diet long-term more challenging. Instead, plan for cheat meals as a part of your consistent approach. Account for the calories in advance and remove any feelings of guilt or reward, and just enjoy the treat in the moment.
6. Look Beyond the Number on the scale
Losing weight can be a complicated process for many. And while the overall goal might be to shed a few pounds, you might want to look at weight loss more as a side effect of your goals rather than the end result. This is because there is more than one way to measure success on a diet, and if you get to a point when you aren't losing weight - it doesn't mean you aren't being successful. You could be losing body fat and gaining muscle, or it could be changes in water weight, etc.
Regardless, using this one metric as the sole indicator for your success is not ideal.
Instead, focus on how you feel, how your clothes are fitting, biometric markers (like cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.), your fitness performance, and your overall confidence and wellbeing. Weight is only a number at the end of the day and doesn't always dictate how healthy you actually are.
Weight Loss Meal Plans
We all know diet is one of the hardest things to stay motivated about. Results can be slow, and changing how you think about food is not easy.
Find tools and resources that help make this process easier, whether it is perfecting your meal prep, hiring a trainer or considering a meal delivery program that cuts out most of the diet challenges you face. Weight loss meal delivery programs can be a great way to stay consistent and avoid temptation, by having nutritious and calories controlled options on hand or on the go.
Trifecta's meal plans have helped countless customers lose weight and improve their health. Our meal plans are strategically designed to support your fitness goals and make the process easier by removing the need to shop, cook, prep and think about your diet altogether. Meaning you have more time to focus on other goals and achieve results even faster.
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