Keeping motivated: a recipe for success

This is the second in a series of six posts about self-leadership: how your small choices impact your life and take you to a specific future – are your choices taking you to the kind of life you want?  

From good intentions to a perfect plan. You wake up on New Year’s day, or on your birthday, with a beautiful plan to finally lose 10 pounds and keep them off, eat better, start exercising and start living the life you aspire to.  Amazing. And this time, the plan is perfect and you’re totally motivated to prepare and eat healthy meals every single day, go to the gym 3 times a week, and walk 30 minutes daily to work.  You are so ready for this!

From perfect plan back to reality.  It’s now day 3 and you’ve been on a roll, but it’s raining today so you didn’t walk to work, work is demanding, and you’re getting more stressed and tired as the week drags on.  You’ve eaten through all of your healthy meals and snacks and you need to get more food on your way home.  You’re starved, and take-out is looking better by the minute, and so is getting a ride home instead of walking.  Reality is setting in: is the perfect plan working for real life?  Trying to change too much at once takes a lot of extra energy, time and effort to make it work, and this feels progressively more challenging to maintain.  All these new habits take time: planning your days and your meals, shopping and preparing new foods, not forgetting walking shoes or gym clothes, and so on. Holding yourself to a plan that’s too perfect is demanding, and it becomes increasingly a battle of mind-over-body…  So what’s wrong?

There’s nothing wrong – but you’re human, not a superpower.  Too many changes at once? Expectations that are too demanding?  Unrealistic plan?  Writing a perfect plan doesn’t mean it’s a realistic or workable. In this instance, your gym time alone requires two hours per visit to get there, change, warm up, exercise, stretch, cool down, shower, change back and drive home (and this three times a week); shopping and preparing healthy meals and snacks likely takes an hour a day; and walking to work takes 30 minutes, 5 days a week.   So your perfectly healthy plan takes about 15 hours of time a week to be successful.  Feasible?  Maybe, if you were a Superpower.  But you’re human.

From good intentions, to realistic actions, to impressive results.  We humans thrive on rewards and positive motivation, but we don’t do well with guilt, shame and other negative motivators.  We want to achieve success, but the goal posts are too far, too demanding, and just plain unrealistic for your real, busy life.  Feeling you’re failing doesn’t make you motivated – why keep trying if you’re failing…?  So you fall off and get back to square one, feeling defeated.  But there is an easy solution to getting motivated.

Realistic, smaller goals motivate you.  Make your goals and plans fit your time and the demands of your life, instead of the other way around, with you fitting the plan  Having reasonable, realistic goals you can actually accomplish with a moderate amount of effort, time and energy is much more motivating – and gets results!  Imagining if you felt good about what you get to accomplish for yourself – instead of feeling bad, because it’s just too much, and you can’t do it all perfectly?

The recipe to motivation: are goals that are realistic, definitely not perfect and totally achievable.  Make it easier on you.  Treat yourself well.  Make your goals easier to reach.  Break them down into feasible steps.  So here is an alternate, realistic plan, to lose those 10 pounds….  And if you don’t like it, change it around and make it work for you.

  • Be realistic and plan to get to the gym twice this week (instead of three times): one morning/evening on a weekday maybe, and once on the weekend.   Schedule gym time on your phone, and don’t make it a longer workout to compensate for the third time (you’ll end up exhausted and injured).  Then congratulate yourself: you accomplished your goal, and going to the gym twice a week works (*): you’ll get results.
  • Walk to work 2-3 times a week (instead of 5 days a week), choose days when the weather cooperates or when you have more time.  Then congratulate yourself – you made it, and you’re building a new habit.
  • Focus on a having a simple, but healthier breakfast on workdays, and pack your lunch four days a week, instead of trying to change everything about how you eat.  Make this easier by using “formula meals”, such as fruit, coffee, yogurt and whole grain toast for breakfast, if this is practical and enjoyable.  Don’t like this idea?  Create your own formula and make it work for you.  Congratulate yourself: you’ve eaten 9 healthier meals this week – impressive.
  • Don’t expect to lose 10 pounds in a month.  Instead, aim to lose weight more slowly, developing new, enjoyable habits that work for you – and keeping the weight off.  Yoyo dieting doesn’t works.  And losing weight is not about punishing yourself; it’s about living the life you want for yourself.  Be kinder to yourself.

6 principles to keep you motivated: (1) define reasonable, achievable goals; (2) start small and don’t change everything at once; (3) time it: be realistic; (4) give yourself occasional breaks; (5) use positive motivation and a reward system; (6) avoid perfectionism.

You are on your way to better, realistic, sustainable habits that make you feel like you can conquer the world (and those 10 pounds you’ve been wanting to shed).

You could use totally different goals, instead of the example provided here, and use the same principles to make it work.  How can you plan what you want, to be more motivating – and deliver better results?




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