We are now at that time of year when any New Year Resolutions we made may just be a distant memory. In fact – we are almost half way through the year! Are you where you said you wanted to be at the beginning of the year? And if not, how can you motivate yourself to be there?
First of all, let’s look at what motivation is. The dictionary definition for the word ‘motivate’ dates back to 1904* and states that motivation is an “inner or social stimulus for an action,”. Put simply, to motivate ourselves, there must be something that propels us to act. I would add, that to successfully motivate ourselves, we must know why we are acting.
If you’re struggling with motivation, think for a moment about what it is you are trying to motivate yourself to do. Are you attempting to do it because you really want to do it, or because somebody has told you that you have to?
Glance back at the dictionary definition above:- the word ‘inner’ is important – that desire to do something has to come from inside us, not from what somebody else is telling us. Or is it something you feel you “should” do?
You may want to write down, or visualise the following thoughts:
What is it that you will achieve by motivating yourself to do this? In essence, what’s in it for you? What is your reward? Consider the Chinese proverb “If we do not change the direction we are going, we are likely to end up where we are headed.” What direction are you going in? And, more importantly, where are you heading?
As a therapist, I often see clients who tell me that they “should” lose weight/give up smoking/change jobs or whatever it is they are struggling with. The word “should” is interesting. It often appears alongside something we are putting off.
“Should” serves to keep us where we are.
Sometimes, if we have been surrounded by people who have criticised us or told us that we are no good, lazy or stupid, we can hear a voice inside that tells us we can’t motivate ourselves because we are the things we have been told we are. That voice may not be nice, but it’s what we’re used to hearing and it can feel safe because it’s familiar. It may be that on some level we fail to motivate ourselves because it confirms our secret fear/belief that we are no good, lazy or stupid. Yet, you are none of these things. You are, instead, whatever you choose to be.
Words are powerful. The things we say to ourselves, and others, about what we’re doing and who we are, are important. Let’s say, for example that you are trying to lose weight and you say “I really should lose weight…”
Let’s try rephrasing what you are saying about losing weight. A simple exercise is to replace the words “I should lose weight” with “I am starting to lose weight today and the first thing I am going to do to lose weight is….” You could list what you plan to do, or tell a friend, or set off an alarm to remind you. With those actions, you have already started.
Perhaps the “should” is there because you are happy with who you are; it is your partner or family who aren’t happy with you, and you haven’t been able to tell them that it is their desire that you lose weight, not yours. Your sentence could therefore be “I am happy with who I am, and instead of losing weight, I will do…. ”
Or it may be that deep inside yourself you are scared of losing weight . Perhaps being overweight brings with it a certain identity – you are seen as the jolly, larger than life person. If you lost your weight, how would people see you then? Or perhaps if you are single and you lost weight , you may be more attractive to potential partners. This may be what you desire on one level, but on another level, it can be a scary proposition.
Maybe your sentence could be “I am scared to lose weight by myself and I know that I need to ask for help and support from my partner/friends/family/slimming club/therapist. The first thing I will do to accomplish this is…”
However, words alone won’t motivate us. As the Chinese proverb says, we need to be mindful of what we’re doing, and where we’re heading. Sitting in front of the television every night, telling ourselves that we’re losing weight whilst we chomp on a kilogram bar of chocolate probably won’t take us to where we want to be!
My dog always loves being in the vet’s waiting room. There are usually lots of dogs there to sniff and play with and people to pet her. At that moment, she is ludicrously happy with the world. As I take her into the consulting room she is still happy. However, as soon as her paws touch the table she remembers! Panic and fear overtake her and I can almost see her thinking “How did I get here again? I was having so much fun a minute ago!” No matter how many times I take her to the vet, she is not aware of what she is doing in that waiting room or where she is heading until it’s too late.
Of course, she is a dog and she has limited choice, and limited awareness. But you don’t. You don’t have to end up in the same place again and again (unless you want to, of course).
You can be mindful.
Please be gentle with yourself if you don’t immediately get to where you want to be. You are where you are for a reason. Indeed, a symbol often used for motivation is a mountain. The famous mountain climber Edmund Hilary once said. “It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.” The mere act of thinking about motivating yourself is movement on that mountain. Happy conquering!
With warmth, Samantha
*motivation. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved May 05, 2010, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/motivation