What stands between many people and their goals, dreams, or hopes is a lack of motivation, a seemingly insurmountable, blank wall that they must climb in order to reach the top. As a personal trainer, I see people clawing against their lack of motivation every day. They constantly search for a way to achieve their goals. They look on-line, read books, try all manner of diets and supplements. Time and time again they try but never seem to succeed.
Why can’t they find what they’re looking for? What are they missing? I believe their main error is in thinking that motivation exists outside themselves. Looking for motivation outside yourself is as misplaced a hope as looking for an external source of happiness. It doesn’t exist.
You see, another word for motivation is desire, and when it comes to reaching goals, there’s great truth in the simple phrase, “You gotta want it.” And if the outcome you’re seeking is difficult or requires life-long effort–you gotta want it bad. There is no program or supplement that can fuel that hungry inner fire of need. The food for that flame comes from your own heart.
So now what? What can I or anyone say to a client, friend, or family member who struggles with finding their deepest, elusive drive? First, one needs to carefully feel out their reasons for wanting to change in the first place. The one who wants to change needs to peel away the onion skins of “why” in order to discover her deepest reasons.
It goes like this:
Why do you want to lose 20 pounds? To look and feel better. Why do you want to look and feel better? So I can feel more attractive for my wife and can play more with my children. Why do you want to feel more attractive for your wife and play with your children? I want a better relationship with them. Ah. Now, there’s a solid reason.
The thing is, if you’re trying to be healthier and lose body fat, are you really motivated by, “I want to weigh one-hundred and eighty pounds and have fifteen percent body-fat?” Who cares! What you need is to know what that’s going to do for you. Are you lonely and want more friends? Do you feel that playing ultimate Frisbee with your office mates will help, but you can’t because you’re fifty pounds overweight and your knees constantly hurt? Then let that need for friendship be your drive to losing weight and making the necessary changes to your behavior.
And there are behavioral changes that will need to be made. Most people are in their current state due to behaviors, and the way out of that current state are new behaviors. Once you’ve found an inspiring reason to move toward your goal and have lit that internal fire, then you start the work of breaking down the steps that will continue to feed that flame.
The thing is that we can’t feel our way into behaving differently. We have to behave our way into feeling differently. It’s a mistake to think of our emotional state as the cause of, rather than the effect of, our actions and environment. Emotional states can drive behaviors, but for control of your life–turn that around.
For me, evidence of the relationship between behavior and emotions appears whenever I’m about to do a workout and I’m feeling sluggish, unmotivated, and like maybe I should put it off until I feel better. Those feelings come from outside influences and are transient. Dozens of times I’ve felt like that and when I pushed past them and did the workout, about five or ten minutes into the session, I started to feel more energized, more awake, happier. And I always left the gym in a new state of mind. This pushing past emotional blocks is a necessary skill to reaching any goal in many domains of life.
Need to feel differently? First, you must act differently. It almost never works the other way around.