Everything You Know About Motivation is Wrong & Here’s Why

Time.

It’s one of the most common obstacles for people when they’re struggling to get into a fitness routine and start taking care of their health. Now that most people are at home, many with an overabundance of time, it’s obvious that time isn’t the real issue. From the countless conversations I’ve had with people during quarantine, it seems that motivation is the largest issue when it comes to starting or maintaining a fitness and nutrition regiment.

Learning to motivate ourselves and others has long been a point of focus as we’ve tried to grow as both individuals and societies. Questions like, “how can I motivate myself to start working out?” or “how can I motivate my coworkers/employees to complete a task?” are commonplace and have shown up throughout history in various ways. Because of this, a large focus of scientific study has turned to motivation and how to use it to harness human potential both on the individual and group scale.

Why then, with it being woven into societies throughout history and given ample attention in scientific communities, is motivation so difficult for people to come by?

In large part, it’s because the majority of us don’t truly understand what motivation is, how to properly use it to achieve our goals, and are stuck using outdated, self-sabotaging methods. Luckily, you’re in the right place. I’m here to show you exactly how you can avoid the common motivation pitfalls and harness the power of motivation so you can start making progress, continuously check off your to do list and never feel run down again.

What is motivation?

Motivation is the general desire or willingness to do something. It’s the drive for taking action, performing a duty or completing a task. Many believe action is the product of motivation, that without motivation your vehicle for action won’t budge.

This is the first and most fatal mistake when it comes to motivation: believing that motivation precedes action, when in reality there is no true motivation without action.

If you wait for motivation to take action, you’ll be waiting for a while and many opportunities will pass you by as you wait. It’s like waiting for a bus in a foreign, third world country; you don’t know if the bus will actually show up, and when it does it may take you to a completely different destination (this actually happened to me while traveling solo in Costa Rica). Stop believing that you need to be motivated to get started and you’ll avoid the largest pitfall when it comes to motivation.

How do you build motivation?

Motivation is a product of momentum built from action, and the belief in the possibility of a better future because of your actions. In other words, you must take action to build motivation and build belief in that action as having the power to change your situation. Otherwise you will eventually burn out on the feelings of pointless action.

Someone looking to lose weight needs to believe in their ability to lose weight and the actions they’re taking toward it, otherwise when they hit a plateau, or if the weight doesn’t come off quickly and early, they’ll give up because they don’t have the deep belief in what they’re doing and why.

The 3 Levels of Human Motivation

To dive deeper into understanding and using motivation, it’s important to discuss the 3 levels of motivation that drive all of human behavior. Gaining a deeper understanding of the different motivation levels will allow you to harness the ability to self-motivate and become the absolute best version of yourself.

First Level Motivation: Primal Motivators

The first level of motivation is the most basic of the 3. It’s built around our most basic biological needs like food, water, shelter, sleep, reproduction, etc. These are primal motivators that are the foundation for much of what we do. For many of us these needs are largely taken care of and almost an afterthought, so motivation from this first level is low. Ensure that your basic needs are met and you won’t need to worry about level 1 motivation.

Second Level Motivation: Carrot & Stick Rewards/Punishment

The second level of motivation is the carrot and stick, reward and punishment style of motivation. It’s what the majority of the 20th century was built upon and the way that many businesses, parents, teachers, and society members focus on as a way of motivating themselves and others. Punish the bad behavior, reward the good behavior, and over time you’ll prune your behavior garden so that only the good behaviors grow, and all unnecessary behaviors are weeded out. This is great in theory, and for certain situations it works wonderfully, but in many instances this sort of motivation is severely lacking and can even negatively affect motivation, especially over the long haul.

The Problem with Reward-Based Motivation

External, reward-based motivators, like overtime pay and are carrot and stick style motivation. They dumb people down to basic beings who wouldn’t accomplish much without the threat of punishment or the allure of reward. They can be extremely useful in certain situations and for specific types of motivation needed, but they can also destroy the intrinsic motivation and derail your progress long term if used inappropriately.

External rewards are great when used for a task or habit that you haven’t started and/or aren’t interested in or excited about starting. By rewarding yourself at the beginning, you can make the process of starting easier, hopefully build interest and help solidify the habits that you may not enjoy. This will work effectively in the initial stages, but over time you’ll need to move those rewards internally as rewards lose their power and effect over time and exposure.

External rewards have a negative, motivation draining effect in situations where you enjoy the tasks. This is because of something called the overjustification effect where instead of focusing on the task itself, we focus on the reward and almost detach from the task. If you’ve ever enjoyed something and then moved into a position where it became your job and you were paid for it, over time the joy you found in that activity likely faded until you lost all joy entirely. This is the overjustification effect in action and can destroy the internal joy and motivation that is necessary for long term success.

External rewards also have a negative effect if used too frequently or for too long. Rewards are most effective when they’re sporadic and randomized, as this works on a process called reward prediction error. We receive a bigger bolster of motivation and feedback from unexpected or unpredictable rewards rather than those that we know are coming. Receiving an unexpected cash bonus at work has a more powerful effect on your motivation than the annual bonus you receive at Christmas. One is unexpected and reinforces the hard work you’ve done, while the other is expected and taken for granted.

Use external rewards to build initial interest in a task to help you get started and sporadically during the beginning phases of building a habit or changing behaviors. Over time move those motivators internally and focus on intrinsic factors, like the grand purpose of your goals, the impact your actions have and the control you have over them, and working towards daily mastery, to ensure that motivation doesn’t wane and progress continues.

Level 3 Motivation: Autonomy, Mastery, & Purpose

The third level of motivation moves away from the externally motivating factors like rewards and punishments and turns motivation inward. It focuses entirely on intrinsic motivation, the internal drives for why you do something, and uses that to create lasting, overflowing motivation. It focuses on 3 primary areas that define and drive motivation: purpose, autonomy, and mastery. Understanding what these 3 areas encompass and learning how to use that information on yourself and the world around you will give you the ability to manifest motivation nearly at will.

Autonomy

Autonomy means self-government. It’s the idea that we are driven by a need to feel in control of ourselves and the choices that we make. It plays a major role in motivating individuals, but beyond just feeling like we’re in control of our lives and the choices therein, we must feel like the choices we make and actions we take have the power to make change. It’s this belief, this feeling of hope for a better future based off our actions that provides us with the motivation necessary to make change.

To use autonomy for yourself, it’s important that you decide what goals to pursue and how to pursue them. This doesn’t mean that you need to go at it alone, but rather that you should be the one guiding your journey. Realizing the control you have over your situation, coupled with the belief that you can make a change, is one of the most empowering and motivating feelings you will experience.

As a health and fitness coach I approach goal setting, as well as individualized fitness and nutrition components from this same perspective. I act as a guide to help people in achieving their goals, but ultimately the goals that they choose to pursue and the ways in which they pursue them come down to their own needs, wants and drives. I could outline exactly how to reach a goal for every client, but in doing so would remove a large degree of control they have in the process. The lack of control and personal input in the process would drain motivation and derail progress swiftly. Instead, I focus on ensuring that the client retains control, autonomy, over their health and fitness journey so that they stay engaged and motivated.

Mastery

Humans have a desire to work towards mastery of themselves, and their lives. This eagerness to work towards mastery provides us with a challenge and the feeling of “play” which can take mundane tasks from boring and uninteresting, to intriguing and enjoyable. Pursuit of mastery provides a video game-like experience that allows you to continuously face and overcome challenges, providing reoccurring motivation.

The key to using the component of mastery properly is to set up adequately matched challenges. Using the Goldilocks Paradox and finding a challenge or goal that’s not too hard (which feels overwhelming and pointless), or too easy (which gets boring and repetitive) builds engagement and energizes you toward your task. Figure out what you want to achieve over the long haul, take note of what you’re currently capable of, and then set goals that are just a step or two above where you currently are. This will allow you to feel empowered to succeed in achieving your goals without becoming overwhelmed or bored.

I know it’s not glamorous to take mini steps and make small progress towards your goals. It doesn’t garner the attention or excitement that a major life overhaul and grand goals might, but it leads to far more success. Anyone who seems to have achieved “overnight success” is actually the product of consistent, small achievements that culminated in a massive amount of success over time. Start with your overarching goal(s) as guidance, but then focus on breaking them down into manageable, bite-sized pieces that are appropriately challenging.

Purpose

Purpose is your “why”. It’s the reason that you ultimately do something. It’s at the deepest level, the “something bigger than you” level, where it connects us to the process in a way that goals themselves cannot do alone, especially ill-formed or misguided goals. When you start to figure out the goals you’d like to achieve, you need to dig deeper and figure out why you have a desire to achieve them.

Why do you want to achieve this goal? Why does it matter to you? What need does this goal satisfy for you and why is that important? How does this connect to a larger purpose than the goal itself?

In answering these questions you’ll gain a clearer picture about who you are and what drives you, and figure out if the goal you’ve set out is something that truly matters, or if it’s just another goal that you’ll pursue for a short period and eventually give up on. Figure out the purpose of your goal, build belief in the reason why you want to achieve that goal, and fuel your motivational fire from within.

If you want to lose weight, why? What purpose does it serve?

Maybe you want to feel more confident about yourself, improve your health, or be able to challenge yourself physically by running races. It’s important to dig deeper than simply wanting to lose weight, because at some point that alone won’t be enough to keep pushing you forward when the journey becomes difficult and your dedication wanes. Figure out why you want to achieve your goals, and focus on that purpose, especially when the process becomes difficult or progress becomes stagnant.

Motivation is Internally Driven

To truly motivate yourself, not just to get started but also to continue in pursuit of a goal, you need to move your focus away from external motivators, like rewards and punishments which can negatively affect motivation, and turn it towards internal motivators. You can use external motivators to begin a task and build interest, but eventually the power from those rewards and punishments will fade, so finding internal motivation, or a drive and reason within yourself for what you do, is the ultimate goal. Harness the power of internal motivation by finding purpose, retaining autonomy over the process, and creating challenge through mastery. In doing so you will find that you never have to wait for motivation to strike again and your ability to achieve goals will never be an issue.

Many of these ideas are based off the work of E.L. Deci and R.M. Ryan, the pioneers of Self-Determination Theory, and the book Drive by Daniel H. Pink. For more information, check out selfdeterminationtheory.org, or read Daniel Pink’s book. And if you need help implementing this new style of motivation into your life, so that you can live a happy and successful life, send me an email at achievefitllc@gmail.com to learn more about the coaching process I’ve used to help people turns dreams into reality and make life-altering changes.

5 Steps to Make a Life Changing Transformation

Change is going to happen. Regardless of who you are, where you’re from, or what you do, change is inevitable. Many people struggle with change. The struggle occurs because the change happens to you, rather than for you. You are forced to change, rather than choosing to transform, and that lack of control can be uncomfortable, unnerving, and frustrating. It’s like being pulled by the undertow in the ocean; Fearing that you may never regain control and reach the surface again becomes very real.

The issue lies in the fact that we’ve never really been taught how to create positive change; We’ve never been taught that it’s a process that we can take control of it. During your schooling years from preschool all the way through college and post graduate studies, much of your self-development and growth occurs as a result of others guiding you through the learning and transformation processes. It teaches and conditions you to that change is done for you, rather than by you, making you feel like a passive participant in your own growth and development.

As you work your way out of school and into traditional life, the responsibility of personal growth and learning falls squarely on your shoulders. No longer are people intentionally guiding you to acquire more knowledge, build your skills, and develop yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically. This is where most people stop developing almost completely and become stagnant in their life. They no longer consistently learn and grow, struggle to create positive change, and find themselves merely treading water. This is a scary place to be because it goes against our natural human desire to stay in motion and work to grow and achieve more. Even though change is scary, being stuck feels worse. Without that growth, without the positive motion moving us forward, we feel lost and struggle to find ourselves.

That’s where Intentional Change Theory can play a pivotal role. It’s a structured approach to self-development and personal transformation created by Richard Boyatzis. It was theorized and designed for use in the development of employees and growth in the business sector, but can work for everything from career improvement and emotional development, to physical transformations, relationship building and skill acquisitions. It helps guide you from where you currently are to where you want to be through 5 key steps:

  1. Connecting to Your Ideal Self
  2. Understanding Your Real Self
  3. Creating a Learning & Growth Agenda
  4. Implementing and Experimenting with New Behaviors &Habits
  5. Developing & Maintaining Close, Personal Relationships

With these 5 steps you will discover important things about yourself that will help you achieve personal growth and transform your life. Diving deep in the questions below, you will begin to uncover the truth about who you are; Your strengths and weaknesses, your dreams and aspirations, and your fears and personal obstacles will all be brought to the surface . This insight will guide you through building a structured transformation process and help you grow into the person you have always wanted to become, to develop the life you’ve always dreamed of living.

If you’re ready to take control of your life, seeking out and creating change intentionally rather than waiting for it to happen to you, continue reading this guide that will have you on your way to living your best life and becoming your truest self. 

Ideal Self:

What do you want out of life?

Don’t think about what you’ll tolerate, or what you think is possible; what do you truly want and desire out of life?

Who do you want to become? What does the very best version of yourself look like?

Most of us tend to live small. We plan small, dream small and live small. It’s safe and it keeps us from feeling the anxiety and fear of being truthful about our dreams and goals and chasing them feverishly. It keeps us from being let down if things don’t work out.

But living safe isn’t living life to it’s fullest. It’s living below your potential and accepting less than what you truly want and deserve. It leaves you always wanting more, left with feelings of dissatisfaction and irritation.

Your ideal self breaks through these societal and self-imposed limitations, smashes through the idea that you’re not worth the effort to go after want you want. It helps you tap into your deepest desires for yourself and the life you live. This is the part of the vision building process which works on something called “Positive Emotional Attraction” to create hope and inspiration for individuals to create change. Rather than focusing on external limitations and factors that can lead to feelings of negativity, visualization allows you to look at yourself and your situation in the most positive possible light.

When going through the questions above, it’s important to be aware of any of the limiting stories or ideas that come across your mind. These are the stories that the world around you has told you for years, driven by their own fear and limitations, that you’ve adopted as your own. If you start thinking, “I can’t achieve that”, “I’m not good enough for that”, “I’m not X, Y, or Z type of person” or anything sounding remotely similar, understand that’s not your own true thoughts and feelings, but rather the thoughts and feelings you have absorbed over a lifetime.

This section is where you let those feelings go, be truthful with yourself about what you want and need out of yourself and your life and start visualizing what that would look and feel like. Put aside your preconceived notions about what’s possible based on your current skills, characteristics, attributes, etc.; Turn your focus to what you want your life to look like if there were absolutely no limitations and anything was possible (hint: in many ways, it is possible).

Real Self:

This is who you truthfully are right now. How do you act? How do you see yourself? How do other people see you and feel about you?

Your real self is the person that you currently are. It’s the way you act and respond, the characteristics you embody, the skills you currently possess, and the life you’re currently living. This is a difficult area for people to dive into because we all have our own biases and protections for our egos. We struggle to see ourselves honestly, without outside influences or personal opinions distorting the truth about ourselves. However, if we are afraid to look in the mirror, we can never change the things we don’t like. Embrace the “ugly”. Be honest. Put aside your ego and take this dive into who you truly are as an opportunity for reflection, self-awareness, and growth.

As you work through the questions above, it can help to reach out to other people to gather their opinion on who you are. Choose people who know you well but aren’t afraid to speak their mind and be honest, without fear of hurting your feelings. You must also be open to the constructive criticism these people may provide and welcome it as a self-performance review. It will show you where you excel and show you where you can improve. if you adopt a mindset that sees honesty and growth as a positive opportunity, the ability to improve is invigorating and energizing. These people will play a pivotal role in your growth and development over your lifetime, so getting them involved early and often is important.

Ideal vs Real Self: Your Personal Balance Sheet

Compare your ideal self to your real self. Where do they align? Where are there gaps and differences between the two?

Where does your real self live up to your ideal self? These are the strengths that you’ll continue to build on and use to your advantage.

Where does your ideal self outpace your real self? These are the weaknesses or shortcomings where you will focus your attention and put energy into improving.

This works as a personal balance sheet designed to compare where your strengths lie, and where opportunities for growth can be found. It’s important to approach this process entirely judgment free, focusing on unconditional acceptance of self. Look at is as a chance to improve yourself and your life, rather than beat yourself up over your weaknesses or areas in which you aren’t living up to your potential.

It can be helpful to set up a Venn diagram comparing your real and ideal self and putting the overlapped areas in the middle to show where they align. You can then move onto the next section and start building a plan to bridge the gap between your ideal and real self, using your strengths to get you there.

Learning Agenda:

Your learning agenda is the plan you develop that guides you step by step from where you currently are, to where you want to go. It’s the map that leads you to the treasure chest of wealth that is your ideal self and life. It’s important to build a clear outline with goals that are broken down further into skills and practices/habits. This ensures that you’re giving yourself the best chance to succeed in transformation.

What do you need to learn to become your best self? What skills do you need to develop?

In what areas to you need to grow physically, mentally and emotionally to become the best version of you?

How can you take the information from above and break it down into manageable steps that can be achieved through daily action (habits and behaviors) over the course of weeks and months or even years?

The learning agenda is a guide; it’s the Yoda to the Luke Skywalker that is your personal growth and development. It acts to not only show you the path to your highest self and form of living, but also to motivate you by proving that it’s actually possible to achieve. Focus on the key aspects of your personal growth, the areas that will bring you the most drastic change the quickest. Then, narrow your lens view as you achieve those major changes.

A large portion of your focus will be on bridging the gaps between your ideal and real self, but attention should also be paid to strengths and areas in which you are already succeeding. This works to reinforce those strengths and to ensure that you continue to maintain them as you move forward. This gives you a boost of motivation by working in an area where you already excel. Working on weaknesses and constantly struggling to build upon them can become a grind, so it’s necessary to affirm your strengths.

But while it is important to focus necessary attention on those areas, don’t become lost in that. It can be easy to be absorbed by the good feelings and comfort of the “pat on the back”. Acknowledge what you’ve done well, and what you will continue to do, but don’t let it take you away from the process of transformation.

Practice and Experimentation with New Habits and Behaviors:

This may be the most important step in this entire process. Without the previous three steps, however, it will fall far short of its potential. This is where you take the planning, motivation, and insight built over the first three steps and put them into action.

What habits and behaviors must you adopt if you wish to become your ultimate self?

How can you implement the practice of those behaviors into your current life?

How will you ensure that failure in practicing or creating a new behavior doesn’t end up in you quitting the improvement process entirely?

It’s important to understand and accept that change doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t just decide to become a better person, to live a better life, and then wake up expecting it to happen. It takes hard work and a level of dedication that gets you through the low points. But if you keep your eyes on the end goal while believing in your ability to achieve it, the work will come naturally. Though difficult at times, it will be well worth it. Focus on what you do daily as a way to weigh your success in the process, working for consistency rather than perfection. Measure those habits up to the check points you’ve set for yourself, and continue to do this process over time.

It’s also necessary to remember that your ultimate self is probably unattainable– meaning, perfection is something that will never happen. You will never do every single thing you set out to do daily. It’s about a majority win. When good habits prevail 90 percent of the time, you’re winning. The idea that your ultimate self won’t be 100 percent achieved shouldn’t dampen your emotion but rather keep you level headed as you work towards it without ever truly achieving it.

Development and Maintenance of Close Personal Relationships:

Picture of friends smiling and sitting in a cafe having coffee together.

Humans are built for connection. It plays on our need for survival. Those who are connected with others and work well in groups typically survive better than lone wolfs. It also works with our desire to reproduce, as connection is a vital component to create relationships and families. Though our needs for survival have drastically changed throughout human history, there is still a large need for human connection and support in achieving anything of worth, especially a massive transformation. You can go at this journey alone, but your chances of success and the speed at which you succeed will fall greatly without the assistance from people close to you.

The relationships that we have with individuals and groups work two fold. They work as a support system, providing feedback on your progress, and helping you through your struggles so you don’t revert back to old behaviors. They also help develop your identity. Because of this, it’s important to surround yourself with people who will be honest and challenge you, those who believe in your vision for your life and live their lives in a similar manner. Working toward personal growth and aiming to live the best life possible is so much easier when done together.

Your personal relationships include friends and family, but expand outside of that small circle to encompass people you wouldn’t normally expect. Bosses and mentors, coaches who have already achieved what you wish to work for, and anyone else willing to invest in your process of change are all people you should keep close to you. Start looking within your life to find people who fit the criteria of being a supportive member on your journey, and then expand outward searching for coaches or mentors who can help guide you where others cannot.

Remember that the relationship should be mutually beneficial. You will be gaining something from them, and giving something in return. Enter the relationship in such a way that ensures you’re not simply taking.

Change is Your Choice

Change is going to be tough no matter how it happens. Whether you change as a result of difficult times that force change, or simply decide that you’re going to dedicate yourself to the betterment and improvement of your life, it’s going to be difficult. The difference between intentional change and the change that happens to you and is forced upon you, is that the former makes you feel empowered with the ability to create change, while the latter leaves you feeling out of control and at the mercy of life. It’s your choice and responsibility to decide who you want to be and the life you want to live, and it starts with your approach to your own development and growth.

Do you want to accept life as it is, always at the mercy of the inevitable difficulties that life throws at you? Or would you prefer to grab the reins of change, take control of your life and grow into the person you’ve always been capable of becoming?

Ultimately the choice is yours and I can’t fault you for not wanting to put forth the immense amount of effort it takes to create change for yourself and work toward a better life. But the truth is that your time on earth is limited and you’ve already been living a small, underwhelming life, so isn’t it time to try something new?

P.S. If you’ve been struggling to make a change in your life, especially if it’s related to health, nutrition, fitness or mindset, contact me at achievefitllc@gmail.com to discuss my coaching process and how I can help you implement some of the tools from this article and ensure you make the changes you desire and start living the life you have always wanted!