In the course of coaching many people, of all ages, from around the country, I’ve noted that those who are most successful at accomplishing their personal health goals are the ones who are most highly motivated. No surprise, right?
For the record, coaches don’t motivate people. Rather, they help people learn how to motivate themselves. This is an important distinction.
There’s plenty of evidence to show that when an expert (even a doctor) tells us we should do something to improve our health, we may follow their advice for a while, but generally we don’t sustain the behavior.
There’s a reason for this.
Our intrinsic need for self-autonomy is so strong we often dismiss the suggestions of others with knowledge and authority because we think we know ourselves better than anyone (we do, mostly) and feel some need to be the author of our own story.
Recognizing this reality of human nature, a masterful coach comes from a different angle, which involves skillful questions designed to help the client tap into their own reasons for change.
The key in effective coaching is to partner with the client to discover what lights the fire within, and then help them figure out how to keep it burning, so to speak.
I often think that the best thing I can do as a coach is to empower my clients to coach themselves, in effect, putting myself out of business.
Fortunately, most people have another innate drive within them — to grow and learn continuously. This means the opportunities for me to provide support and guidance to others through coaching are almost limitless.
Knowing that motivation is essential to lasting behavioral change, here are a few of the things you can do to keep your motivation strong — day in and day out.
Reaffirm your vision of your best self on a daily basis. Think of it as a daily habit which will change your life because of its ability to keep you focused on the things that matter most: your health and well-being.
When you imagine yourself in your most desired state, it has the effect of getting your juices flowing, a necessary pre-requisite to action.
Note: this is not goal setting; planning for some future event. It is framing your vision in the present tense, in terms of the things you love the most and are most passionate about — and imagining you have already arrived.
As you envision your best self, in your mind’s eye … What does it look like? What are you feeling? What are you doing? The more sensory rich you can make this exercise, the more powerful its effect will be on you.
I have a client who uses a vision board, where she puts her personal mantra, pictures of places she hopes to visit, the biometric numbers she sees herself having, an image of her running on the beach and other symbols that represent her greatest desires.
Remember, if you want to get maximum value from this process, it’s best to do it every single day. If you really want to make a quantum leap, do it multiple times each day.
Start each day on the right foot. Take a few minutes to get anchored by bringing to mind your most cherished values and committing to a few simple actions you know will keep you true to those values.
For some people, this morning ritual can be a time of prayer. Others use the time to reflect or read something inspirational. Regardless of form, when we tune to our highest frequency upon wakening, we are setting the tone for the day ahead, knowing that motivation will be higher when we are acting proactively rather than reactively to everything coming at us.
Another client decided she wasn’t going to check her messages in the morning until she had taken a few moments to do a guided meditation using an app she has on her phone. She finds this new routine is helping to stabilize her emotions throughout the day and keeping her on an even keel, focused steadily on her personal goals.
Move like your life depended on it — because it does. No need to share the mountains of evidence that tell us that regular exercise is one of the best ways to improve quality of life. You already know that.
Some of the most promising studies of late show that physical activity, especially the deliberate kind, is the perfect antidote to the sitting disease that’s so common these days because of our sedentary lifestyles. Nothing saps our motivation like sitting around for most hours of the day.
They call exercise a “keystone” activity for good reason. It can start a nice chain reaction of events that feed an upward spiral of health. When we get in a regular groove of being physically active, we also tend to have more energy, are more productive, sleep better, feel better mentally and, as a nice bonus, feel more motivated.
I work with a busy professional who wants to spend time with his children and would also love to work out a few days a week. Because of limited time, he used to find it hard to do both. Not anymore. Now, he puts his 3-year-old’s bicycle with training wheels next to his stationary bike so he and his son can work out together. With a little creativity, anything’s possible.
Another client, who’s retired and doesn’t like going to the gym, but knows how important it is to do weight bearing exercises to help maintain her bone density and muscle mass, has found a simple way to exercise at home and keep her motivation high. She uses laundry soap containers, filled with liquid, and does her own form of weight lifting while watching TV. She says she always feels better when she’s doing her homemade workout.
Align yourself with others who share your goals. We may cross paths with many people in the course of a day, but each of us lives in our own little world, separate from one another. This is not a bad thing. It just means we’re on our own for keeping the ball of motivation rolling.
One way to counteract this kind of isolation, where we’re all doing our own thing, is to find other people to support us — like a workout buddy. Being accountable to one another can sometimes mean the difference between following through on a plan or not.
Another great option these days is fitness challenges that we can participate in using devices like Fitbit, an Apple watch or a phone app. These challenges, done virtually, are really effective at getting people to do things they are much less likely to do on their own.
Almost everyone I know loves the thrill of friendly competition with friends, family and coworkers. A little competition does wonders for keeping us motivated.
If gaming is not your thing, check out Meetup.com, a great place to find kindred spirits who share our interests. When we pursue our passions with other like-minded people, it’s a nice way to fuel the motivation of everyone involved.
Meditate. It represents our best hope for taking ourselves off of “auto pilot,” which results in our mindlessly careening through life at times. Through meditation, we slowly learn how to be truly conscious more often.
As our awareness grows, so too does our ability to break out of old patterns that have a funny way of repeating themselves and keeping us stuck. Nothing is as de-energizing as being caught in what seems like a never-ending loop.
Here’s an added bonus: meditation can also help us reduce anxiety and stress, two conditions that sap our motivation big time.
With practice, we begin to experience subtle shifts in the way we think. We become less judgmental of ourselves and others. We notice more of what we’re noticing and in this so-called gap between stimulus and response (thought and action) is a world of opportunity.
The most successful of my clients are those who have incorporated some form of meditation or mindfulness practice into their daily routine. Many of them tell me it has helped them make better choices with food, has improved their relationships, and has helped them let go of thoughts and emotions that weren’t serving them well.
If it seems a bit ironic that I’m offering you ideas that will ratchet up your motivation and keep it at a high level — after telling you that people generally don’t follow through on the advice of others — the irony is not lost on me.
So, here’s my final thought: If you really want to bring your game to a higher level, consider extracting just one idea from the many above. Pick the one that resonates strongest for you, the one you know, deep down, has the potential to keep you motivated steadily.
Adapt it, if need be, so it fits the realities of your life. Make it a part of your eclectic mix of strategies that make the most sense for you.
Commit to doing it long enough to give it a chance to work, and may the wellspring of motivation keep flowing for you.
Barry Bouthilette’s specialty is helping people stay focused on the things that matter most. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.