Want to Find Your Internal Motivation? Just Ask Yourself Why

How to Find An Emotional Catalyst To Meet Your Fitness Goals


The secret of getting ahead is getting started,” observed Mark Twain. Ok, so maybe he wasn’t talking about motivation to workout or to develop a healthy eating plan. Then again, living to 74 in the early 1900’s, maybe he knew something about the value of meeting fitness and health goals.

Too bad we can’t say the same thing for the half of our population that doesn’t meet the recommended minimal 150-minutes per week of exercise, or worse, for more than a third of us who don’t work out at all. I’d call that “subconscious suicide,” given what we know about the health values of exercise and healthy eating, and the motivation to get going and stay moving.

For many, the big four motivators for healthy behaviors—eating healthy and working out—are:

  • Getting and staying healthy
  • Looking good
  • Connecting with friends
  • Feeling happier and more positive

I find that the word why can be a great starting point for someone to create their emotional motivation to achieve a healthier lifestyle. Why is important for stirring what’s in your heart and connecting that inner drive to your mind. When your heart and mind are in sync, you are turbocharged for a healthy, happy and fit life.

The more quickly you find your why—the internal reasons you have for putting one foot in front of the other—the more likely you’ll do it with pleasure and stay doing it. Don’t try running someone else’s race—a celebrity, a friend, an ad you see on TV—you’ll trip every time. Remember it’s YOUR race. You are running and digging deep into what YOUR race is all about and can bring you through your finish line.

I advise replacing pain-prevention thinking with pleasure promotion thinking. Are you running towards something positive or running away from something negative?

Be sure the music you listen to, the friends you surround yourself with, the books and magazines your absorb, allow you to pick those behaviors that support success and accomplishments that you are seeking, instead of the discomfort you are trying to avoid. This is the way to advance your goal whether it’s to play more with your kids or go to your high school reunion with increased confidence.

Knowing what motivates, or de-motivates, you to exercise is more important than deciding what exercise or diet plan to begin. It’s more important than choosing the right athletic shoes to purchase for your feet or remembering the combination to your gym locker door. Without understanding your motivation to begin exercising and to adhere to your program, you just won’t do it.

Where Does Your Motivation Come From?

There are two types of motivation, intrinsic, and extrinsic. What’s this mean? It’s really not that complicated.

Externally motivated folks find the drive to begin exercising when they think of, for example, the goal of losing weight, getting into better shape, or becoming healthier. When those goals are reached, motivation to continue often fades. That’s when internal motivation comes in handy.

Internally motivated people are more likely to continue exercising since they are focused on “here and now” internally personal types of rewards—the exercise movement feels enjoyable, or the activity is personally meaningful in some way. It’s not the goal that drives you, it’s the steps towards the goal that are enjoyable and the focus.

Are you internally motivated to exercise? You begin exercising because of the enjoyment, the challenge, the sense of mastery and you love it all. It isn’t about willpower for you, it’s about enjoyment and this will keep you moving as long as you find the pleasure in doing it.

Turn the E in “Exercise” into emotional enjoyment not emotionally and physically excruciating. Do that by finding your why, creating a plan that includes specific, small, measurable steps attached to a written weekly plan and insuring you do what you say you are going to do by finding a buddy and filling your vision with friendly talk about your progress. Feel like you are already breathing easier already?

We are just human and from time to time we are all guilty of irrational, illogical, and inaccurate thinking, especially when it comes to exercise. Words like never, always, should, impossible, and can’t are tip-offs for irrational obstacle creating, and utterly de-motivating thinking. You need what mental coaches call a response counter. Instead of thinking, “I don’t have time to exercise,” think, “I can always find time.”

Let’s Recap:

  • Know your “why.” What are your personal drivers and benefits of exercise?
  • Find friends with whom you can exercise.
  • Find the best time for your lifestyle to exercise (many find first thing in the morning is best)
  • Know what rewards work for YOU, and keep track of your progress to further motivate you.
  • Exercising with your spouse or partner can be especially motivating since it will lead to not only a better physique but also a better physical and emotional connection. What can be more motivating than that?
  • Remember that in the end it’s how you talk with yourself, think of yourself and define yourself. It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.

Dr. Michael Mantell

Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. has been providing psychological and coaching services for nearly 5 decades and continues to empower positive change among his global clients to enhance life in every way. He is a highly sought-after healthcare professional coach, an executive and team building consultant, and a longtime specialist in cognitive behavioral coaching.

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