Finding and Keeping Your Motivation

Woman in fieldMadison, Wisconsin - Whether it's losing weight, taking control of our finances, or even pledging to eat more vegetables, often our best intentions go the way of New Year's Resolutions – after a few unsuccessful days, they're given up with a small bit of guilt.


Part of the challenge in reaching our goals is recognizing our motivation.


"Motivation is that thing that propels us forward and keeps us going," explains Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, health psychologist with UW Health.


Mirgain says motivation falls into two basic categories – intrinsic, which arises from our own personal values, and extrinsic, which are based on an end goal such as losing weight in time for a special occasion. The challenge with extrinsic motivation is that once you accomplish your goal, such as losing those five pounds, then you have no further motivation to continue.


"We're a culture of instant, external rewards," she comments. "That can hinder us from having the persistence to work toward changes. But, having the opportunity to think about what truly motivates us can actually help us create larger, more long-standing changes. It helps us create our life in a way that feels meaningful."


Finding What is Truly Meaningful


Mirgain often talks to patients' groups like those with diabetes, heart disease or more recently the Go Red for Women Girlfriend Challengers. These individuals, like so many others, are often looking to make lifestyle changes such as starting exercise programs and eating healthier. But whether it's a health-related change, or something like taking control of finances, Mirgain recommends starting by looking at why the change is important personally.


"Ask yourself, 'how does this change fit in with the life I want to make for myself,'" she says. "When you ask yourself that question, you can start to reflect on the values that hold true for you. Another good question is to ask yourself for what do you want to be remembered for on your 90th birthday?"


Questions like, "How can I live my best life and what are the qualities and things I want for myself?", "What will help me feel fulfilled and joyful?", "How am I showing up for myself? For others?" can help us get in touch with our true values.


"It's really about showing self-care and believing that you are worthy of your time and attention," Mirgain comments. "And sometimes, that goes against our culture that pushes us to do more, and be more for others."


In the process of reflecting there are often two common issues that come up:


  • Making yourself a priority – there are so many things that can occupy your time: work, volunteer commitments, being a parent. It can be easy to put off taking care of your own needs when you’re focused on the needs and demands of others. 
  • Valuing the concept that you deserve to live a healthy life – once you recognize that you need to make yourself a priority, you have to invest in and give yourself the time and attention it takes to make changes. 


But, having a clear sense of what the issues are and why you're making the change can help you get to the "nuts and bolts" of how to actually accomplish it.


Finding (and Defining) Support


Once you've identified what's important, the next step is to create a support system. Mirgain suggests asking yourself two basic questions:


  • Who do you want to be among your supporters?
  • How can you best use their support?


"The people we surround ourselves with can be a support or a hindrance," Mirgain says. "They can provide accountability, celebrate successes, give you a boost when you need it, help you maintain momentum, and provide honest feedback."


She points out that finding individuals who have already made the changes you would like to make can help serve as role models and inspiration. Also, keeping mementos, inspirational sayings or images, or similar items on display can help keep you motivated.


Roadblocks are a natural part of making a change, but having a community of support surrounding you can help identify obstacles and get you back on track. And, it’s also important to remember not to be afraid of failure. After all, it’s always a new day somewhere in the world.


"You can start your day over at any time," says Mirgain. "We're going to experience setbacks, but how we react to them and get back on track is more important than the setback itself."


Staying positive and taking even one small step toward our goals can help us continue moving forward.


"Motivation is not the destination," Mirgain concludes. "It's the direction we head in."

Date Published: 05/09/2012

News tag(s):  shilagh a mirgainouruwhealthwellness

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