Finding a Strong Source of Motivation for Healthy Living

June 3rd, 2010

It seems that many people are unable to maintain the motivation needed to make a lifelong commitment to healthy habits, especially in regard to diet and exercise. Although this is often blamed on a lack of will and dedication, there are other important factors to consider as well.

People who struggle with motivation often embrace the latest trends hoping that it will be what they need to keep them focused. However, given the large number of health related products and programs that exist, and the also large number of people who continue to struggle with motivation, it should be obvious that such an approach is unlikely to result in long term success. While it’s hard to criticize anything that encourages people to embrace healthier habits, the latest trends and technologies will rarely provide the substance needed to inspire lasting motivation.

The Importance of Inspiration

Due to the many unhealthy influences and temptations that have become such a common part of modern living, promoting and maintaining good health can require a lot of effort. However, just about any type of accomplishment requires commitment and hard work, and this shouldn’t necessarily be perceived with discouragement. The effort required to achieve a goal is often proportional to the fulfillment that it brings, and people who dedicate themselves to healthy living can enjoy a sense of accomplishment in addition to the benefits of improved health. However, none of this is possible without a daily commitment to healthy habits, and this commitment will be very difficult to make and maintain without a meaningful source of inspiration to do so.

How Strong is Your Inspiration?

One of the most common reasons why people consider making changes to their diet or exercise habits is to lose weight. In many cases, this is based more on appearance than health or wellness. However, many people find that such a source of inspiration isn’t strong enough to help them overcome their cravings for unhealthy foods or their lack of desire to exercise. Perhaps this is why so many people are stuck in a seemingly endless pattern of abandoning a new diet or exercise program, feeling guilty about doing so, and looking for the latest and greatest alternative to start the cycle over again.

Other Weak Sources of Inspiration

In my opinion, the P90X workout program and Reebok’s EasyTone shoes are two examples of how the novelty of something new and popular can be a powerful but short lived source of motivation. I’ve received a lot of criticism for having a negative opinion of these products, particularly because of their potential to encourage otherwise sedentary people to exercise. If such an individual makes a lifelong commitment to healthier habits after being inspired by products like these, it’s a great thing. However, if the disappointment of being overweight and more vulnerable to debilitating conditions has failed to inspire a long term commitment to good health, then it’s highly unlikely for the novelty of the latest fitness or diet fad to have any more of a lasting impact.

Regardless of the quality or effectiveness of products like the P90X program or Reebok’s EasyTone sneakers, their novelty can indeed motivate people to adapt healthier habits. However, once the novelty wears off, which it inevitably will, inspiration and motivation will likely fade away too. I consider this type of inspiration to be weak because it’s based on something other than the direct benefits of the tasks or activities that require motivation. While it may “get someone off the couch,” it won’t keep them off the couch for long unless it facilitates the recognition of a deeper and more meaningful source of inspiration.

How to Identify a Meaningful Source of Inspiration

There’s no single way to describe the meaning of life. It can vary greatly based on individuality, and although not everyone fully recognizes what aspects of life are most meaningful to them, we each have a unique set of values that represent what we care about most. Regardless of what these values are, they can be a tremendous source of inspiration and motivation, and as such, they can inspire the dedication needed to achieve challenging and long term goals. A great way to take advantage of this is to identify ways in which your values are dependent upon your goals.

Consider someone who’s naturally inspired by the fulfillment they gain from helping others but can’t find the motivation they need to lose weight. By identifying ways in which weight loss could make their generosity more productive and fulfilling, such a person will naturally be more motivated to implement healthier habits. For example, a more fit and healthy appearance would be a demonstration of self empowerment that could increase their credibility and influence, and the extra energy that typically results from improved health could increase their capacity and allow them engage in more of the generous behavior that fulfills them. Furthermore, relying on a sensible exercise program and a truly healthy diet to lose weight will more than likely improve their quality of life, and this is a benefit that should be meaningful to anyone. In short, the key to building motivation is recognizing an honest and realistic way to associate your goals with a stronger sense of urgency, and basing the association on personal values is an excellent way to accomplish this.

A great example of this concept comes from Andre Agassi’s autobiography. Andre’s time as a professional tennis player can easily be regarded as a dramatic transition from a young and flamboyant punk who took his talent for granted to a mature and dedicated veteran who made the most of what he had. Although he hated doing the very same thing that brought him his fame, he eventually recognized his passion for helping others and chose to use his tennis talent to pursue it further. This passion inspired him, and recognizing a way to associate it with tennis gave him the motivation that he previously lacked to fully commit himself to his career as a professional athlete. As a result, he was finally able to live up to his potential as a world class tennis player and enjoy consistent and long term success. More importantly, this helped him achieve his true goal of establishing the highly successful Andre Agassi Prepatory Academy which provides underprivileged children in Las Vegas with a good education and an opportunity for a better life.

Be Inspired By Enjoyment

A much more simple approach to cultivating inspiration, and one that doesn’t require much thought at all, is enjoyment. People who enjoy exercising and eating nutritious whole foods generally don’t have much trouble making these healthy habits a consistent part of their lifestyles. For example, I’ve always enjoyed working out and playing sports, especially tennis, and as such, it’s very easy for me to stay active. Likewise, with my appreciation for the importance of a healthy diet, I’ve become more aware of preferences that I have for certain whole foods and look forward to meals that include them.

Just about anyone should be able to identify a few physical activities that they find enjoyable and a variety of nutritious whole foods that they find delicious. The key is being open minded enough to discover what they are, and once this happens, healthy living will very likely become much easier. Those who find a way to enjoy healthy habits will likely find that their commitment to them seems effortless.

Change is Difficult

For many people, a large part of the reason why implementing healthier habits is so difficult is the discomfort of changing their existing habits. A strong source of inspiration, whether it be based on personal values or simple enjoyment, helps to overcome this sometimes overwhelming obstacle. Although habits relating to health are often the hardest to change and are most frequently related to diet and exercise, finding a strong source of inspiration can help a great deal in making any type of change.

Another common problem with change is starting out with too much ambition. For example, someone who exercises hard every day or excessively cuts calories will be more likely to lose their motivation regardless of how strong their source of inspiration is. As such, balance is critical, and within reason, doing less often provides more benefit than doing more, especially when the only other alternative is doing nothing at all.

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