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How's Your Exercise Motivation?

Brian Calkins - NSCA-CPT, ACE | Cincinnati, Ohio

As the weather turns colder and we move toward the busy holiday season, sometimes we lose motivation to exercise and eat right consistently. Too much stress, too little time and too many obligations are often cited for falling off the bandwagon.

Remember, though, that exercise and healthy eating make us far more productive, less stressed and much more focused, allowing for a more enjoyable holiday season. And, of course, getting back on track in January won’t feel like such a mountain to climb with consistency in November and December!

Staying on course with our fitness is dependent on the type of motivation that currently drives us. And when it comes to consistency there are three levels of inspiration.

The first level or stage is "fear-based motivation," which is an emotionally charged form of motivation. In this stage you may fear gaining weight.  You may be frightened that you are starting to look like your parents.  Or maybe you’ve recently experienced a health scare like a bad blood test result or illness.

The fear based stage is good initially since it does motivate you to do something about your situation, but the challenge is that it does not last long. Once you take action and the problem begins to fade, you resolve the fear. As the fear dissipates, you will either relapse into your old behaviors or move up to the second stage of motivation.

The second stage of motivation is what is referred to as "feedback-based motivation." Your motivation in this phase is fueled by all the various forms of feedback that you get from various outside sources:

  • You see the scale needle moving toward the left.
  • Friends and family members turn their heads (toward you) when you walk in the room. 
  • Clothes are starting to slide off your body (time to put another notch in your belt!). 
  • Maybe members of the opposite gender are starting to notice you and you appreciate this new attention. 

The problem with feedback based motivation is that it too has to end.

What happens when your clothes can't get any looser?  Friends and family members that complimented you early on stop commenting about your weight by the third or fourth time that they see you.  As the feedback begins to diminish, your motivation can begin to fade and you will move to one of two places.  You will either fall back to your old behaviors or you will move into the third stage of motivation.

The third stage of motivation is based on an innate or inner drive that encompasses the "big picture." Once at this level of motivation you come to understand that eating right and exercising isn't a "have to," it's simply a part of who you are and what you do.

When a person reaches this stage, self motivation is based not on weight loss, but on living a lifestyle of sound health, fitness and feeling great.  It's coming to terms with the fact that you are in control of your destiny and that each choice and decision has a consequence. 

In this phase you have an inner desire to continue with your program no matter what life throws your way. Your coping skills have become a natural part of you so that eating wrong seems harder than eating right. This is the final phase where motivation is at its highest point and exercise is naturally built into your lifestyle!