How many times have you started on a new journey only to find you have fallen right back into bad habits? How many times how you been angry for yourself for doing the cycle again? How many times have you actually changed your approach? Because as Einstein said, insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. So, what do you need to do different to keep your motivation?
Why is it so easy to lose motivation?
There are two basic types of motivation: intrinsic is the motivation that comes from within an individual, and extrinsic motivation is provided by your environment, like a reward or punishment. An example of intrinsic motivation is reading a book or playing a sport because you enjoy doing it. Extrinsic motivation may look like eating healthy to want to fit in an old pair of pants.
Regardless of what type of motivation you have to propel you towards good habits, if you rely on motivation alone, you’re likely setting yourself up to fail. Sticking to a new fitness plan or diet program after jumping right in is really tough, and most people will give up sooner or later.
The short answer to why we lose motivation is because the area of the brain that controls willpower is the same one responsible for lots of other things, like day-to-day tasks, short-term memory, and your ability to focus. Because it has to do so much to cope with your daily existence, the prefrontal cortex can't be counted on to sustain motivation. This is because with motivation you need something else.
How do you get your motivation back?
Set yourself up for success. James Clear’s best-selling book, Atomic Habits, gives the best answer to this question. In his book, he says, "you do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems."
In fact, one of the most effective ways to restore your motivation is to create an environment that ensures you won’t lose it. In this environment you need to work on making your own motivation when you are feeling low, this means on top of your motivation you need determination. You need to want that goal and realistically reach for success.
If your goal is to cut carbs, take the time to set yourself up for success. Make it easier to access healthy choices by stocking up on whole foods that you like to eat. Simultaneously, make it harder to get items that will deter you. It's much easier to throw the cookies in the trash before you get started than to keep yourself from eating them as long as they're in the house. Make yourself determined to not buy the cookie.
Automate your decision-making process. Similarly, you can create a system to keep you motivated when it comes to fitness. Find an activity that you like doing, and be intentional and realistic about your approach to it. For example, scheduling 20 minutes each morning that you devote to working out increases the chance that you’ll actually put in the work. This works because a small amount of time is a pretty manageable commitment. It won’t meet with as much mental resistance allowing you to make a new habit with your motivation and determination.
When you program yourself for success, your overworked prefrontal cortex no longer has to make each decision. You simply follow the plan of decisions that you have already made to support your goals. The less you have to think about, the better your chances of creating habits that support your objectives.
How do you stay motivated?
Surround yourself with people who inspire you to be better and who have a positive, growth-oriented mindset. It’s often said that we are the sum of the people that we spend the most time with. If you’re trying to lose weight, consider hanging out with healthy eaters more often than your friends who are willing to eat junk food. If you’re looking to work out, hang out with people who like to move so that you can encourage each other to keep on moving towards your target.
Motivation is fleeting because of the brain's inability to exercise willpower. With our hectic modern lives, it's too taxed to manage day-to-day activities to be responsible for sustaining motivation.
Instead, the most reliable way to get back your motivation and stay motivated is to intentionally influence your environment by creating systems that support your goals and by finding determination in the little things. Look at where you’ve stumbled in the past and determine what you can do to prevent that situation from happening again. In that same way, make an effort to program yourself to take on bite-size challenges, like a 20-minute workout penciled in at the top of your to-do list.
By figuring out what you need to do to make sure that you give yourself a fighting chance, you’ll be able to stay motivated. No one said that building a better future was easy, but it certainly is possible.