People can usually get excited about something new, a new diet, a new training program, new equipment, or a new relationship. As the poets say, Novelty is the spice of life. An even more common problem is sticking with it when the activity starts to get old. People often describe this change as losing motivation. They can’t understand how they lose the initial energy and enthusiasm. They see themselves as becoming undisciplined, lazy, or unmotivated. On the other hand, they see others who succeed as having some intangible that they don’t have. Motivation is the most obvious answer to them to explain success or failure.
As a psychologist in practice, loss of motivation has never been an adequate explanation for people’s behavior. As an example, I treat many overweight people. None want to be fat. To a one, all hate to be fat. The motivation is obvious. The same principle applies to other health behaviors. People who start an exercise program want to keep going. Nobody wants to be unhealthy.
So how do you explain that most people fail to stay healthy? My answer is that some hidden emotion arises that gets in the way. The emotion can initially be vary vague, with people describing it as feeling stressed, frustrated, or annoyed. These emotions arise for two different reasons. The first is an internal change. If the person’s expectations are unrealistic, they get annoyed when they don’t accomplish what they expect. The dieter worries that they are going to break the diet, so they get stricter and stricter. The longer they diet, the more the fear builds. They overcontrol a situation so completely that they become impulsive. The eat something they didn’t plan to eat, and hate themselves for it. The shame and guilt only breed more attempts to do the impossible to prove themselves, and the cycle begins again. Each time through the cycle takes another chunk out of their self-esteem, and they finally give up. Unfairly, according to most, they have simply lost their desire to achieve.
The second reason for a change in their emotional states is due to external changes. Life can and will change and throw curveballs at you. However, most people rarely make the connection between losing their interest and external events. When a child gets sick, the mother still expects herself to find the time to exercise. When there is a death in the family, nobody expects the grief period to last a year. After several months, they are expected to be over it. When a change in job responsibilities, increased marital arguments, difficult family situations, or a new boss is assigned, few realize the psychological strain. Instead, the person is the problem. They have once again lost their motivation.
So what is the answer? You are. Trust your natural motivation. When you aren’t able to keep going, look for another answer than losing your motivation. Look within you for some degree of anxiety or sadness. In either case, try to identify the problem that is causing the emotion. If you are more anxious than you realize, it will show itself in the way you act. The pressure can make you turn to short-term relief of your anxiety in the form of increased eating, drinking, or other distractions. You lose control of time. Your actions to lower your stress levels will tell you that something is bothering you more than you know.
At other times, sadness might be the culprit. If you lose something important, or it is taken from you, you will be sad for an extended period of time. Take the time to grieve if necessary. Your anger is another key. Anger is often confused with rage. Low level anger is healthy and the signal that a problem exists. If you feel hopeless or helpless to solve the problem, the mad will turn into sad, You will feel like you are carrying a weight around your neck. You won’t feel like exercising or doing anything that takes work. And it has nothing to do with losing your motivation.
When that happens, don’t push yourself. Back down your training until you are ready. Trust that you will return to it when you are emotionally ready Push back at the problem, seek out other solutions, and keep fighting back. The energy you feel by harnessing your anger and trusting your natural motivation will carry you to a healthier life and renewed belief in yourself.