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Motivation

Health Psychology

Written by:
Thomas Ihn Hansen ( www.ihnconsulting.dk )
Master of Educational Psychology, cognitive coach and teacher. Founder of the consultancy Ihn Consulting.

Colloquially, it is almost inevitable to hear the term motivation, which is found in almost all contexts. In everyday language, we hear remarks like “she should just pull herself together”, or “why isn’t she/he just getting started”, “how hard can it be?”

We also hear utterances that are more personal, like for example:”I do not have the strength”,”I simply can’t get started” etc. These utterances are strongly connected to our own motivation, wishes and desire to accomplish our goals.

However, we often find ourselves in a condition where actions that we initiate are not capable of motivating us enough to continue. Take a look at for example the number of diets, and people that sign up in fitness centres after a ”heavy” Christmas. These people will after a relatively short period of time terminate their attendance, as well as the pursuit for a healthier life and weight loss. Most likely, this is not a token of something that they really wish for. It is more likely a token of a lacking motivation, and insight of what it actually takes to pursue an wish.

Especially goals that have radical influence on our lifestyle in general, are in great risk of failing if the motivation is lost- for example smoking cessation, exercise and fitness, changing food habits and so on.
Motivation is more than just “pulling oneself together” and ”having the strength to”. It is all about an inner process and strengths that must be activated and mobilised, in order to turn our wishes and hopes into real long-term effects. Therefore, it is necessary to take a closer look at the factors and mechanisms that are in evidence, when motivating circumstances are to be activated in our lives. As mentioned earlier, there is a greater risk of failing when initiated wishes have an impact on several factors in your life in general.
As a main rule you might say: “The greater a challenge- the more resistance you will meet.”
We often live our lives after a series of rituals and traditions, which is a necessity as we try to make order in our lives and keep a sense of perspective. However, we often hang on to these traditions and rituals. At times, they will as a matter of fact oppose the wishes and dreams we otherwise develop through our lives. When we make decisions, or get motivated to make a change, as for example to exercise, seek for a better health in our life – this will as well affect our rituals and traditions.

Why might this become a problem?

Our traditions and rituals (patterns), are linked to our experiences, emotions and values. When we touch our patterns, we also touch our values andthus the way we view ourselves and the world. Therefore, it might be really difficult to make considerable changes in our lives – since exactly these actions are often overshadowed by a sense of discomfort, a sense of not being in control, and not having a safe ground to stand on.

Try this exercise:

Find something that you wish to change – for instance ”not to eat so many sweets on a weekday”.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting and eating your sweets. Ask yourself, without judging your action:

  1. What does it give me to eat sweets?
  2. Which emotions do I feel that they elicit?
  3. How do I feel in the exact moment that I eat sweets?
  4. What do I usually do while I’m eating sweets?

Answer as honestly as possible – register how many feelings and actions that are linked to the fact of eating sweets.
This is the way patterns have an effect on our everyday life – they are filled with emotions, thoughts, actions and history. It can therefore be difficult to ”just pull oneself together” and act differently!

What can we do – a realistic starting point?

Before you begin a significant change of your life, you should observe and consider what you want to change and why. Motivation is often connected to three different elements:

  1. The thought (what do you think about your wish).
  2. How do you act in connection with your wish.
  3. How do you feel about your wish (emotions).

In your study, you should be critical to your real emotions, the way you act and what you think. Often, we act from an unrealistic wish, but delude oneself something completely different. Try to be as honest as possible.
For example: Why do you wish to loose weight? Are these thoughts, emotions and actions based on a realistic starting point?

  1. Do you dream of retrieving your youth of a 20-year old again, and therefore sign up in your local fitness centre as a 55-year old?
  2. You are obese, but dream of becoming fit and toned for the next beach season – which is only two months away?

These wishes/dreams can be called unrealistic – it would require extraordinary work for you to go through these changes, and would have a tremendous impact on your life – changes that might be difficult to live in. From this point of view, the process of achieving your goals will be a hard and long journey. When the three elements for motivation are established from an unrealistic wish/ relationship to yourself, they will – as rings in water – spread themselves in they way you act and feel about the goal that you have set yourself. As a rule, you must spend more time creating a realistic starting point, since this automatically creates thoughts and actions that are more suited to your needs. Furthermore, this will shape a more harmonious way of relating to your wish (emotionally).
That is: A change must include a realistic starting point. Nobody says that dreams cannot come true over time – but the starting point should be as manageable as possible. Therefore:
Make your starting point as realistic as possible. Have in mind that the starting point is just a starting point – i.e. a midwife of your changes!
When you act realistically with your wishes, you create possibilities of achieving your goals.

THINK YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS:

Example 1 and 2 can be called actions towards ”failing”. The background for this term is that the thought, which controls these wishes, initiate actions that are doomed to fail. They strive to retrieve something that no longer exists, or to achieve a goal that cannot be reached within the timeframe stated.
Your thoughts, emotions and actions are all dictating you the actions that you perform, in order to gain the success that you wish for. We rarely (if ever) do something without a purpose, a wish or the like. We strive constantly to fulfil small and great needs and wishes. Often, we act inappropriately in relation to our real wishes, because we rarely spend time on considering what we in fact want to achieve. Herein lies the germ to our motivation and success.
Spend time on finding out what you are acting “towards” in relation to your goal. What does it mean to you, to achieve a weight loss? And next, which actions and thoughts are going through your mind about the process of achieving this goal? Are you mainly positive about the fact of loosing weight, or is it a burden? Here, you would be able to see whether you are acting against or towards your wish. Negative thoughts like, “It will be tough – it’s a drag to get through” etc. will only make the process even more inconvenient, and not provide you with a true belief that what you are doing is the right thing.
If you are convinced that loosing weight is just a rough job, and something you want to get over with quickly, the values you have chosen to relate on the action are not valuable enough. It requires that you have a clear and credible belief of why you act like you do. In order to find the more true convictions, you need to ask yourself some questions:
For example

  1. What do you want to accomplish by loosing weight?
  2. In what way do you want to feel? Is loosing weight the means of achieving your goals?
  3. Apart from loosing weight – which other elements will change in you life?
  4. Do you consider these changes as being positive? If yes/no, are they worth chasing?
  5. What is it that make you want to loose weight in this actual moment?
  6. Imagine that you have lost the weight that you wanted – how would you then feel?

( The questions are addressed to weight loss, but can easily be used in other areas that you want to change) The purpose of the questions is to identify the true convictions. They enable a more positive dialogue, which is not judgmental. When you have found the viable convictions to start a change process, it is an advantage if you can visualise yourself achieving the goal.
It has been commonly known to think the process in relation to a given purpose as a linear dimension – i.e. walk from A – B. Try instead to see yourself achieving the goal. You have now started to do something about your wish – as such, you have reached your goal. So far, the process has been to get to your goal. Now imagine that your goal is a balloon including nothing but air. In order to maintain the shape of the balloon, you must keep on bringing energy into it. The energy should now be thought of as a series of different values. The more values you can link to your goal, the stronger the balloon gets. See fig.1
Balloon model :

  1. weight loss
  2. More energy
  3. More attractive body
  4. well-being
  5. I fit my clothes
  6. Good humour
  7. I feel attractive
Exert yourself when you search for your values – they must last for a long time. As time goes by, it is smart to draw up more values, and change the ones that you already have.

Remember:

  • Be critical in relation to habits.
  • Every process of change creates inner opposition, but do not give up.
  • Shape a realistic starting point.
  • Find your values and create true beliefs.
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