31 August 2014

Getting the motivation to make changes

I recently received a lovely email from a reader. In it she asked, "Now to ask you a heartfelt question: What first inspired you to get moving again and get focused on your health and eating well?  I know you were really sick.  I need help finding the spark that ignites it all.  Most people who have begun losing weight start to feel so great that they forget what the initial force was that drove them to begin and to persevere.  I am so knowledgeable that I could probably be a nutritionist or  fitness trainer.  But I don't apply it!  And I'm not sure why -- too tired? too busy? Well, that's most people anyway and many people overcome those excuses.  I realize your fix or your inspiration may not work for me but I'm desperate.  And since you're the one who has always been so honest in your blog, I'm hoping you may remember what triggered your change and that you may offer some advice to one of your biggest 'fans'."

What a great question! It's such a tricky one to answer, though. I'm sure many of us can relate to what she's said.

The thing is, I'm just like anyone else. I've struggled long and hard with exactly the same things. I've complained vociferously about how hard it is to make diet or lifestyle changes unless that "switch flips" in my brain - and how it feels impossible to make that switch flip.

As I thought about it more, I realised that there are things that you can do to give the switch a nudge. When all the planets align and you feel compelled to make the changes, rather than just wanting to, it's a beautiful thing. But rather than just waiting for that to happen, it's possible to help things along. Here are a few things that I have found helpful.

Value yourself
I know, start out with a biggie. I feel like this is a common problem among women. We give, give, give of our time, love and energy to everyone else, but put ourselves last. It is SO important to value ourselves. If you don't value something you don't look after it. You don't prioritise it. You don't want to do anything to take care of it. You don't want to spend time, energy or money on it. 

Is this the way you see yourself? Not worth the time, energy or money that it will take to look after yourself? Take some time to explore why this is. Choose a different mindset. Fight against the feelings of guilt. You are NOT being selfish when you look after yourself well. You cannot give out of an empty bucket, and you will end up burning out if you don't do something towards self-care.

Once you begin to value yourself you are more likely to feel motivated to make the healthy changes that you want to. It will become important to you - important enough that you won't be able to stop yourself.

Change how you talk to yourself
This goes hand in hand with valuing yourself. We all have an inner dialogue, whether or not we're aware of it. Make sure yours is positive and affirming. Nobody needs to know how cheesy you sound in your own head, so just go for it. Tell yourself you're worth it, you deserve it, give yourself credit for any tiny step in the right direction, and be kind to yourself when you don't do as well as you'd like.

If a friend had a blow-out day when she's on a healthy eating plan, what would you say to her? You'd encourage her to try again tomorrow. You'd reassure her that it's okay, we all slip up, just keep on going. You'd tell her you're proud of her for her efforts and believe in her, that you know she can do it.

Why can't we say these things to ourselves? I know from past experience that having a blow-out day when on a healthy eating plan can lead to self-flagellation. "I can't believe I did that, what a loser, I'm such a failure, I might as well give up on the whole plan, I obviously can't do it, I'm disgusted with myself, I feel ashamed and worthless." How is that helpful?? It's NOT.

"Well, it seems I've slipped up. Let me figure out why that happened so I can prevent it happening again. Tomorrow is a new day and a fresh start. I'm a winner for carrying on even though I've had a setback. I know I can do this - I'm just going to keep trying. I deserve it and I'm worth the effort." How is that helpful? It's creating a positive mindset and allowing room for mistakes. It's expecting good things from yourself. It's a step towards success. And it all happens inside your own head.

When you are talking to yourself positively it's easier to be motivated to make changes. Even if you don't believe the words at first, you will start to feel the difference. Just try it.

The same reader who emailed me the original question on this topic also sent this a few days later: "I heard the best quote yesterday on the radio from Dr. Oz. He was talking about how addictive sugar is. Then he went on to say that people don't do things (ie. make changes) based on what they know, they do things based on how they feel."

I got to thinking that maybe that is why it's difficult to make that switch flip - because it's difficult to change how you feel. But one of the ways you can change how you feel about something is with your internal dialogue.

Allow yourself to hit rock bottom
Okay, not exactly a sterling tip this one, and not one I'd encourage, but I'm trying to be honest here. Sometimes my motivation to eat healthily has come in the wake of appalling eating, for example around Christmas time when anything goes. I eventually reach a point where I just do not want any more sugar / crap and I am so motivated to eat right.

I'm NOT saying go on a binge to feel motivated; I'm saying sometimes I've felt motivated when I've been on a binge. Just how it is and I'm trying to keep it real.

Same goes for my health problems. I had to hit rock bottom and feel so ill for so long that I was just done with it. I was ready to do anything it took to feel better. I was motivated to start exercising and make dietary changes because the alternative was no longer acceptable.

They say that for an addict to be ready for rehab they have to reach a point where the pain of recovery is outweighed by the pain of the addiction. As long as they feel like the pain of recovery is worse than the pain of the addiction they are not likely to seek it out. Sometimes motivation to change to a healthy lifestyle can be like that.

I think back to the very first time I went to Weight Watchers and began losing weight. I had been unhappy with my size for a while, but not done anything about it. What motivated me to begin making changes was: I was so tired of being tired all the time. I wanted to be a better mom and not feel exhausted all the time. I felt motivated to make changes because whatever changes I had to make were not as daunting as continuing to feel the way I did.

So, while I wouldn't encourage you to seek out "rock bottom", I"m just saying that hitting it can sometimes help.

Give yourself credit
When my kids were little and they would misbehave I would feel like I was a bad mom. I should have taught them better! I'd obviously gone wrong somewhere! It was all my fault!

But when someone at church complimented me on how reverently they sat, and said how impressed they were with their good behaviour, did I take any credit? Nope! They were just good kids! What lovely, sweet boys I am lucky enough to have!

Why do I do this? Take all the blame but none of the credit? I remind myself that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Take credit where credit is due. Let's say you started your day with a healthy breakfast. Then you get to work and someone has brought in cake. So you have some. A friend rings you up and asks to meet for lunch, so you end up eating something deliciously naughty at a restaurant. You are exhausted when you get home so you get a take-away and eat it while slobbing on the couch.

Now, are you going to spend all of your energy berating yourself for your poor choices? Or are you going to give yourself a break and take some credit for the positive start that you made to your day? It still counts, even if the rest of the day didn't go according to plan.

Beating ourselves up does not encourage change. Praising ourselves for each step in the right direction makes a difference.

Immerse yourself
I remember when I was in Biology class in high school and we were studying something about water. I recall not being especially thirsty but all I wanted was to drink water, because that was what we'd been talking about for an hour. Water, water, water - and it was all I wanted.

This power of suggestion works with motivation too. If I really can't get motivated to clean my house I spend a little time reading blogs about cleaning routines, or watching YouTube videos on cleaning. I know it sounds silly, but it genuinely puts me in the mood and I want to clean.

I've used the same tactic to get motivated with healthy eating and exercise. For healthy eating and weight loss it's inspiring to watch other people's journeys and see people cooking healthy food, for example on YouTube:
- marissaandmommy
- Allison's Journey (search for Week and number to find the weight loss vlogs)
- jwacqui
- trulyjess
- Sexy Paleo Food

- Summer Tomato (here is her story, and I enjoyed this, this, and this post in particular, oh and I loved this flowchart)
- Skinnytaste
- Emily Bites
- Renee's Kitchen Adventures
- Roni's Weigh (go way back in the archives to the beginning for Weight Watchers posts)

Another way to get motivated by immersion is to be around people whose lifestyle reflects your desired one. If you hang out with active people you will become more active. If you attend Weight Watchers meetings you will find it easier to stay on plan. If you spend a lot of time with a friend who is passionate about healthy eating you are more likely to adopt some of her habits and recipes.

Make yourself do it
The last method I want to talk about is just making yourself do it, whether you are motivated or not. Set a goal of one day of healthy eating, or two walks in a week, or three healthy home-cooked dinners in a week. Whatever is a small, manageable goal. And then just do it. Expect it of yourself. You only have to "suffer" for that small amount that you have agreed on. Plan ahead and make it happen. Write those walks into your calendar at specific times on specific days and don't cancel. Plan your day of healthy eating with specific menues and shop ahead for the ingredients and then actually use them. Just DO IT, whether you want to or not. Just for that short time.

I guarantee you that the success of doing it will be motivating, and you can build on it and begin to form a positive spiral. You'll begin to move closer to your goal. Just be sure to make the first step small and manageable enough that you find yourself saying, "Well sure, I can do that."

I hope these tips have helped! I'd love to hear from you in the comments - how do you get motivated? If you've made healthy lifestyle changes, what was the thing that flipped that switch for you? Please share, so we can help and inspire each other!

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