Almost exactly four years ago, I was laid off from my job as a graphic designer, and fell into my lowest of lows of my young professional adulthood. I felt so little self-worth, and like all hope was lost… until something clicked inside me, and I just got annoyed enough with my pathetic attitude and choices that I decided to change. That little light bulb was the initial push I needed to really change my lifestyle and begin prioritizing my health. Somehow, things started to finally make sense – that I had control over my pant size and my attitude equally – that I could and would change if I wanted to.
That fresh beginning from a depressing end came from a deep internal motivation to do something better with my life. A deep, inner drive to be happier, live healthier, be more, act on my values and beliefs. It’s what got me started, and what keeps me going to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and not completely fall back into “pre-weight-loss” habits for good.
However… there are plenty of periods when that internal drive fails me. It’s just not enough! Yes, I want to “be healthy”… I want to be happy…. But in moments of weakness and frustration, “be healthy” just isn’t inspiring enough. “Be happy”…? Well, one dozen chocolate chip cookies can fill that need right now!
There are times when internal motivation is just too immeasurable. It’s not immediate, it doesn’t give me the here-and-now jolt that I need to stick to my resolutions.
And you know what? That is totally okay.
Recognizing that internal motivation may not always be enough force to get you moving does not mean it doesn’t exist. I think to some degree, internal motivation is present in all of us. Who among us doesn’t long to be healthy and happy? I’d venture to guess everyone longs for those things – and those are internal desires.
But internal motivation can be silent some days. Sometimes for long periods of time. And when we lack the strength to rise up from a deep will, it’s time to turn externally.
I think a part of me – and perhaps some of you – has thought that “external motivation” like rewards, or a specific date/event, or physical feat or accomplishment is somehow inferior to that pure internal driving will. But I’m here to say that depending on where you are in your journey and life, both internal and external drive are needed and equally valuable!
After that initial spark in my journey to a healthier body and mind, the internal inspiration quickly waned. I found that working out was HARD… it wasn’t immediately rewarding, and I hurt and wanted to quit. Counting my calories… that sucked too! It took so much willpower and self-control, I wanted to give that up! So what kept me going through that?
External rewards. Measurable progress. Specific dates, events, dresses, and physical challenges.
I set up rewards for pounds lost, for weeks of consistent exercise, for meeting my calorie goals. I scheduled races to train for, bought a dress in a size too small and hung it on my door. I planned a vacation for 8 months down the line, and set my mind on wearing a two-piece swimsuit with confidence. I committed to these external forces to help push me through to my ultimate goal of getting healthy and being happier.
So often in our journeys we ebb and flow through motivation. I know that once I reached my initial goals, and passed those external motivations, I eased back into an internal source of motivation to keep going. I couldn’t stay focused on pounds or rewards, or I would have withered away, and depleted my bank account buying goodies for myself! It was a new identity as a healthy and fit person that kept me going forward with these new habits.
Yet here I am today, three and half years since meeting my first goals, and I’m back to external motivation. The past few months have been awfully crazy, and had me focusing in other areas of my life more than on my own physical and mental health. As life has it, this happens and is totally normal. What’s also normal, though not desirable, is gaining a few pounds every now and again.
Well, I gained a few pounds this winter. Approximately 6 pounds, to be honest. (It’s hibernation weight, right? Blasted cold outside, getting antsy inside.)
I recognize this reality as my needed kick-in-the-rear to get back into prioritizing my health. I’ve not been ridiculously off track, and I still eat a vegan diet (mostly whole foods, but some occasional convenience foods and too much sugar…). But that doesn’t mean I don’t have room for improvement.
It’s back to the wellness center for me. Back to early morning workouts, and juicing. I’ve been food journaling and keeping honest with myself about what I’m putting into my mouth. I have also set a few specific external rewards and motivations for the coming months.
My biggest external motivation is the Mrs. International Pageant, taking place at the end of July. Though the pageant does not include a swimsuit contest (thank goodness), it does have a fitness wear segment. The fitness attire is two-piece, with a sports bra top, and spandex shorts. This thought alone is terrifying enough to get me motivated to work out more consistently, and pause before shoveling in loads of cookies and chocolate. I also purchased my evening gown for the event, and admittedly – it’s a little snug in my hips. I would like to feel radiantly confident in how I look and feel on stage by then, so that thought (along with the sight of my beautiful gown hanging in my office) is keeping me excited about challenging myself again.
The internal motivation to live and stay healthy and happy is still present, though hasn’t been enough lately to keep me reassessing my behaviors. It’s time to turn outward – and keep moving forward.
Whether it is from within or from without, motivation is a beautiful tool to keep you pressing onward. I challenge you today to determine what is the best way to get you moving whatever direction you need, and to not discriminate if that motivation looks like a new pair of shoes in two months, or perhaps a beautiful dress.
And as always – it comes down to choice. You direct your future success or failures by what you do today. If you’re lacking motivation of any kind, feel free to read this old blog of mine about just that.