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Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation, How to Get Going When You Don’t Feel Like It

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motivation“I should work out today.”

“I should eat better.”

“I should stop shoving food in my face.”

How many times a day do you find yourself using the word should? Most of my clients know what they should be doing to improve their health, but can’t seem to motivate themselves to actually do it. That’s why they come to me. Here’s the thing though. I can’t give you motivation, I can only give you the tools to motivate yourself.

So, if you’ve been feeling like you should be working out more or eating better or refraining from cutting yourself another sliver of pie, keep reading. I’ll be unpacking what motivation is, the reasons you get stuck, and how to finally get off your butt and take action.

What is Motivation, Anyway?

In its simplest terms, motivation is used to describe why you do what you do.That why is the driving force behind your actions, whether it’s taking a swig from your water bottle because you feel thirsty, going for a run because you paid money to hire a trainer, or smashing the alarm clock because you stayed up too late binge-watching Netflix. Your why will likely be influenced by a variety of intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) motivators.

Examples of intrinsic motivators:

  • Running because it’s a stress reliever or feels fun
  • Eating a protein-forward breakfast because it keeps you satiated all morning
  • Doing yoga because it helps you clear your head
  • Filling your fridge with healthy foods because it saves you time and money
  • Organizing your space because it helps you feel calm

Examples of extrinsic motivators:

  • Losing weight to win a fitness challenge at work
  • Cleaning the house so your spouse doesn’t get irritated with your mess
  • Avoiding processed foods because your doctor or health coach told you to
  • Sprinting because that’s what the people in your FB feed are doing
  • Eating organic because you want others to perceive you as healthy

Let me make it really clear though that your motivation (and your why) are entirely internal processes, meaning it’s your own perception of a situation that makes you more or less motivated to do something. That’s why it’s important to discover your own deep-down reason for staying committed to the path you’re on — or choosing an entirely different path.

The Reasons You Get Stuck

Clearly, motivation involves more than just wanting something or doing it because you should. That said, even with the best laid plans and a handful of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, why is it still so damn hard to actually do it?

In my and with my students and graduates in the , I talk a lot about Toward Motivation and Away from Motivation. While the former is designed to ignite a positive, transformative emotion, pulling you closer to the things you want (having more energy, feeling great in your clothes, boosting your confidence), the latter usually more negative, acting as a reminder of all the things you don’t want in life.

If you’re constantly telling yourself that you’re sick of feeling fat, foggy, and fatigued, guess what your brain is hearing? It hears that you’re fat, foggy, and fatigued — which often brings on feelings of fear, self-doubt, or self-pity. Trust me, that’s not the best talk track. And it’s the quickest way to sabotage yourself before you even start.

When you operate out of Away from Motivation, you’re more likely to use negativity to (try and) get motivated. But studies actually show that self-compassion and self-acceptance are better tactics — especially after you’ve had a . Researchers at the University of California found that after failing a test, participants who spoke kindly to themselves ended up spending more time studying before taking a re-test than participants who were angry or disappointed by their score. The self-compassionate group also reported that they had more motivation to view their struggles in a positive light when they practiced self-acceptance, which is a key part of self-compassion.

Go With the (Motivational) Flow

Like I said above, it’s your own perception of a situation that drives motivation. So how do you cultivate that internal positivity? Below we’ll look at 5 ways you can create your own intrinsic and extrinsic motivators so you can start taking action right now.

  1. Find Your Why. Your Why is a belief, cause, or purpose that drives your behaviours. You might currently be working from someone else’s Why (could be a spouse that wants you to start exercising; a parent who thinks you should be thin; a belief that this is what you shoulddo). But your Why can only come from within you. And without what yours is, your motivation will likely fall flat, especially when obstacles start to pop up, which, by the way, they always do.

ACTION STEP: Think about what reaching your goal will give you. Is it the pleasure of having joints that don’t ache? Or the joy of being a role model to your kids? Or the freedom to finally get off your meds? Take a minute and jot down a few reasons (that truly resonate with you) why you feel compelled to take action.

2. Evaluate the Pros and Cons. When you have as many motives for why you want to reach your goal as motives for not reaching it, you create an inner conflict that basically keeps you stuck. You may want to eat healthy (and have a solid Whyto fuel your actions) but you might worry that you’ll never be able to eat anything “fun” again, so you sabotage yourself. Or maybe you feel great when you work out every morning, but the thought of getting unwanted attention from strangers once you lose the weight is a total turn off.

ACTION STEP: Consider how making these changes will impact you. First, write down the pros of this change. How will it affect you in positive ways? Now do the same for the cons. Write down how it will affect you in negative ways. Read though your list and cross off any cons that feel trivial or insignificant – or if they’re not really true for you. The secret to resolving inner conflict is to have more reasons why you want it, than reasons you don’t.

3. Put an End to Procrastination. You’re not always going to feel like getting up early to work out or planning a protein-packed breakfast, but there are tactics you can use to do it anyway. There’s a strategy called that says you have 5 seconds to act on an instinct (that’s out of your comfort zone) before your brain shuts it down in an effort to keep you safe. Act within 5 seconds of the thought and you override its protective hold on you. Another strategy from habit guru, suggests eliminating distractions by making them more difficult to do. For instance, if watching TV keeps you from doing yoga, unplug it or hide the remote. Can’t stop hitting the snooze button? Put your phone in the other room while you sleep so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.

ACTION STEP: Try the 5 Second Rule technique by counting backward from 5 the moment you have an instinct to take action. Once you hit 1, get moving! For James Clear’s strategy, think about the things that cause you to procrastinate, then make them more difficult to do by removing the temptation.

4. Reward Yourself. Sometimes big goals can feel intimidating, making it harder to get motivated. For a simple work-around, try creating smaller goals and then rewarding yourself when you reach those goals. You might lack the motivation to start exercising because you have 60 pounds to lose, but consider breaking it down into 5- or 10-pound increments and rewarding yourself with a new workout top or healthy dinner out every time you reach one of your mini goals.

ACTION STEP: Jot down the big goal you’d like to accomplish. Then create smaller goals (if necessary) and write down how you’ll reward yourself when you reach them. Just make sure your rewards don’t sabotage your efforts. Rewarding a tough workout with a few beers or plate of nachos is kind of counterproductive.

5. Visualize your Success. Used by everyone from athletes to entrepreneurs, visualizing your success is a proven motivational tool — especially when it’s paired with an elevated emotion like joy or excitement. When you paint a clear picture of what success looks like in your mind, it becomes less abstract and more obtainable. Plus, when you spend time on the things you want (looser fitting clothes, better sleep, chasing your kids around without stopping to catch your breath) versus the things you don’t want (feeling bloated, tossing and turning, and sitting on the couch missing out) your brain becomes more receptive to finding opportunities that align with your goal.

ACTION STEP: Every morning before getting out of bed, take 2 minutes to visualize yourself as if you’re already successful. Imagine what it would feel like to have achieved your goal, and pay attention to the positive feelings that automatically come up when you do this exercise.

5 Ways to Get Motivated Now

Remember, when you tell yourself that you should be doing something, you’re really just reinforcing the idea that you’re not doing it. So, first, wipe the word should from your vocabulary, then dive into these 5 ways to cultivate your own sense of motivation:

· Find your Why

· Evaluate the Pros and Cons

· Put an End to Procrastination

· Reward Yourself

· Visualize Your Success

What’s worked for you? Tell me how you get motivated when you’re not feeling it.

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