Go online as you embark on a new health and fitness goal – or any new goal, really – and you’ll likely be accosted by the word ‘motivation’. If you’ve dared to search for tips on how to give yourself a leg up as you begin this new endeavour, you’ll come across countless articles telling you that you won’t get very far without motivation.
And they’re right. To an extent…
Motivation is the juice that gets us going, it’s the thing that spurs us to action, that inspires us to finally make a change, but it is not, I repeat NOT, the be-all and end-all. And no matter how fired up you feel in the beginning, chances are you’ll struggle with motivation at some point down the line.
See, motivation is pretty fickle, and if you’re relying on it to create long-term, sustainable health and fitness habits, well, it will only get you so far.
At some point or another, you’re going to have a day when you don’t want to pick up a dumbbell. Or when moving your body is the last thing on your mind. You’re only human after all – and there’s no denying the very real challenges you face as a busy mum.
Imagine the school bug hits your house and suddenly your routine is in chaos. Understandably your needs are going to take a back seat.
On top of that, motivation doesn’t really account for the barriers to exercise standing in your way. Sure, it can give you a jolt to overcome them in the short term, but unless your environment is set up to support your intentions, that newfound motivation will all too quickly go away.
Don’t let this deter you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel excited when you set a new goal and feel pumped to achieve it. What I am saying is that there are better ways to work with motivation, and once you understand them – and apply them to your health and fitness goals – you really can become unstoppable.
Motivation is all about reward. We feel driven to do certain things because there’s something in it for us. That ‘something’ might be a tighter core or a stronger body, or a clearer head and more energy to run after the kids.
It’s the hope that we can achieve these goals – and in turn, feel better about ourselves – that sparks our motivation and encourages us to find our get up and go.
With a clear goal in mind, we also feel hopeful that we can achieve our ultimate aim as humans: a sense of autonomy and control over our own lives. (All the more important when you’re a time-poor, me-time-starved mum, if you ask me!)
But motivation can dip and even disappear. Often it’s because we put too much pressure on ourselves to achieve and suddenly doubts like ‘I can’t do this’ start creeping in. Other times, we lose sight of the reasons that we started. Suddenly, that inspiring goal doesn’t seem quite as important or as exciting anymore.
One thing’s clear: motivation is complex – and keeping it firing (and finding strategies to cultivate it when it’s gone MIA) is a fine art. So, now that you know how motivation works, how do you use it to your advantage?
What do you think is the biggest motivation killer? Yep, it’s stress. And one of the biggest contributors to stress is setting the bar too high for ourselves.
You commit to four workouts even though you know your schedule is hectic this week and fitting it all in will be a real struggle. Or you tell yourself nothing less than an hour of exercise will do despite knowing you only have about 30 minutes a day to spare.
What happens when you miss the mark on these targets? Your motivation plummets and you’re reluctant to try again.
But when you lower the bar, the opposite happens. Instead of overstretching yourself, you set a more realistic target like completing two workouts a week or moving your body for 30 minutes. What happens when you smash these targets? Your motivation soars. You feel good about yourself and you want to keep going.
If motivation feels like a constant struggle, try setting a new bar for success. Chances are you’ll notice a real difference and you’ll be able to build on this over time.
Remember that thing I said earlier about how motivation wanes and we can’t rely on it? Accountability is a great way to counter that. That’s why I always recommend buddying up with a friend – ideally someone who shares your goals and is at a similar fitness level to you.
At the very least, you can let the important people in your life – your support network – know of your intentions. Talk to them about your goals, tell them about the challenges you face, and ask them if you can count on them when you need an extra push.
This kind of accountability is one of the reasons Power Of Mum – my signature six-week on-demand video-based workout programme – is so effective. You get to connect with a community of like-minded mums and get unlimited encouragement, accountability and support.
Sometimes some gentle reinforcement from the people we love is enough to keep us going. Even scheduling your workouts can be enough to keep you accountable. You’re more likely to stick to your intentions when you commit them to paper.
Setting intentions is one thing, shifting your world to support them is quite another. In fact, James Clear, author of Atomic Habits says motivation is overvalued and environment often matters more.
He believes we can’t always attribute failure to a lack of willpower. Rather our environment plays a crucial role in shifting our behaviour.
Basically? You need to identify how your environment is currently hindering you and make good habits more accessible.
Think of it like this: are you more likely to work out in the morning if you have your exercise clothes laid out beside the bed or when you have your leggings stuffed in the back of the drawer or at the bottom of the laundry basket?
You know it’s the first one, right? So ask yourself: what shifts do I need to make to ensure achieving my goals becomes easier and more automatic?
Ever heard the quote motivation gets you going, but discipline keeps you growing?
I’m a big fan of that one because I know discipline is about choosing between what you want now – maybe it’s a glass of wine on the sofa, no judgment – and what you want most – i.e a strong and healthy body that looks and feels good and functions in old age.
The power is in realising that you aren’t a slave to your motivation and that you can actively choose what you want. This is what discipline is: it’s making an informed choice about your long-term health and fitness even when you’d rather do the opposite.
For example, making sure to get your workout in before you sit down in the evening. (Trust me, once you sit down you won’t want to get back up!)
Plus, I know that once you make the decision to get moving, motivation usually – and quickly! – follows.
Don’t get it twisted. Discipline doesn’t mean you have to be unrelentingly strict on yourself. You can still make time for all of the things you enjoy. It’s simply about striking the right balance and creating a lifestyle that reflects your goals.
Motivation won’t always be your best friend, and that’s okay. Sometimes you’ll feel fired up to achieve your goals, and other times you won’t. What makes the difference between keeping going and giving up is creating a supportive environment, cultivating accountability, taking the pressure off, and making discipline your fallback.