Set Motivation into Motion

motivationBenefits of regular exercise are numerous:  regular physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, improve your mood and mental health, reduce your risk of heart diseases, strengthen your bones and muscles, lower your blood sugar level, etc.  And a lot of people are familiar with these benefits and know if they would start to make healthier choices it would improve their quality of life. Still, only a few put this knowledge into practice. I am always surprised to hear how much struggle people have to use the elliptical machine in their living room or to find time for a half-hour walk. Even when they make an effort and start to make positive changes in their exercise or eating habits, they don’t manage to maintain them.  According to some research, more than two-thirds gym memberships go unused.  And members don’t even cancel their unused memberships because ‘they plan to start going soon’.

We could agree that one of the reasons why so many people cannot make positive changes in their lives is that they are simply not motivated enough. But what is motivation?  We could say motivation is a state of mind or a mental process, like feeling, idea or desire that leads to taking an action and make things happen. The word “motivation” stems from the Latin word “movere” which means to move. We could say it is a notion that leads to taking action. The mental process of “developing” motivation usually goes like this; first, we experience a though of the motivation type, then we get a mental pathway between that though and potential to take necessary action, and third, we actually take the action and do what we set our mind to.

Many people would like to incorporate exercise in their daily routine, if not for losing weight, then for general well-being. But what most people think is we should wait for motivation to come. For example, we should feel motivated to put the sneakers on and go for a run, but this way we can wait forever. I always thought that writers have to wait for an inspiration to start to write. But as I was researching the topic on motivation, I found an article where I read some writes actually have the rituals or pattern for writing. They set place, time and other circumstances for writing (like going to a favorite coffee shop or rent a local hotel room) and write. So they don’t wait for inspiration, but they take action and with time this action becomes a habit that helps them to write.

The catch is taking action and taking baby steps. A lot of people fear to take action because they don’t know if they can do it right or if they are able to do it at all. For example, you would like to be able to run 6 kilometers without a break. Your first goal could be running 2 kilometers without a break in 12 minutes. It would take time and specific training program to reach your final goal, but first, you have to start jogging.


If you look at the literature it is clear the most effective people are mostly motivated from within. It is a motivation that is driven by internal rewards: “I want to do this for me to feel better or look better; for me not for someone else”. This motivation is also called intrinsic motivation. External motivation is motivation driven by some person or object from the outside “I want to do this for my husband or children”. Unfortunately, this kind of motivation almost invariably leads to anxiety, frustration or guilt. So no one else can motivate you enough for lifestyle behavior change. To feel motivated you should find something that matters to you and then mobilize it.

But when thinking of a positive lifestyle change, remember that your motivational thoughts should not be “I must” or “I have to” or “I ought to” (in opposite to “I would love/like to”). These thoughts actually represent feelings like guilt or doing something wrong. Experience has shown that guilt feeling, even if they are coming from inside, do not work well. In fact, they can drive to resistance or denial. “You got to” approach is in general counter-productive and not a good motivator.

Before you engage in a new activity or try a new diet, you should be aware of just how motivated do you really feel. To mobilize your motivation and then engage in habitual change you should be really determined to go through with it, as such change will not simply happen overnight.

In sports psychology, “the transtheoretical model” is often used as a model in the assessment of an individual’s readiness to act on a new healthier behavior. The model was developed in the late 1970s and it was evolved through studies examining the experiences of smokers who quit. The transtheoretical model operates on the assumption that change in behavior occurs continuously through a cyclical process. There are “the six stages of change”: precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and termination (for smokers) or permanent maintenance (for the behavior like regular exercise).

Precontemplation – In this stage, people are unaware of their behavior and do not realize that the behavior is problematic or produces negative consequences. But the person does not have the intent to take any action yet, at least not in the next 6 months. In this stage, people underestimate the pros of changing behavior and pay little or no attention to the cons of changing behavior.

Contemplation – In this stage, people start to become more aware of their behavior and begun to consider adoption of healthy behavior in the foreseeable future (defined as within the next 6 months). The person sees that the behavior may be problematic. The person is well aware of the advantages of making a healthy change, but at the same time, the person is still concerned about the cons of the change-making process. Even with this recognition, people may still be ambivalent toward changing.

Preparation (Planning) – In this stage, people are seriously planning to take action within a month or so. We could say at this stage the person is „feeling motivated“. People start to engage in a new set of behaviors, and they believe the positive changing can lead to a healthier life.

Action – The next step is taking the action itself. In this stage, people have adopted the new behavior (defined as within the last 6 months) and have the intent to maintain that change in behavior.

Maintenance – This is a stage that people want to reach. They succeeded in change of behavior and want to maintain it for a while (defined as more than 6 months).

From this point (Maintenance) there are three possible departures:

Lapse: Lapse is temporarily abandonment of positive behavior change. It is fine and absolutely normal. Usually, Lapse does not produce any significant shift in progress toward a goal. What one should avoid is Relapse.

Relapse: In Relapse, the positive outcome of positive behavior change has vanished.  For example, the change in body definition, increased strength gained from workouts, feeling good after exercise, etc., are all gone. To reverse relapse, one should first figure out what happened and go back to planning.

Termination (Permanent Maintenance) – The term “Termination” is suitable for permanently stopping some negative behavior (such as smoking or eating junk food), but for adopting positive behavior changes, like exercising and eating a balanced diet,  the term “Permanent Maintenance” is more appropriate. In this stage, people have no desire to return to their unhealthy old behaviors. However Lapse may still occur, which requires returning to the maintenance stage, but lapse can show no one has to be perfect.

So if you are considering making some healthier choices in your life how ready are you? In which of the above mentioned stage do you think you are?

achievement activity adolescent arms

You will be doing your best job if you realize when you are really motivated and truly ready to take action and have your best chance to succeed. But don’t get discouraged if you have conflicting feelings about your change in diet or exercising habits. Feeling ambivalent about making these changes is normal. Change is never easy. However, if ambivalence paralyzes your decision making, it can be a problem.

Another thing that is prevalent in our society today is a need for instant results or immediate gratification. One example is yo-yo diets. We all know they don’t really work, and even if a person manages to lose some weight, she or he will relatively quickly gain it back or gain even more. “Gradual change leads to permanent change” is a helpful concept for someone who would like to make positive changes in their life. If you are a sedentary person and would like to engage in some sort of activity, maybe you could start walking for 10-15 minutes a day. After a while, you can increase the time spent and gradually speed too.


If you want to make any health-promoting change, finding your motivation is the central issue. But it isn’t always easy. If you are considering making some positive changes and looking on how to set your motivation into motion you might try these:

•    If you’re physically engaged, then it’s far more likely that you’ll feel mentally engaged too

•    Gradual change leads to permanent change

•    Try to find something that really matters to you; try to find yours intrinsic motivation. Remember, approach “I have to” will probably lead to guilt. Guilty feelings are not good motivators

•    There are several stages of behavior change

•    Search for instant results is usually useless

•    Set your goals and write them down

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