When I was younger, I didn’t change my behavior because I wanted to take better care of myself; I made changes out of fear: fear of rejection, fear of pain, fear of failure. Later, the anticipation (fear’s distant cousin) of an intimate relationship could motivate me to drop a quick twenty or twenty-five pounds. Changes also came via a hangover, or a job interview or an important meeting. All such things used to easily motivate me to do something significant to take better care of myself, at least temporarily.
Unfortunately, I don’t think my reasons for changing are much different today. Fear is a great motivator. It was how I was raised; “No one will love you if you aren’t slim … or smart … or capable. You won’t get the job, the right college, the guy, or a circle of loving friends.”
It is easy to quit smoking after you watch a favorite aunt pass away from lung cancer. It’s easy to be motivated to save money if you watch someone close to you squander a life’s earnings and have nothing left for retirement. Fear of one’s early demise is quite a powerful motivator.
What other ways are there to be motivated to take care of yourself? Logic should work, but it often doesn’t last. Feeling and looking better are powerful motivators, but, when choosing between the likes of an extra hour to sleep versus heading to the gym, the best choices can be a distant memory.
Some of us are simply lazy. We procrastinate, and we can fool ourselves (but never others). These may all be true statements but they’re not the reason we don’t stick with something. It’s that something is missing: strong desire.
Without desire, there is no motivation.
You have to want whatever it is right now and going into the future. If you want to quit smoking, you have to want it bad enough to keep yourself from reaching for the cigarette. If you know you’ll be better at a smaller size, you have to want the result bad enough to pass up the rich dessert everyone else at the table is enjoying.
You can have all the great suggestions on how to accomplish the right things, but none of them will work if you lack the desire … in the present moment and in most of the moments ahead of you. Your desire to be in better physical shape can be fleeting if you’re not seeing the direct correlation between exercise and looking and feeling better. The correlation doesn’t exist without the desire to be ever vigilant and on the lookout for a slackening interest in your stated goal.
Goals that promote consistent motivation, great self-care, and increased self-esteem are wonderful to cultivate. It may be easy for you or more difficult than imagined. Don’t be hard on yourself if self-care doesn’t come naturally.
Self-care leads toward our highest good. But don’t beat yourself up if you lack the requisite desire. Forcing the issue only sets you up for failure, which perpetuates a self-loathing that keeps you stuck. In order to incorporate a strong desire, it’s good to nurture a voice inside that identifies how you can take care of yourself. We are wise and capable. I’m not giving up on improving my self-care. Hang in there!
Hi, Antonia–ouch! This article is very timely. As you know, I’ve struggled all my life with this one too. Now that I’m back on my feet emotionally after a year and a half of struggle, motivating myself back into the diet and exercise SHOULD be easy, right? Nope. Now it’s the last thing I want to do. Six months ago I could sometimes hardly make it around the block, longing to have energy. Now that I do, guess what’s out? There’s something really primal about all this. It’s the club that’s always there to beat ourselves with–if everything else is great, then it’s the one thing we can use again and again to continue the well-known cycle of self-recrimination. It’s our “best friend” and our “greatest enemy.” So, what’s it all about, Alfie? Thanks for putting it out there, again. You’re SO brave! Love ya, C
Thanks, Christine, it’s always reassuring to have others raise their hand in recognition of the difficulty of keeping ourselves motivated for our benefit. BUT we never give up … and that’s got to count for something. You lift my weights and I’ll run around the block for you … anytime! Love you too!