Harnessing your motivation to find wellness

Motivation is one of the keys to achieving goals and getting ahead in life. Of course, motivation is an essential supporter of the wellness puzzle. If you want to remain healthy and well or work to restore your health and well-being, continuous motivation is needed. And yet, what motivates us is a mystery.

Recently, I came across a new book by Dan Pink titled, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In it he discusses specific keys to motivation. While much of his writing is workplace specific, I found a few nuggets that can just as easily motivate you to achieve your health goals. I’d like to share some of his topic points here, but use examples from my own experience as they relate to wellness and restoring lost health.

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Why you don’t feel motivated

Believe me, I know it’s difficult to get motivated to do hard work that is not enjoyable. That applies to health as well. We often need extra motivation to do what is necessary to achieve our wellness goal. According to Dan Pink, there are several reasons you may not be motivated or find it hard to stay motivated, including:

  • Thinking too much about the rewards involved — “I want the promotion” or “I want the ‘A’ on the exam.”
  • Doing something because you are either enthusiastic about the “carrot” or fear of the “stick,” but there’s little excitement for you in the task itself.

Both of these are examples of an “If/Then” reward system used to initiate motivation; as is the promise of a raise for hard work. According to Pink, such “rewards are really good for simple behavior and short term behavior… but looking exclusively at rewards doesn’t work over longer time horizons or for complex tasks.”

What can be more complex and take more time than restoring wellness?

Rewards for hard work are essential but are not enough to remain motivated. After all, after tons of hard work, the raise seems not to matter and boredom sets in again. With wellness, the same can be true. We are motivated to “look better” or “perform better” or “feel better,” and so we work hard to diet, exercise and take vitamins. But health is a process and wellness needs maintaining. It is a long-term effort. The reward of fitting into the swimsuit peters out once the season is over or the effort to maintain the weight is more difficult when compared to the time spent on the beach.

Acceding to Pink, “rewards just motivate us to get rewards. They don’t make us care about the task at hand.” And caring about the task of creating, restoring or gaining health, the living of a wellness lifestyle is essential to its own success. Remaining positive and motivated about it is necessary. And it seems that caring about the success goal is more important than any of the short-term rewards associated with its success.

What motivates you

Pink’s research uncovered three things, specifically, that really push us toward genuine motivation. These things create the acronym AMP: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose. Now, keep in mind his research is for success in the workplace, but if we think of success in our life, we must be successful in restoring and maintaining our health; which can be seen as a job.  Let’s examine each of these 3 motivators a bit more.

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Autonomy

This is being independent and free to make our own decisions and lead our own efforts. Often at work, in relationships and with regard to our state of health, we do not like others telling us what to do all the time or micro-managing our choices and actions. When they do, we tend to put up a defensive wall and stop caring.

I firmly believe in taking a self-directed wellness approach. This means first gaining information about my state of health, then receiving insight from professionals on how they would proceed. I then weight this all, gather additional information, and then take it upon myself to do what I need to do.

Sometimes being autonomous with your health is difficult, because the onus falls on us and we cannot blame others for our failure to exercise or eat well. And many people need others “in their corner” to help motivate them, push them, hold them accountable. I wrote an article about this here. This is ok, as long as those people are not “on you” all day. You must be allowed the freedom to live your life or you will check out of the process. When everyone nags you about not eating the cookie, later in private you sneak a cookie. It’s human nature.

To become motivated we need to have support, but at the same time we need to direct ourselves in the effort or we can become resentful and quit the process.

Mastery

It’s funny how sometimes when things are difficult, like a work project or schoolwork, we get frustrated and lose motivation and give up. Yet at other times when we enjoy what we are doing, like learning a musical instrument or new task or creating something with our hands, we don’t lose motivation. This, Pink says, is because “we just naturally like getting better at things. This is why video games have rankings, levels, and points. They say ‘You’re improving’ and that feels good.”

The drive toward self-mastery is a long one that requires discipline and stick-to-it-iveness. But if you take the wellness piece and see it in context of your larger life, you can see how self-health can lead to self-knowledge and ultimately mastery of the self. Having metrics in place to measure your success in increments (weight, waist size, range of motion, endurance effort, etc.) will go a long way toward keeping you motivated to keep working toward your wellness goals when the going gets tough, boring or plain stagnated.

Summary

Purpose makes up the “p” in AMP. Purpose can be the deal breaker for a lot of people. It’s what drives you to get up in the morning and is a complex motivator. In fact, there are two distinct levels of purpose that can motivate you. Next week I plan to detail both for you, tie all these important factors together and introduce you to Pink’s philosophy on making your goals more attainable.

In the meantime, please give some thought to autonomy and mastery—two very important keys to harnessing the motivation you need to find wellness. Consider how they are present in your life or how you can bring them forth. And remember, focusing too much on external rewards is actually demotivating over time. Instead, think about the journey.

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Dr. Mark Wiley

By Dr. Mark Wiley

Dr. Mark Wiley is an internationally renowned mind-body health practitioner, author, motivational speaker and teacher. He holds doctorates in both Oriental and alternative medicine, has done research in eight countries and has developed a model of health and wellness grounded in a self-directed, self-cure approach. Dr. Wiley has written 14 books and more than 500 articles. He serves on the Health Advisory Boards of several wellness centers and associations while focusing his attention on helping people achieve healthy and balanced lives through his work with Easy Health Options® and his company, Tambuli Media.