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Stop Using Motivation To Reach Your Goals! (+ what to do instead)

If you’re over 50 and have health & fitness goals (weight loss among them), you probably believe that motivation, drive, and willpower are the things you need more of. But not so fast! Read on to find out if commitment or motivation is best to reach your goals.

What do you typically do when you are motivated to lose weight? Maybe one or more of these?

  • buy some special food
  • get new workout clothes
  • clean out fridge and pantry
  • swear off margaritas
  • ban sugar from your diet
  • go keto, vegan, or paleo
  • buy subscription to Beachbody

None of those ideas is inherently bad. But motivation generally only gets you so far, especially if what you’re aiming for is a major lifestyle change.

Oh, you say that’s NOT what you’re going for? You just want to lose a few pounds and get in shape?

News Flash…this is a lifestyle change!

Unless you’re super-human, in which case you do not need to keep reading, losing weight when you’re over 50 usually means you’ve tried this a few times. And maybe gained weight back a few times.

If that’s the case, lifestyle change is what you need. A whole new way of thinking.

You really need some mind management, more than you need food management.

Motivation’s Limitations

Motivation can get you going, but it’s bound to wane when things get messy. Let’s explore what it is, and how you can best make use of it when it shows up!

What Motivation Is

Motivation is the general desire or willingness to do something. It may be somewhat vague, or could be very strong.

A definition: Motivation is the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented behaviors.

word motivation in a cloud

For example, you may be motivated to get a glass of water because you’re thirsty. Or motivated to lose weight because you’re going on a cruise to the Bahamas.

But motivation can only take you so far. There’s nothing wrong with it; it’s just only great as far as it gets you.

Motivation can inspire you; motivation can definitely get you started! Take advantage of it while it lasts, because it’s gonna wane.

Or at least wax and wane. And wax and wane some more.

The point is, you can’t rely on motivation to keep you going when the going literally gets tough.


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Types of Motivation

There are two types of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic

Intrinsic motivation is the kind the motivation you get from inside yourself. You are motivated to do something without expecting some sort of external reward, like praise, or good grades.

You do the activity because the activity itself is satisfying to you; you’re not just looking for some external reward.

Extrinsic

Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is the sort you get from outside, like those good grades, praise from your boss, or a raise.

The extrinsic motivation can be negative too, like the threat of losing your job.

Why You Need Commitment

Commitment: The state of being bound emotionally or intellectually to a course of action or to another person.

picture of a notebook and pen about commitment

If you’re emotionally bound to a course of action, it generally means you’ll pursue that course even when you don’t feel like it; even when you aren’t feeling motivated.

When you’re committed to something, it means your values are aligned with your aspiration or goal.

And when you base your aspirations on your values, the important values like health, integrity, justice, and the like, you’re far more likely to follow-through with goals that are in line with these values.

And that’s where commitment can come in and take over from motivation.

What Commitment Isn’t

People often mistake commitment for something else, usually motivation, willingness, or simply a strong desire.

For example, you may say you’re committed to a healthy lifestyle. But if you’re not also following some processes to both attain and maintain said healthy lifestyle, you probably aren’t really committed.

Perhaps you’re motivated or you’re leaning in the direction, but if you aren’t also learning about, and practicing the tools needed to support the process of becoming healthy, you’re not yet committed.

With commitment, you need to know why you want to follow a healthy lifestyle. What do you want to accomplish, and how will this commitment help you become the person you want to be (or continue to be)?

Aligning your health behaviors with your values is key to this process.

Why Commitment Will Get You To Your Goals

Can commitment help you reach those goals better than motivation (or willpower)?

You may be motivated to do something, like lose weight, or “firm up,” because of an upcoming event.

A wedding, a vacation where you’d like to look good in a bikini, a high school reunion.

None of these is a bad reason to get in shape.

Everything we do starts with motivation, even if we’re only motivated to work in order to not be kicked out of our home.

Or motivated to look hot at the upcoming reunion.

But will you commit to changing your diet and exercise?

Do you have what it takes to overcome the inevitable times when motivation wanes, and all you have left is commitment?

Example: Do You Really Want To Exercise Every Day?

woman committed to exercising

Do I really want to exercise every single day? No, I decidedly do not. But I made a decision not to negotiate with myself about it.

I decided I would BE the type of person who exercises every day. Period.

Motivation pretty much sucks as a way to achieve long-term goals like a fit and healthy body.

On each and every day, do you desire to exercise? Probably not.

We all want the results of the exercise–fitness and good health–but I rarely don’t always feel like doing the work.  I do it because I am committed to my health and fitness goals. That is a big difference. That is my big WHY.

commitment is an act not a word graphic

Commitment means dedicating yourself to a goal.

It isn’t about feelings; it’s about action.

This is where the huge divide between the two concepts lies. One is about how you feel, the other is about what you do.

Seriously, I don’t actually have a desire to brush my teeth every day, but I am committed to good oral hygiene (plus, I like the way my mouth feels after brushing).

So, I brush every day, twice a day, without fail.  Sometimes I’m really tired at night and just want to fall into bed, but I always brush. That’s commitment. (It’s also habit…here’s more about that.)

On the other hand, if you have a dental cleaning appointment coming up, you may be more motivated to floss than usual.

But you’ll likely fall off the wagon after a couple of weeks.

How To Increase Your Commitment

The key to increasing commitment is having unshakable aspirations that are tied to your core values.

This gives you a really strong WHY. Your aspirations won’t necessarily be something concrete and attainable, but they should require dedication.

They should also be doable. Not “I want to lose weight,” but “I want to fuel my body in such a way that clothes fit me well, I’m able to walk without pain, and I feel good about myself.”

Don’t do something like starting at Thanksgiving and wanting to lose 50 pounds by the end of the year. That’s not realistic at all.

mature woman running

It’s also too much for an interim goal. Yes, your ultimate aspirations can–and should–be lofty.

Then you can have a specific plan and processes to be continually working toward attaining your aspiration of a healthier you.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have goals, like, say, running your first 10K, or being able to knock out a couple of real, big-girl pull-ups!

These can certainly be mileposts on your journey to good health and fitness.

The crucial key is breaking those big goals down into smaller goals. If you fail to do that, I can almost guarantee you will burn out way before your finish line.

“A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at.” ― Bruce Lee

Will You Use Commitment or Motivation To Reach Your Goals?

Both are important. Motivation is what gets you started on any path. But commitment will keep you going even when motivation wanes…and it will.

I’ll share more on breaking bigger goals into small bites in future posts. For now, you can practice by making a little one, especially if you are new to making any goals (believe it or not, some people, even like those of us over 50, are).

Can you do that? Something along the lines of, “I will commit to walking for 15 (or 5!) minutes twice (or three or four times) this week.

Commitment means you will do this no matter the weather, no matter if you have a hangover…no matter anything, except some serious health problem.

Don’t negotiate with yourself over it!

What will you commit to?

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6 Comments

  1. Such a great article – motivation is important to start something but you have to commitment is so important to stay on track!

  2. This post is absolutely spot on. It’s true that being motivated could only get you so far and that the only way you can truly succeed and even go above personal goals is to commit to them

  3. Such a in-depth and complete article on commitment, absolutely loved it! and I so agree, with just willpower and some motivation you probably won’t be to keep up with your goals

  4. Such a in-depth and complete article on commitment, absolutely loved it! and I so agree, with just willpower and some motivation you probably won’t be to keep up with your goals!