Turning exercise information into motivation, summary

Turning exercise information into motivation, part 3-6.pngOver the past eight weeks, we’ve been sorting through the information about exercise that is meant to motivate, but in the end, drains motivation. We are led to believe you:

  • Need someone to motivate you
  • Should exercise
  • Can get quick and amazing results
  • Need lots of accountability
  • Need to suffer to get results
  • Are good if you exercise and bad if you don’t
  • Can find the answers you need on the internet
  • Just need to burn more calories

These beliefs are part of the reason there’s a drought of motivation for exercise. They are so imbedded in our culture and our exercise mindset, it’s hard to believe that not struggling would actually work. We equate exercise with struggling so strongly that an easier way sounds like a cop-out. Yet, the struggle isn’t increasing our exercise motivation and there is another way.

For the past thirty years, I have been asking the question “why is it so difficult to stay motivated for exercise?” I have poured over the science of how the brain and the body work separately. I have shared it with those who struggle with their exercise motivation and watched them use it to find the way out of the struggle. It takes unlearning what does not work and learning skills for being your own best source for lasting motivation, but the great news is, it’s easier than you may think.

If you are ready to end the struggle with exercise motivation,  I am excited to share it with you! Stay tuned because more information on how to be your own best motivator is coming soon.

Turning exercise information into motivation, part 8

Turning exercise information into motivation, part 3-5
Thanks to technology, information about how many calories you burn with exercise can be right at your fingertips. Burning calories can feel motivating, especially when you see how many calories are in certain foods. Yikes! I ate 1000 calories last night and only burned 400 in my workout!!! I better get to the gym today to burn that off!

And so it goes. Those little numbers keep us moving, pushing to burn off what we ate. We play this numbers game in hopes of someday winning at weight loss. Well, if it makes us move, what’s the problem?

Here are some of them.

Stuck in “never enough”. It takes only a few seconds to consume the calories it would take you an hour to burn off. This numbers game can keep us feeling like we could never do enough exercise.

Unreliable. The calories burned during exercise is a rough estimate. It even changes day to day for the same exercise. It’s like trying to balance your checkbook with a rough estimate of your expenses—how would that work? We put way too much stock in the equation of calories in, calories out.  The calories out part is just not accurate enough to make it work for weight loss.

We miss out. The estimated calories burned per minute during stretching and strength training are much lower than for cardio. It seems smarter to do cardio because you can get a better return on your time investment. Yet stretching can make you feel better and strength training can make you function better (not to mention it increases metabolism much more than cardio does).

Drains the enjoyment. When the goal is to burn as many calories as possible with the limited time you have, enjoying exercise is not the goal. If enjoying exercise sounds like an oxymoron to you, this is a BIG red flag that it’s time to exercise for reasons other than calorie burning.

As humans, we are just not motivated by concepts. We are motivated by how we feel.  Playing the numbers game, living in the state of “never enough” can leave us feeling exhausted, frustrated, and discouraged. These are not feelings that sustain your motivation to keep exercising.

The biggest irony here is that when exercise leaves you feeling worse, you are moving in the opposite direction of the reason you probably want to lose weight in the first place—to feel better, have more energy, be comfortable in your skin, be free to enjoy life a bit more.

Want to stay motivated to exercise to help you lose weight? Don’t exercise for weight loss! Cover up the calories burned number. Ignore the programs touting maximum calorie burning. Block the articles about tricking your body into burning more calories (e.g., muscle confusion). Quit the calorie burning game once and for all.

Instead, exercise to feel better and function better, now and each day going forward. You will discover more sustainable motivation and be more likely to win what you ultimately want from weight loss.

Turning exercise information into motivation, part 7

Turning exercise information into motivation, part 3In this series, we’ve looked at how the flood of exercise information has had little effect on the drought of exercise motivation. Fitness marketers know that consistency builds trust. They rely on the fact that when our brain hears and sees the same thing over and over, it is more believable. When we repeatedly hear and see similar messages about exercise and motivation (like the messages I talked about here), our brain is convinced it is the way to go. The whispers of truth in the research journals are drowned out by the noise of popular fitness media.

Listening to those messages often leads to going back and forth between two mindsets—looking for something that will get you motivated or doing a program that you hope will help you stay motivated. Over time, this viscous cycle can lead to the conclusion “I am just not an exerciser” and wipe out your motivation for exercise.

The fact is, if you are struggling to get and stay motivated, it’s because of our typical approach to exercise, not your genetic traits or a personal shortcoming. How do we get out of this struggle? By tuning out the noise and listening to what science tells us about how the brain and body work. The information we need most is not found out there. The answers have been inside you the whole time:

  • Exercise motivation stems from what you value, not what you “should” do.
  • You are in charge of your motivation, it can’t be outsourced.
  • Kindness motivates. Criticism de-motivates.
  • When exercise leaves you feeling better each time, you want to keep coming back for more.
  • You are already whole. You don’t need to achieve a fitness goal to prove that.
  • Your body is a miracle to be cared for, not a problem to be fixed.

Shifting our cultural mindset about exercise will take some time. Shifting your own mindset only takes a moment when you know t
hat the source of lasting motivation is right inside you.  It starts with trusting your body and yourself.

Turning exercise information into motivation, part 6

Turning exercise information into motivation, part 3-10There is one source of information we receive that is intended to motivate, but creates a  slow, invisible leak of our motivation. It starts the moment we are born with What a good baby, and continues in school, Why did you get such bad grades this year? It is infused into popular media with good guys and bad guys, and into our efforts to be healthy and well, You are being so good by going to the gym or I was so bad this weekend, just vegged out on the couch. 

We like categories. They make life simpler. The fact is, when we determine something is  good, or bad, we are judging it. Yes, even “being good” is a judgement. When we are “being good”, it feels good. Your brain gets rewards from the kudos. Your self-esteem is boosted … temporarily.

Have you ever felt paralyzed by fear of failure? Or the opposite, paralyzed by fear of losing success? I see this all the time when someone reaches a goal weight. They live with the fear of “going back”.  The slightest bump in weight will trigger panic.  There is always a little voice inside saying “what if you can’t keep this up? What if you start being bad again?”

Judgment automatically triggers that fight, flight, freeze response in our body-brain.   This is why it limits our capacity for lasting change.  It suppresses all the skills we need to sustain motivation through the ups and downs of life—creativity, confidence, problem solving, and memory. Judgment, negative or positive, keeps your motivation dependent of outside forces.  Your success is determined by the judgments of someone else, or society as a whole. This is a really sneaky way we outsource motivation.

We might need this categorizing of behaviors in some aspects of society, but when it comes to taking care of ourselves, it distances us from what is most important to us,  our internal motives. Over time, this drains our sense of self worth and our confidence we can stay motivated. Like criticism, trying to be good works only temporarily. It turns out you can be either good, or bad, or you can be motivated.

Let’s lose this merit-based system of motivation. Instead, build your choice to exercise on the foundation that you are already whole. You don’t need to be “an exerciser” to prove that.  Knowing you are okay, whether you exercise or not, gives you a much better chance of repeatedly choosing to exercise for self-care.

Turning exercise information into motivation, part 5

Turning exercise information into motivation, part 3-8.pngHave you seen these “inspirational” fitness quotes in the popular media?

Better sore, than sorry

Sweat is just fat crying

Sore, the most satisfying pain

Wake up. Work out. Kick ass. Repeat.

Winners make goals, losers make excuses

Making excuses burns zero calories per hour

Three months from now, you will thank yourself

I will make sweat my best accessory, I will run harder than my mascara

Running is nothing more than a series of arguments between the part of your brain that wants to stop and the part that wants to keep going

Inspirational quotes are designed to motivate—to remind us of a “need or desire that causes us to act”. Thanks to social media, we constantly see and hear these waves of inspirational sayings designed to motivate us.

When do these powerful waves of “inspiration” lead to a drought of motivation to exercise? Take a look at those popular quotes again. What do you notice? The underlying messages  reflect what I hear from 95% of the patients and clients I see for the first time. It is the strong belief that to get “results” from exercise, you need to suffer and if you are tough enough to get through that suffering, you will “see results”. It might be expressed in their exercise history, or just a simple eye roll when I ask them about exercise.  But it is there for nearly everyone I talk to about exercise. It keeps them either exercising and feeling like they are just not working hard enough to get “results”, or not exercising and feeling like a “loser” for making excuses.

In this flood of information about how to get motivated, we have lost our way.  Research is SO clear about this; criticism, being tough on yourself drains motivation, and kindness  leads to lasting motivation.  Sure, a good kick in the butt or a wake-up call can get us motivated. Certainly, there are times we do need to handle suffering to get results. Certain medical treatments, like chemo, require putting your head down, doing what you have to do to be healthy again. Athletes need to push through grueling workouts to get that competitive edge.  It’s the only way through certain things in life.

The problem with this approach is it’s not built for sustainability. It is designed for getting from point A to point B. If, however, if your goal is to live as healthy and well as you possibly can for your whole life, point A and B are now, and each moment for the rest of your life.  The paradox is, this is the  “real results” most of us want from exercise.

Rest assured, kindness does not mean you will “let yourself off the hook”, quite the opposite. It means recognizing suffering is a red flag that what you are doing is not sustainable. It means  listening to, and trusting your body as your best guide. This is the real challenge, because it asks us to go against the tidal wave of misguided inspiration.  Get real inspiration, and real results, from what we know about motivation and movement science. Exercise is most sustaining when it is an act of self-care. That’s inspirational!

“We are not meant to be perfect.

We are meant to be whole.

It took me a long time to learn that.”

~Jane Fonda