What we think and feel about ourselves, others, and the world has a significant impact on our expectations of outcomes in any given situation: positive or negative. This, in turn, directly affects our behavior, habits, and how we cope. Our nutrition is no different. Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle can be a mental hurdle because of how we perceive these five things: level of control, expectations for the future, levels of self-worth and confidence, amount of support and resources, and the rate of progress.
Level of Control
The extent to which we believe that we have the power to make a change is a key motivator. If an individual does not believe that all the little things she is doing is really adding up to make a difference in her health or that she does not have what it takes (willpower, skills, knowledge, etc.), it is highly likely that she will give up when a setback arises. In other words, people fall into the trap of thinking, “if I don’t have much control in my life, why bother? At least, I get to choose what tasty food I get to eat to make myself feel better.”
Expectations for the Future
What we see for ourselves in the future tends to dictate what type of goals and standards we set, and how much effort we are willing to put forth towards achieving those goals. For example, if we feel content and comfortable with our lives or we feel pessimistic about the future, then there may be an underlying apathy towards maintaining a healthy diet. Feeling complacent or negative about the future often leads to less emphasis on future oriented thinking, such as proactive health management.
Levels of Self-Worth and Confidence
How we see ourselves has a strong impact on whether or not we stay persistent in our goals. If we don’t believe in ourselves or we don’t see ourselves as good enough, there tends to be a focus on the problems as opposed to the solutions. Attached to a negative outlook is an underlying feeling of futility and hopelessness, which depletes the motivation to make progress such as sticking to an exercise and diet program.
Another factor that plays into self-worth and confidence is making frequent social comparisons. We often make the error of judging our starting points to other people’s progression points and ending points. This leads us to make excuses for why we can’t succeed while also minimizing the effort that others have exerted to become successful.
Amount of Support and Resources
Perceived social support and resources (applicable knowledge, skills, time, and energy) can go hand in hand with motivation. Often times, when we feel like there are insufficient resources and support, we get overwhelmed and revert back to things which are familiar and soothe us, such as unhealthy eating habits.
Perceived Rate of Progress
When it comes to making changes, regardless of the long-term benefits or consequences, the mind likes to jump to the options with the least amount of effort and the quickest payoff. For example, eating sugary and fatty foods can give us a quick boost in mood (serotonin and dopamine) while eating a balanced diet might seem like a chore at first, but it creates a lasting positive impact on the body and mind. As a result, the healthier diet, in a way, becomes the harder choice. This is because a change which entails a lot of effort with subtle progression takes a lot more willpower, energy and resources compared to the instant gratification (or put in another way, fast-acting effect) of eating a guilty pleasure.
What Are Some Tools to Help with Negative Motivators?
Focus on the Positive
Focusing on the positive helps us to become creative problem-solvers and decrease anxiety. Harping on the negative leads to rumination and the reduction of perceived options. While a more critical approach may be appropriate for certain situations (situations which may require quick thinking and emergencies), a positive approach can improve our capacity for brainstorming and unconventional thought. In essence, positive thinking disrupts the negative thought loops that may be preventing us from progressing in our goals, such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Decrease Contact with Negative Influences
Negative people and environments have a huge impact on how we see the world and our place in it. If there is constant negativity around us, then it can bleed into our own thoughts and feelings. Positive influences, on the other hand, can inspire and push us towards self-improvement and progression. For example, if you’re in an environment which frequently mocks health and fitness, it can become a force working against you to make progress in becoming healthier.
Consider the Audience and Scope When Pursuing Goals
Are you trying to change your lifestyle because you want to become healthy or is it to fulfill someone else’s wishes? There is nothing wrong with becoming healthier with someone else in mind, but in order to reap the benefits of long-term change, the desire has to come from within. Additionally, were you hoping for a quick fix (short-term) or were you willing to invest effort and time into producing lasting results? The level of mental commitment is strongly tied to the level of motivation and vice versa.
Focus on a Couple of Things at a Time as Opposed to Addressing Everything at Once
When we try to address everything at once, it can become overwhelming and then we tend to back away to avoid the stress. However, when we break things up into bite-size pieces, then we can chip away at our main goals and experience little bits of progress as well as setbacks along the way. This is why radical changes to our diet and lifestyle over a short period of time are rarely sustainable.
Work Towards A Balanced View of Yourself
Reflect upon your top three strengths as well as your top three weaknesses. Often times, we become discouraged because we view ourselves as damaged (ex. past traumas, injuries, medical conditions) so we wonder why should we bother putting in effort? Remember to recognize your positive attributes.
The issue then becomes that many of us focus on our weaknesses while minimizing our strengths so we end up skewing towards the negative and then we make up excuses as to why we can’t accomplish what we truly want to do. On the other hand, a barrage of positive feedback may feel disingenuous to how we truly feel on the inside. So, it is important to acknowledge both the positive and negative sides within ourselves in order to stay motivated towards our goals.