Motivational Monday: Should you attempt change without motivation?

Let me tell you a little story about motivation. I really, really want to get into graduate school and study nutrition. I want it so bad I can taste it. I want it so bad that I spent all weekend working organic chemistry problems. I want it so bad that I am skipping a family camping trip over the July 4 weekend so I can work organic chemistry problems. I want it so bad that I have temporarily given up other activities that I LOVE so I can spend every spare moment studying for my chemistry, biology and anatomy classes. And I know that I will not be able to resume these activities for 2-3 more years.
I write about health for a living, and it has become increasingly clear to me that many of the health problems that afflict us could be prevented, minimized or delayed if we ate right, maintained a healthy body weight and got regular exercise. Now I have an almost overwhelming desire to become my own expert in nutrition and fitness, with a master’s degree and personal trainer certifications to prove it.
A lot of people think I’m crazy to sacrifice so much of my normal life for this goal. As one coworker said about the fact that I’m taking an organic chemistry course in the summer: “That’s an awful lot of good behavior.”
Yet I do not feel like I’m sacrificing anything. Because I love it. Even when it’s hard (and oh, there are times when it tear-your-hair-out hard), I love it. And the grades I’m receiving love me back. I am motivated, and nothing will get in the way of my goal.
So what would happen if I was a few decades younger and trying to get into grad school because of some external factor? Because my parents want me to, it’s expected of me, etcetera, etcetera. I am willing to bet that I would not be working this hard, that I would feel bitter about the “I should be studying but I really want to go have fun” tug-of-war, and that I would not be getting the best grades. It would probably become a long shot as to whether I could even be accepted into the competitive program I’m aiming for.
The moral of my story is this: When you attempt to achieve a goal before you are fully committed to doing whatever it takes to reach that goal, odds extremely high that you will not reach your goal. This is true whether your goal is graduate school, a job promotion, saving money for a major purchase, paying off debt, losing weight or getting super fit. The only differences between my past weight loss “successes” and “failure” was how motivated and committed I was. The ONLY differences. It was not that I suddenly discovered some super secret magic ticket to weight loss. There’s no such thing, folks.
When you are not motivated and committed, you will falter, and this will leave you feeling disappointed and frustrated. What’s worse, after you embark on multiple half-hearted attempts to get fit, or lose weight, or otherwise improve your health, you may develop the mindset that change is not possible.
“I know this to be true,” you’ll think to yourself, “because I tried everything, and nothing worked!”
Only it’s not true, because you didn’t really try (we’ll forget about the “everything/nothing” part). Tell yourself that change is impossible often enough, and guess what? Change will become impossible. That, readers, is what we call a self-fulfilling prophecy.
You may also paint yourself a failure, only that’s not true, either. As Tom Venuto says, you don’t fail, you produce a result. If you do less that what you need to get fit or get healthy, then the result you produce will be less than what you want. If you don’t like the results you’re getting, then it’s time to do something different. If you are committed, but not getting results, then you probably need a different plan. If you are not committed, and (suprise!) not getting results, then what needs to change first is your committment.
So what do you do if you have dreams of a being healthy and fit, but you know yourself, and you know that you just can’t commit to the full effort needed right now. Should you do nothing?
No, you should do these three things:
  • Take small, managable steps. Even a 10 minute walk and an extra serving of vegetables each day puts you in a healthier place than the day before.
  • Accept reality. Until you can fully commit to your big health and fitness goals, you will not reach them. They are now on the back burner.
  • Continue to look for that spark of motivation. When you do find it, the time will be right for you to finally reach for your bigger goal.