Motivation is a bit of a mystery. It can disappear when you need it most or when you least expect it to be a no-show, especially when you're trying to keep the momentum going as the weeks and months of your weight-loss journey trudge on. Roadblocks such as inclement weather, a busy period at work, an overuse injury, a change in employment status or even just a bad day can make going to the gym or sticking to a healthy eating plan feel like frustrating obligations that you don't care to make work. It doesn't take long for one skipped workout to turn into two and four before you're throwing in the towel.
As an ACE-certified health coach and ACE Resource Center training lead, Dennis Sanchez knows how powerful motivation can be and how helpless it can feel if a lack of drive causes you to want to quit. To prepare yourself for the inevitable moment where motivation fails you, Sanchez believes gaining an understanding of the most common mental roadblocks that lead to failure is key.
1. You're bracing yourself for failure.
Many people have good intentions and want to change in the beginning of a diet or exercise program, but they don't actually believe they are capable of achieving their goal based on previous failures, says Sanchez. "You might think, 'I've tried in the past and I wasn't successful, so chances are, I'm not going to be successful this time around,'" Sanchez explains. It's important to acknowledge that negativity bias, let go of the past and tell yourself that this time will be different.
Being able to examine past failures and learn from them is key to moving forward and finding success, so look at previous attempts as a learning experience rather than proof that you're not capable of growth. Try to pinpoint what factors led to your failure, then set yourself up with a new plan that helps you avoid those factors.
2. You're frustrated with slow and steady changes.
"As a behavior change expert, one of the factors I see often is that people get frustrated when they don't feel like they're seeing the progress they expect for the level of effort they're putting in," say Sanchez. "[Then,] they throw [the whole plan] overboard and decide that it's just not 'worth it' because [the goal] is too much work."
The fact is: Weight loss takes time. There's no
3. Your goal wasn't specific and time-bound.
You need to have your why written down to stay focused on your goal day in and day out, suggests Sanchez. Instead of waking up one morning and saying, "I think I'd like to lose 20 pounds," set a "SMART" goal, or one that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound.
"Most people set a goal like, 'I want to lose weight,' and without any specifics, it's really hard for them to adjust their focus or even understand the reason why they want to lose weight." Do you want to lose 10 pounds by Memorial Day weekend? Are you planning to run your first 5K in three months? Both are examples of achievable goals to work toward. If your goal is to lose belly fat, whip out the tape measure to see your starting waistline measurement, then record measurements weekly so you can be motivated by progress.
Making note of the positive changes you're noticing in your energy or mood and differences in how your clothing fits can keep you inspired to push beyond any plateau.
4. You believe physical limitations that aren't true.
Confirm your self-imposed beliefs and then challenge them. If you tell yourself, "I can't do that because of X", take time and dissect that statement. If you have a preexisting condition or prior injury, you might talk yourself into thinking you can't exercise because your body isn't able, but is that legitimately true? Did a doctor tell you, "No, you cannot exercise or be physically active because of this condition"? If the answer is no, it's time to consider your internal fears about exercise.
"Is that truly a barrier, or is that a self-imposed belief?" Sanchez asks. Start with evidence that you can exercise or make a change. "Re-frame your long-term beliefs," he suggests. "Recognize that it's just internal chatter and then seek out the evidence that either supports it or disputes it and find the truth in that." If you tell yourself you can't exercise because you have a knee injury, for example, ask your doctor to recommend a physical therapist who can help you rehab that problem, Sanchez advises. Often, these are short-term, self-imposed limitations, many of which can be remedied.
5. You didn't prepare for setbacks and life to happen.
You might think your progress should look like a straight line from point A to point B, but if you talked to anyone who's lost a lot of weight or any runner who has trained for a distance event, they'll tell you that obstacles always crop up and you'll need to address them along the way. Someone who has lost 50-plus pounds will tell you that they had to prepare ahead of time when faced with birthdays, holidays and other celebrations that involved tempting foods. Marathoners log long runs in the rain, snow or wind while working toward their distance goals.
If you give up at the first sign of adversity or when a barrier presents itself, you'll never achieve your goal. Instead, expect that situations are going to crop up and visualize what you're going to do ahead of time to prepare for that bump in the road. "Look for any opportunity to get activity, no matter how small, and then celebrate [the fact that you moved] because that's a change in lifestyle for you," says Sanchez. "You don't have to sit there and watch your child through the entire activity—find an opportunity to move! If it's a baseball game, walk around the field. If it's a dance class, walk around the building. Any amount of activity is better than none, and the fact that you are moving is important."
Before you start on day one, pinpoint the barriers you might face with your healthy eating plan, as well. If a co-worker brings in cookies on a certain day of the week or there are a few birthdays a week with cake, visualize and prepare for your plan of attack ahead of time. "Maybe you need to eat a fruit or vegetable before you're faced with those cookies or treats.
We're all human, so there will be days when your motivation is lacking. What separates the success stories from those who quit, though, is the desire to overcome, push through the plateau and persevere. "Prepare for success; plan for success" Sanchez reiterates. "It's all about the planning and preparation."