What motivates you?
As I’ve been spending more time on my fitness, I’ve been thinking a bit more about what motivates me—not just at the gym, but across the board. (How we do anything is how we do everything.)
And at first, I was finding that maybe I’m not typical.
A personal trainer or workout buddy pushing me past my limit and telling me I can do more, am stronger, etc. Not at all motivating. In fact, if I’m working at capacity, I find that doesn’t help at all.
Setting personal records and meticulously tracking how much weight I am lifting or how many steps I’m taking? Not that interested. No pain, no gain? Not my thing.
My friends? My partner? They eat that stuff up. But me? I’m motivated by results.
Results I can see and results I can feel. In terms of fitness, I’m motivated by feeling healthy and energized. Enjoying what I am doing. Feeling my body getting stronger. Being happy with the way I look and feel in my clothes.
I’m motivated by encouragement and reward. Not browbeating or expectations.
I’m more consistently motivated by what I want and need than anything that’s coming from “out there.”
This has always been true of my work life, my wellness habits, my choice of social activities, and of course, many other things as well. (The light bulb moment.)
Motivation is deeply individual. You may love the idea of someone goading you on as you lift a weight that could fall on your chest. Or you may not.
A lot of folks find that kind of external, or extrinsic, motivation to be helpful. And sometimes, it is. Sometimes, it’s even necessary.
And often, we can also re-frame that external motivator to discover the root of what this action or way of being really means to us. It’s not an either-or-kind of a thing.
We can turn external expectations around to find the internal motivator. Our personal why.
- “I work out because my doctor says I need to.” Or, “I work out because I feel strong and healthy when I do.”
- “I have to stay at this job for the money.” Or, “I’m staying at this job because it allows me to perfect my present while building what’s next.”
- “My mentor told me I need a marketing plan.” Or, “I am planning out how to promote my work in ways that feel right to me.”
- “I work late to impress my manager.” Or, “I am committed to this project because I see it as a good opportunity and want to perform well.”
In neuroscience and psychology, it’s widely recognized that this is a continuum.
Between the external and the internal, there are the “shoulds,” or introjected motivators. These are the things we guilt-trip ourselves into doing because we feel we must.
And there are the “importants”—the identified motivators. These are the things that we see value in doing. We do them willingly because we believe they matter, even if we’re not enjoying them, per se.
Research shows that the more internalized side of the scale tends to get better long-term results for most people. I’d suggest that there may also be a place for each type, and sometimes what moves us forward is a combination.
For me, personally? Internal usually beats external hands-down.