Getting motivated to live an active and healthy lifestyle
By: Ellen Feldman, Psychotherapist, M.A., R.P. (Q.), J.D.
Core Expectations Preferred Partner
We know that there’s a long list of amazing benefits to working out, and Core Expectations is excellent at highlighting these reasons. Yet, it can still be so hard for many of us to find the motivation to exercise. As a therapist, I work with a lot of clients on motivation, so I know it’s important to really question why some women struggle to find the motivation to exercise even when they know it’ll make them feel good.
A recent Facebook post by Elisabeth Parsons provides some important insight. She explained that a new client recently told her that she reached out to Core Expectations because she wanted to stop thinking of exercise as something she has to do so she can look better. Deep down, despite knowing the many benefits of exercise, I think a lot of women tell themselves that they need to work out so they can look better.
That message is a motivation vampire. It can suck a woman dry of motivation, whether the message is explicit in a woman’s mind or tucked away somewhere deep inside.
There are a couple of reasons that message is terrible for motivation. First of all, none of us like to be told what to do. We didn’t like it as kids, and we don’t like it now. We don’t like it when it’s others telling us what to do – and we don’t like it when we’re the ones issuing the demand either! Our brains process “I have to” fundamentally different from “I choose to.” The first represents a loss of control and is disempowering, while the second represents a seizing of control and makes us feel like an empowered adult directing the course of our life. To access and maintain motivation to exercise, CHOOSE to exercise.
The second reason that message is a motivation vampire is because it’s built on the idea that we are flawed, that we need fixing or improvement. It embeds within it our deep insecurities: that we are not attractive or desirable enough, that we are too fat, too skinny, or not fit to wear the clothes we wish we could. Underneath those fears lurks the big fear that we are not enough, not lovable enough. When we base our motivation to exercise on the belief that exercise may fix what we currently see as not good enough about us, exercise becomes tied to self-doubt and shame. Even if this belief results in us doing the exercise, the exercise isn’t likely to feel very good, empower us, or become an enduring way of life.
We can turn motivation for exercise on its head by borrowing a concept from the world of psychology called RADICAL ACCEPTANCE. It’s the idea that we can unconditionally accept a person EXACTLY as they are, even as we continue to motivate them to change. Let’s stop telling ourselves to work out so we can look better and adopt a new way of speaking to ourselves that reflects radical acceptance of self: “I love my body exactly as it is. I accept it exactly as it is, and I do not demand that even one thing change about for me to love and accept me. And, at the same time, I choose to work out because that will make me feel even better inside my body.”
Think this sounds unlikely to change your motivation to exercise? Try it. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it could be a game changer. In therapy, when clients experience radical acceptance from me in a way they never have from anyone before, it can open a door to change they never thought possible.
Check out my interview with Ellen in these two videos:
Learn more about Ellen and her practice by visiting our Core Member Page