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Demystifying Motivation
How to Take Action — Even When You Don't Really Feel Like It

by Rita Milios, LCSW

Now your challenge is to maintain your motivation over the long haul. Recognize that what you have created is the beginning of new lifestyle habits — habits that will serve you well over your entire lifetime. Habits take conscious effort and willpower to start, but once they are set, they require much less active awareness to maintain. Consider the act of brushing your teeth: You probably perform this habit twice daily, every day, without giving it much thought. You “just do it.” Since the act has become habituated, it has fallen below your conscious awareness, so you notice it — and the effort it takes — less.

Similarly, habits such as planning meals around healthful ingredients, reading food labels at the grocery store, and setting aside time for exercise can become more automatic the more you do them. They still require willpower and mindfulness to carry out, but they will feel less burdensome as they become regular parts of your daily life.

Habits are the key to discipline, because discipline is, in effect, habits that you create because you want to achieve a certain result. Discipline sets up an internal rhythm that your mind responds to automatically, sending out motivation-like energy signals at predetermined times (based on your habits).

For instance, I usually do my regular exercise routine first thing in the morning, before breakfast. If for some reason I am unable to perform this routine, I get a sensation or feeling that something is just not right. My body is reacting to the fact that it is out of sync with its normal rhythm. These body–mind sensations help me stay on track. I feel much better and more in sync when I maintain my disciplined habit.

7. Remain flexible
Sometimes the best-laid plans go awry. There will be times when, despite your best efforts and determined intentions, you are simply not able to carry out one or more of your healthy lifestyle habits. You may be on a business trip that leaves no room for personal time, so you cannot go the gym as you normally would. Perhaps you are at a restaurant with friends and they insist on ordering for everyone. When the meal arrives, you find yourself staring at a table full of food that you would never choose on your own.

At times like these, focus on your original intent, review your options, and make the best choices possible under the existing conditions. You can usually achieve part of your goal, if not all of it. So you can’t go to the gym. The original intent behind this habit was exercise, and you may be able to exercise in other ways. For example, you may be able take a walk around the convention center or the airport or to do a simple exercise routine in your hotel room. At the restaurant, pick out the least offending food choices and pass on the rest. Or take small portions of everything so you don’t go hungry but don’t overeat, either.

Habits and discipline work best when they can be regularly maintained. But if that is not possible at times, don’t give up entirely. Keep your focus on your original intent and your long-term goals, and learn to be flexible in the specific actions you take to pursue them.

8. Reward and reinforce
Worthwhile goals require effort, commitment, and discipline to maintain. But when the intended outcome is important enough, the required effort is well spent. While the goal of a healthier life is a significant reward in itself, you should also reward your hard work and discipline and take pride in the positive, new attitudes that you create. Mindful motivation begins and ends with attitude, because attitude determines everything. The thoughts that you focus on, the mindset that you hold, and the mental habits that you create determine your choices, your actions, and therefore your life.

So if you decide to become your own best friend and take charge of the mental habits that determine your life, reward yourself for creating this positive, life-changing attitude. Be proud of yourself. Congratulate yourself with positive self-talk. Do something nice for yourself. Generate positive feelings about yourself and your ability to make a commitment and follow through. The emotional energy generated by such positive feelings will reinforce your commitment and motivation further, helping you to maintain your success cycle over the long haul.

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