February 2, 2011

How to Get Motivation

New Year’s resolutions are wearing off, the weather is cold, and fears of falling off the wagon are abound. It’s the perfect equation for losing motivation. Along with external factors that seem to be playing against us – there is a set of internal factors that get in our way. Dopamine, the motivation hormone drops when we don’t exercise or even when we eat sugar or drink alcohol. But hormones aren’t everything. We also get in our own way, whether it’s negative thinking or lacking consistency. The best way to get motivation is by taking small steps, getting the momentum to make bigger ones. Here are 5 simple ways to get motivation.

Eliminate negativity. When we don’t make it to the gym like we had planned, we immediately tell ourselves a string of negative things like “I’m so lazy” or “I didn’t go today and I’ll never find the discipline to do it.” A fear of failing and low self-esteem (beliefs that we’re not good enough), effects our self-discipline and will keep us from even trying. Whether we need motivation to get a new job or just make it to the gym, letting go of the negative self-talk frees up space and energy to do the things we want to do. A landmark 2005 study by Lyubomirsky, King and Diener showed that success was preceded by being in a flourishing emotional state where positive emotions outweighed negative emotions by three to one. We do not get happy because we are successful; we become successful because we are happy. Many studies now show that our thoughts effect us on a profound level, so being nicer to ourselves and staying positive also keeps us healthy. Do this now: The next time the workout doesn’t happen or you indulge in the cupcakes at the office, rather than ruminating on it and creating a downward spiral, let it go and reframe the negative thoughts (for example, say to yourself “I was tired, so I honored my body by resting”) and move forward.

Set goals. We might be able to cross this one off the list, since we’re on the heels of our New Year’s resolutions. Goals increase commitment and help us prioritize and plan. The act of writing down what we are going to do is a strong motivator and it helps us to get specific, so we can integrate it into our lives more easily. Writing it down and looking at it often can contribute to consistency and prevent feeling overwhelmed and then doing nothing. Most important, shoot for the stars. Contrary to what we might have heard, having challenging, life-changing goals rather than low or reachable goals will get us much farther, boost our self-esteem and make us proudest at the end of the day. Bonus tip: when thinking of your goals, be present, but in a new way. Figure out what kind of life you would like to create for yourself, or what you would like to accomplish, and act from the place of already being there, living in the now as if it were the future that you envision. Do this now: Find a quiet space and spend at least 15 minutes writing down your goals for the next month, three months, six months, and year. Remember, make your goals specific and challenging.

Eat right. Raise your motivation hormones with food. Focus on proteins; beans and nuts are rich in protein and are healthy boosters of both dopamine and norepinephrine, which aid in alertness, concentration and memory. On the other hand, caffeine, sugar and alcohol decrease dopamine, so be mindful of how much of these you consume. Dopamine degrades and oxidizes quickly, so eating antioxidant-rich foods eliminate free radicals and increase the effects of dopamine. When we hear antioxidant, many people think of Vitamin C, which them to fruit, but another option in the winter months is dark leafy greens (kale is currently in season), which are high in antioxidants and the best mood-boosters. They’re also nutrient-dense and high in fiber, so they produce a lot of energy for a workout and they’re a great addition to lunch to get you through the rest of the day. Do this now: Rather than skipping breakfast and going straight for the morning coffee, make some whole-grain sprouted toast with nut butter and avoid the energy crash by end of day.

Get support. Primary foods like relationships, career and spirituality nourish us more than anything. When these primary foods are out of balance, and a relationship or job is creating stress in our lives rather than feeding us, it can affect us physically and emotionally. Improving relationships, doing work we love (yes, it’s possible; think of the one thing you always wanted to do), and deepening the relationship with ourselves through a spiritual practice feeds us. Surrounding yourself with supportive friends, family, and colleagues will directly increase your motivation. Having emotional support and someone to hold you accountable is key. Do this now: Think of one relationship in your life that you would like to improve. What would you like to see happen?

Get moving. Exercise is the best cure for the winter blues and gives us instant motivation to do everything else we want to do. How to get the motivation to go? Here are three fool-proof ways to get you off the sofa. One, find a buddy so you don’t have to do it alone and can’t cancel. Two, find an exercise you enjoy! Enjoying the experience will motivate you to actually do it. Think outside the box – a dance class might be more fun than the gym, or even more sex. And three, find something you enjoy doing at home. You’ll save time commuting and you’ll have one less excuse to avoid going – you won’t have to brave the winter cold. Do this now: Call a friend and make an exercise date.

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Jennifer Kass  |  Contribution: 500