The Stages of Motivation: How to Maintain Forward Progress

When you want to make a positive change in your life, whether it be losing weight, tossing the cigarettes, adopting healthy living habits or anything else, motivation is the core of your plan. You need to get started before you can build momentum and blaze your way to the goal.

How to you kick start yourself to make that positive change? Since it all begins with motivation, here are the steps to taking that leap of faith that send you down the self-improvement path:

Evaluate your motivation level

Before you get started, you need to be sure you’re ready. The University of Iowa Academic Advising Center tells students to identify their desires, evaluate their personal circumstances, and know their strengths and weaknesses. That’s good advice for anyone seeking to evaluate their motivation level.

Why do you want to make a life change? Is your doctor or partner nagging you to do so? Did something happen, like a health scare, to make you feel the need for a change? Are you dissatisfied when you look in the mirror or think about your life’s current path?

Once you know your motivating factor, you’ll also know whether it originated internally or externally. If your main reason for wanting to change is because someone else is pushing you, your motivation is more likely to falter than if you made the decision to change for your own reasons. Ask yourself whether you have any personal reasons that align with the other person’s suggestion. For example, your partner might urge you to lose weight or stop smoking because he or she is worried about your health. Can you find motivation in wanting to stay healthy so you don’t develop a chronic illness that puts a burden on your partner or lose precious time together by dying prematurely?

It’s a well-known principle in the management world that effective motivation is linked to self-interest. Your motivation should come from within, or you should find a way to make it important to you if it initially comes from the outside. Otherwise, it’s too easy to toss aside your plan for change when you’re feeling too tired to exercise or that cigarette is singing you a siren song.

Increase your motivation

You’ll benefit from maxing out your motivation because it’s the driving force behind life change. The stronger it is, the more likely you are to succeed in reaching your goals.

Increasing your motivation is easy if you get off to a good start. For example, it feels so good to mark off smoke-free days on the calendar. Every red slash mark gives you more incentive to keep that string intact. It’s also motivating to see that number on the scale go down or feel your clothes getting loser. Celebrate your victories to keep your motivation strong.

Increasing your motivation also means avoiding pitfalls that could set you back. Don’t keep your favorite snacks in the house when you’re trying to lose weight. Stay away from social situations where a cigarette was a natural part of the night if you’re going smoke-free. You might feel strong and think you can avoid the temptation, but it’s not worth the risk. You’ll seriously damage your motivation if you face negative triggers and give in.

Maintain your motivation.

Don’t get complacent when your plan is going well. Old habits can sneak back in if you don’t maintain your motivation. If you’ve reached your initial goal, consider creating a new one or establishing checkpoints to ensure that you’re staying on track.

The Mayo Clinic has good advice for its diabetes patients who must maintain major life changes, and it’s applicable to anyone striving  for self improvement. For example, make a list of the benefits you’re realizing from the changes, and read it when your motivation needs a boost. Seek support from others when needed, and surround yourself with people who fit in with your new lifestyle. That might mean making new friends at the gym who act as workout buddies or joining an online weight loss support group to discuss your success and share strategies with others.

It’s possible that you’ll backslide in your plan, either early on or later, just when you think you have everything under control. Either way, never use that as an excuse to throw in the towel. Self criticism is your enemy. Don’t let it fool you into thinking that you’ve failed. Nutrition.gov advises people losing weight to never let a small slip turn into a reason to give up the big gains. That advice works for any lifestyle change. You’re human, so you’ll make mistakes, but they’re really just learning opportunities. Use them to strengthen, not sabotage, your plan, and you’ll stay on the road to lifetime success.