Why Motivation Is Important For Weight Loss

Losing weight is one of the most difficult human undertakings. Why? Because it requires a lifelong commitment to healthy eating and exercise habits, and sustaining motivation is incredibly hard. When people quit smoking or give up drugs or alcohol, they go through an agonizing withdrawal phase — but eventually they learn to manage life without their substance. A former smoker knows exactly how many cigarettes she can have every day: zero.

Why Weight Loss Is Unique

Weight loss is different because food never goes away. People still have to eat, every single day, and the majority of foods that are readily available are off limits. Your friends and family will never stop wanting to socially share meals with you, and you may even have family members who bring temptation right into your home every single day. Rather than giving up food the way an addict gives up alcohol, you have to make constant decisions about eating, sometimes without even having adequate information about the foods in front of you. 

Exercise, the other half of the weight-loss equation, also requires constant motivation. Recovering addicts need to form some new habits to replace old triggers, but for the most part, abstaining from smoking, drugs or alcohol is a question of not doing things. Exercise is a question of doing something. You have to continuously find time for it in your schedule, and find options for working out when it’s raining, or when your workout buddy lets you down, or if you’re injured. You need intense levels of motivation to sustain an exercise regimen. 

Find Your Motivators

It’s important to know exactly what motivates you enough to keep you going. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, pictured above, maybe be familiar if you’ve taken psychology or business courses. Note that food is listed at the bottom of the period, where the most powerful motivators are, but we eat to satisfy other needs as well.

If your doctor told you that if you don’t lose weight this week you will die, weight loss would become a physiological need. Most of us want to be healthy, but unless we have pressing health issues related to obesity, our motivations come in the love/belonging and esteem areas of the pyramid. We want to be seen as desirable so we can attract a partner. We want to feel confident in our bodies so we can make friends and socialize happily. We want to be healthy so we can enjoy sports and activities that give us feelings of esteem or self-actualization.

It is possible to do these things at any size, of course, but most people feel it’s easier in a thinner, healthier body. 

Once you know what your primary motivators are, create powerful images in your mind that relate to them. Some people like to imagine running into their ex-spouse while looking great, for instance, or walking into a room and turning heads. You might be motivated by imagining yourself running in a marathon or dancing in a competition. Choose an image that will keep you focused and return to it often. 

Set Interim Goals

A goal of losing 40 pounds is admirable, but breaking it into smaller pieces will help you stay focused. Writing 2-pound-per-week target weights into your calendar is a good tool. However, the best short-term goals to aim for and celebrate might be action-oriented rather than results-oriented. In other words, focus on what you need to do, celebrate your progress in that realm, and let your body respond to your actions when it’s ready. Short-term action goals might include things like joining a health club, giving up soda, or putting together a rotation of healthy breakfasts. Meeting your short-term goals will help you stay motivated on your weight loss journey.

Identify Your Triggers

Triggers are emotions, foods, environments, or situations that cause you to “fall off the wagon.” Dinner out with friends may be a trigger for overindulging while rainy days might trigger you to skip workouts. Set yourself up for success by listing as many of your own triggers as you can think of and create strategies to help you face them in advance. Be sure to give yourself a pat on the back any time you’ve resisted your triggers — celebrating your successes will help you stay motivated.

Losing weight is a long-term proposition. Staying focused on your goal and celebrating your successes along with the way will help you stay motivated for the long haul.