A healthy body looks different for everyone, but many of us use losing weight as a motivator.
When you make weight loss your motivation, it can become quite negative. Swapping this for a healthy, active lifestyle as your priority becomes an empowering, enjoyable and more positive experience.
So, how do you find the motivation to be fit and healthy?
First, find out what drives you.
Ask yourself, why does having a healthy body matter to me?
What would a fit body enable you to do? Knowing what matters to you and why you want to reach a goal provides the best motivation.
The three core factors of motivation
Understanding how motivation works empowers you to find the right motivators for your goal. Dr Bec Jackson, Consultant Psychologist, explains that there are three core factors of motivation – activation, persistence and intensity.
- Activation involves the decision that initiates a behaviour.
- Persistence is the disciplined pace. It’s about building up momentum over time and developing the self-discipline needed to continue.
- Intensity is the degree of vigour or energy that you apply to a behaviour. It’s the amount of drive and enthusiasm you have towards an activity.
Using these three factors to motivate you towards getting a stronger and more energetic body might look like this:
- Deciding to start regular physical activity, such as signing up to a fitness class.
- Planning your week around it – making it a priority every week builds persistence.
- Pumping yourself up about it – looking in the mirror and telling yourself this is going to be awesome. Give every session your maximum effort.
How to set goals that motivate you
Finding the motivation to do a workout or eat a healthy meal is easier when you plan the steps towards your goal. See each small step as a win, not an obstacle you need to overcome.
Dr Bec explains “When you have a goal in mind, motivation is the process that gets you there. It's what causes you to act.”
So, start by thinking about how you’ll feel once you reach your goal and work backwards.
Imagine the small steps you need to take along the way. Write down each step you need to take and how achieving it will make you feel. Now stick your note somewhere you’ll see it every day, like on the fridge door. Having a daily reminder of why you’re doing it increases your motivation.
Personal Trainer, Gabrielle Petterwood tells us “It’s important that the goals set allow us to see change to stay motivated. They need to be small achievable goals that progress and are easily observable. Once you see a change, this provides feedback that your hard work is paying off, which drives more motivation to further create changes.”
How to switch up your thinking
If you’ve felt like you need to lose weight but have no motivation, that’s because weight loss can be quite negative. Often it’s driven by trying to change your body to fit in with society's expectations or to compete with others around you.
Choosing to be fit and healthy is positive and empowering. Try switching your goal from a negative focus to something that feels good and inspires you to take action.
- I need to stop eating junk food for eating nutritious meals boosts my mood.
- I have to do a workout for working out makes me energised and productive.
- I need to lose weight for I want to move my body with ease.
Changing your perspective and setting a positive goal increases your motivation to achieve it.
Top 10 ways to increase your motivation
Regular physical activity and eating a nutritious range of foods has a host of benefits.
You’ll maintain healthy blood pressure, build stronger bones and reduce your risk of a range of chronic diseases. Plus, as Dr Bec points out, “an active lifestyle improves your mental wellbeing, reduces stress, boosts self worth and provides a sense of accomplishment.”
If that isn’t motivation enough, here are 10 healthy ways to help get, and stay, motivated.
1. Create a plan
Write down your big end goal and break it up into smaller goals. Then write actions next to each small goal that you can take to achieve it.
For example, if your goal is to eat more vegetables, then you could start by committing to adding in a vegetable each day for a week, then increasing to a cup a day over the next few weeks. It takes around 66 days to form a habit, so breaking down your smaller goals over four weeks is a great way to start.
2. Find an accountability buddy
Tell your partner, a friend or family member what your goal is and why it’s important to you. Ask them to have regular check-ins with you to see how you’re going and provide support if you feel your motivation waning.
Better yet, if they’re keen to get healthy too, ask them to join you! GP Dr Jill Gamberg suggests undertaking some form of physical activity with a friend helps with motivation. Interacting with a friend or a family member also offers some social support, which is an important motivator.
3. Celebrate your success
It’s vital to celebrate every little success to keep your goal at the front of your mind. If you squeezed in ten minutes of exercise between work and making dinner, that’s a win. Packed your gym bag the night before? Another win.
Finding a way to celebrate your wins that aligns with your new goal can be an extra motivator too. Celebrate every step you make towards a healthier lifestyle.
4. Start a daily walking habit
It can be in the morning, on your lunch break or after dinner. The time of day doesn’t matter, but make sure you get at least 150 minutes total throughout the week. For example, start with 21 minutes every day (broken up into two 10-11 minute blocks is fine).
It can be incidental (see point 5) or a walk outside in the sunshine. It doesn’t matter where or when, just as long as you get that heart pumping and those limbs moving.
This type of moderate-intensity physical activity can increase your heart rate, breathing rate and sweating. But the benefits you'll feel from this daily habit alone will go a long way to keeping you motivated. Just remember, you can talk during moderate physical activity, but you might find singing along to your playlist a bit challenging.
5. Find ways to get incidental exercise
Incidental exercise is a great way to get started on that daily walking habit and to find some fun motivation. You can climb the stairs twice instead of taking the lift. Or do laps around your house carrying a loaded washing basket before hanging out the clothes.
Incidental exercise is just about finding ways to get your body moving in between all the other things life throws at us.
6. Experiment with healthy homemade recipes
An easy way to adapt to eating healthier foods is to cook more at home. Use the opportunity to try new recipes while replacing unhealthy meals with more nutritious ones.
You can find heaps of fun, healthy recipes online to motivate yourself to try new foods. If you need some extra help figuring out your nutritional requirements, consider speaking to a nutritionist or dietitian.
7. Buy bikes for the family and go for weekend bike rides
Exercising as a family means you spend quality time together and build healthy habits into your lifestyle. If some family members don’t enjoy cycling, try so3mething else – like roller skating!
There are heaps of fun ways to exercise together, which increases your motivation to keep working towards your goals.
8. Try mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness meditation helps increase your awareness so you can pay attention moment to moment. It’s a way of pausing and considering your reaction to situations, as well as a way to reduce stress.
Try some mindfulness meditation when thinking about your goals to help visualise new possibilities, or use it to help relax after a busy day.
9. Find a type of exercise you love
If you don’t love running then don’t force yourself to be a runner, says Dr Jill. If you love to dance, make your exercise fun by doing an online dance class, joining a Zumba class, or dancing around the living room with your kids. You're much more likely to regularly do a physical activity you enjoy.
10. Don’t let setbacks stop you
When you’re establishing new habits, it’s common to have minor setbacks. If you miss one workout, don’t give up.
Give yourself a moment to process why it happened and move on. Forgive yourself, it’s okay to not get it right all the time.
Make healthy living your goal
When you create a positive goal, you’ll be able to focus on what makes you feel good. Like finding enjoyable ways to exercise, creating delicious yet healthy meals and feeling proud of the person you see in the mirror.
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Dr Bec Jackson is a Consultant Psychologist with 20 years’ experience across clinical psychology, academia, therapy and education in clinical, forensic and organisational psychology.
Gabrielle Petterwood is a Personal Trainer with a holistic approach to fitness, nourishing the body with fresh foods and living a healthy and balanced lifestyle to realise full body health.
Dr Jill Gamberg is a General Practitioner and one of the first Australian Lifestyle Medicine Physicians whose goal is to help prevent disease and maintain wellness with evidence-based practice, and to passionately improve health literacy.
Reviewed by healthylife Advisory Board June 2021