This article gives a surprising yet research backed perspective about will-power and making changes that stick. It is pretty clear that our old way of making exercise a habit works against us. If you think exercise has to be hard, and you just need more self control to make yourself do it until it becomes a habit, there is a much more effective way.
We’re using tools that aren’t only weak; they’re also potentially harmful. If using willpower to keep your nose to the grindstone feels like a struggle, that’s because it is.
It turns out too, this way also puts a drain on our health
Those who were better at using self-control did have more success when it came to resisting temptations, but at a cost to their health. Their bodies suffered not only from increased stress responses, but also from premature aging of their immune cells.
What is this unlikely source that is better for our motivation and our health than good old fashion self control? Fostering emotions like gratitude, compassion and awareness of your own strengths has a better track record for both sustaining motivation and for promoting health.
This is one of the most challenging mindsets to change about exercise. From my experience the belief in grit, willpower and self discipline comes from the place many of us learned about exercise – through sports. Think about it, athletes make up the majority of our images and messages about exercise in our culture. They have amazing self control and discipline and achieve amazing levels of fitness. How could that model steer us wrong?
An athlete has plenty of reasons to push through and stay disciplined – the competition, team mates, coaches, records – all of these external motivators drive willpower. We ‘regular folks’ don’t have all of those, so we replace them with other external motivators – weight goals, challenges, competitions, social media, and accountability partners.
The research is pretty clear though. Trying to make yourself have more discipline and willpower is stressful and not built to last. That stress strains health and energy. It works, but it is just not sustainable, nor is it helping with exercising for long term health.
The easier and more lasting way to motivation for exercise is to practice the skills of gratitude, compassion and pride (awareness of your personal inner strengths).
If your New Years Resolutions have faded, it may be time to dust them off and look at them through the lens of our updated understanding of lasting motivation. You could:
- Keep a gratitude journal, writing down one thing each day that you are grateful for about how your body moved that day
- Practice a brief self-compassion meditation a few days a week, so you are practiced up on your skill of self compassion for those times you might use self criticism to make you motivated to exercise.
- Do a Strength Survey to raise your awareness of your inner strengths and how you can use them to keep you motivated to exercise when life tries to get in the way.
How to you use these tools already to keep yourself motivated? What else could you do to move away from trying to have more willpower to applying these positive emotions to help you keep moving and stay well?
Keep Moving, Be Well,