Ahh, that fresh start feeling of a brand new year. Your mind is now free of that holiday to do list and your body is ready to get back to healthier eating and sleeping. This wave of motivation feels great and hopeful. Let’s give it a boost and talk about what science says about making that New Year’s motivation last!
Create a habit loop: Neuroscientists have spent decades studying the brains of people in many different scenarios and have come up with a simple explanation for habits. As described in this TED talk by Judson Brewer, MD PhD, the brain is hardwired to do what leaves you feeling better and avoid what makes you feel worse. This gravitation toward instant gratification is there to keep us safe. Avoiding plants that gave you a stomach ache and traveling to get to a safer location was what helped our ancestors survive. Using this with exercise in our modern day life means listening to your body. Just like our ancestors, trusting your body is the best guide. That takes letting go of the idea that more is better and pain is a sign of progress and letting your body signal your brain that exercise is something it wants to keep choosing to do again and again.
Be Kind (to yourself): Over and over in many studies, criticism has been show to work for motivation in the short term and to burn out motivation in the long term. Putting a picture on the fridge to make you feel bad about yourself so you go to the gym is one common self-criticism strategy. As described in this TED talk by Kristen Neff, PhD, studies have consistently shown that using the same encouraging and supportive tone with yourself that you use with those you care about is the way to make motivation last. Notice how you talk to yourself before during and after exercise. Shift the tone to be encouraging, empathetic and supportive. Contrary to popular belief, this will not make you ‘wimp’ out, it will actually help you sustain motivation.
Motivate yourself: Studies show that having someone push you will help you reach a goal, but once that push is no longer there, motivation will go too. As described in this TED talk by Daniel Pink, the more lasting way to motivate is from the inside out. Relying on steps, calories and miles to motivate you will work, but more lasting is being motivated by how you feel and how it connects to what is most important to you in life right now. By listening to your body and using supportive self talk, you can be your own best personal trainer and inspirational speaker rolled into one!
It takes time to build these skills, but it is the way to lasting motivation. If previous years you have relied on other people, self criticism and ignoring signals from your body in order to get to a goal with exercise, notice where it has led you. If it led you back to trying to get motivated again, this year, make a resolution not to waste time with temporary sources of exercise motivation. Why not invest the time and energy by using your New Years Motivation to build these self-motivation skills from day one.
Wishing you and yours a very happy and healthy new year!
Keep Moving, Be Well all year long!