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Motivation? Habit? Both? Neither?

I had a talk with a client this morning and as routine changes have occurred because of COVID we’ve consistently had a talk about being flexible. We’ve talked about shifting focus a few times so that we’re always considering how fluid health can be and how there are a lot of factors that influence it.

She said she needed motivation, which sparked the conversation – do you really? Is motivation actually the problem?

Here’s the scenario:

You have thought about your goals and the why behind them. You feel ready to recruit help to create a plan that fits your routine. You’ve now been practicing that plan for months. At this point, you feel like you’re a pro. You’ve even been able to have some flexibility and change up the routine a little bit here and there with little anxiety occurring.

Now a pandemic occurs and your routine has been balled up and put in a blender on high speed. There are other concerns that you’ve never had before – food access, job security, communication and engagement with friends and family.

The routine you’ve been mastering doesn’t look the same at all. Motivation goes out the window.

You have the habits in place, but feel frozen.

Is this really a motivation problem?

Hard no. This is not a motivation problem.

Honestly, it rarely is.

Is this a habit problem?

Eh, we’ll talk about that later.

Let’s get a little nitty gritty.

Goal setting and motivation

There are two kinds of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. If you pull from your prefix word bank you can see that one means motivation from inside and one means motivation from outside.

Examples of intrinsic motivation relate to something that brings you personal joy or is interesting to you without an obvious reward. Reading a new book each month because you love reading or learning a language or trying a new workout program could be examples of this.

Examples of extrinsic motivation relate to feeling external pressure from a deadline or a specific goal.

It’s possible that some goals may be set because of the pressure from friends, family or strangers because you want their outcomes or you believe it may result in praise (as well as other things). Conversations don’t need to be directive toward you, but you feel pressure because they talk about these things around or with you.

When you set a goal for yourself you can dabble in both of these things too – maybe you want to read a new book each month because you do enjoy, but you also saw a friend who did the same thing, which is why it piqued your interest.

Some clients will tell me that they need to find motivation to be able to move forward in their goals. Breaking that down further and looking at what is driving their goals (their why) and how their environments support those goals can help us really figure out if it’s motivation that they need. Usually, it’s not a motivation issue.

As a coach, the why is important to me because it helps create ownership. When I recognize that I want an outcome for a client more than the client does that’s when I know there’s a problem and we need to examine how we’re assessing their goals to ensure they make sense for them.

Environmental support can include relationships as well as financial access, geographical access – it can be hard to make yourself or your goals a priority if people around you don’t support you or have very different goals. This may also dabble in setting boundaries, but that’s another talk and you may want to recruit a therapist to have a more thorough one about boundary setting anyway. Financial – if you can’t buy a gym membership then you can’t workout at the gym and alternatives for activity should be considered. Geographical access – can you safely walk in your neighborhood to get outside? Do you have a yard to be in when inside feels suffocating? Do you have affordable grocery stores near you?

There are a lot of considerations that we may talk about when diving into that why and building the plan forward as well as reassessing.

Moving on…

Let’s pretend you’ve created a plan – it has thought about your support system, your job, your access and your readiness to make changes.

As you implement a plan and feel like you’re mastering different aspects of it, the need for motivation becomes less. It has become a part of your routine – things you do because you’re just used to doing them.

This goes for both positive and negative behaviors.

Habits are hard to build and change (but that’s another talk though), but not impossible.

The pandemic is a weird context to talk in because outside of the significant stress of the pandemic, I would ask you to consider how you can be adaptable.

I do still want you to consider this, but I would argue you should be a lot more gentle with yourself because there are a many more variables at play that you may not be used to and many of those variables are out of your control. There could be new anxieties that you didn’t expect to see because there’s less distraction and more time to notice them.

But I digress – adaptability.

 We know now that our routines are going to be a bit different for a while, so let’s consider preparing for a new normal or a new long-term temporary routine.

Think about those habits that you worked on building into your previous routine, which ones make sense to adopt and adapt right now?

How can you take a habit from one setting and adapt it for another setting?

While you may have been practicing specific things like meal planning for the work week, this is habit that taught you how to build a schedule. If you’ve found your schedule a little scattered and unorganized, is this a tool that you can similarly use to help you have some structure to your day so that time feels less fluid?

What from your previous routine did you enjoy that you can replicate now? If you enjoyed working out four days a week before, what are activities you can do now that would be good enough and satisfying? Remember, it’s not about cloning your routine, but figuring out what you can do rather than focusing on what you can’t.

If you find yourself believing that you’re lacking motivation, step back – think about the past five months and how changes occurred rapidly, and sporadically across the world. These are changes out of your control. Think of the feelings those changes have brought up and how you’ve coped with those changes. Think about how different life looks now for you and consider the potential.

It’s not that you lack motivation or that you are a failure – you’re not.

It’s that you are living in a pandemic and that doesn’t fit in with the plan you had before.

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