Our emotions control our behaviors, which (for better or worse) have a direct impact on how we feel – emotionally, mentally, and physically. Since behaviors fall within our ability to self-manage, one of the four domains of emotional intelligence, it would stand to reason that understanding motivation is an integral part of emotional intelligence.
Motivation is not one specific thing or about just making something happen. There are different types of motivation – some more effective than others. Understanding the types of motivation and which is driving us in any given situation is paramount to making long lasting positive change in any realm of health.
The reality is many things that are good for us in the long-term aren’t always fun in the short-term, which is why relying on the right type of motivation for each situation is one of the keys to integrating healthy behaviors into our lifestyle and breaking unhealthy patterns.
For a long time, I did workouts I didn’t necessarily enjoy. Workouts I was “supposed” to do; everyone else was doing it. There is this narrative that it’s normal for working out to be painful, for it to be something to shame myself into doing each and every time, and I bought into that. Sure, I felt strong. But I also felt obsessed. And never good enough. I was so focused on seeing my body do things; *looking* for progress. Was I doing it “right”? Did my progress look like others’ doing the same workouts? Do I need to adjust how I’m eating, the portions, the timing, etc.?
Working out is supposed to be healthy. It’s supposed to make me feel good. It’s not supposed to be exhausting… or an obsession. It’s not supposed to be a constant source of dread combined with comparison. Watching and waiting. Counting and tracking. Taking care of our bodies should be a productive coping mechanism and all this was doing was causing me more stress.
I had to finally ask myself: ‘What is your motivation here? If your goal is to be healthy, but you feel awful physically and emotionally, how healthy can you *actually* be?!’ It wasn’t until I realized that my motivation wasn’t about how I felt at all. It wasn’t about long-term health. It was about something I could see in the mirror. Something I could measure, on a scale or with a tape or with a photo or with an app. Again, I bought into it. I bought into all of it. The “cheat meals” and scaling my daily progress to assess how guilty or elated I should feel for that day’s effort. That’s not what I wanted or who I want to be. I needed to break that relationship between movement and physical progress if I had any hope of making emotional and mental progress.
Let’s get into the types of motivation, and then I’ll circle back and share which I had been functioning under and which I now try to function under:
- We rely on this type of motivation when doing something that helps us reach a specific goal, even if it’s not enjoyable.
- We can sustain this type of motivation for a period of time, but it’s not sustainable in the long-term. When seeking motivation for long-term productive coping behaviors, we need to be motivated beyond single goals; it needs to go deeper.
- A couple of examples of this type of motivation would be studying for weeks for an important exam or training for a half marathon. The acts of marathon training and studying aren’t always enjoyable, but the motivation to keep going is rooted in the desire to successfully complete that end goal.
- We are employing this type of motivation when we do things that we don’t want to, but “should,” especially as a way of avoiding guilt.
- This is an emotionally unhealthy type of motivation that is not sustainable in the long-term because it does not take our needs or desires into account in the slightest. When we look at almost anything we have to do, we typically have at least some control in regard to *how* to do it. When we choose to function in ways that go against who we truly are and what we need, we will fall back on introjected motivation, which is a nasty cycle of comparison and guilt.
- A few examples of when this may occur would be forcing a workout or eating style that is unenjoyable, uncomfortable, and/or painful because it’s been deemed the “right” or “best” way by someone else, pushing through movement even when our bodies are screaming for us to stop because we “should” finish, trying to move forward on a career trajectory that feels completely inauthentic, or doing favors for others simply to avoid the guilt of not doing said favor.
- We are employing this type of motivation when we do something simply to avoid punishment or gain reward.
- This type of motivation is not sustainable in the long-term because the behavior itself revolves around the punishment or reward rather than what’s good for us or what we need. This type of motivation is often responsible for the creation of unhealthy patterns and relationships between our emotions and our bodies, and in worst-case scenarios, may indicate an abusive relationship with ourselves and/or others.
- A couple examples of this type of motivation would be restrictive eating for the reward of a cheat meal, categorizing foods as good and bad, and using physical activity as punishment.
- We are employing this type of motivation when we are doing something that has been integrated into our self-concept, but also requires a degree of performance in exchange for appreciation.
- This is typically a long-term type of motivation because it is connected to our morals and values, and who we envision ourselves to be. This type of motivation can be positive and negative though as it also includes seeking approval to satisfy unmet needs.
- A couple of examples of this type of motivation would be attending religious services or outwardly blessing each meal because it is important to your self-concept, or working unpaid overtime in seeking recognition of value/worth.
- We are employing this type of motivation when doing things that are inherently enjoyable to us; things that naturally… fit.
- Though some of the short-term types may have their place in specific situations, this is the most effective type of motivation for short and long-term. If we want to do things that help us feel better, mind body and soul, we must find ways to do them that we truly enjoy. Will we always enjoy it? No. But there’s a difference between a tough day with something typically enjoyable versus trying to fit the Pilates box into the CrossFit circle, you know?
- The examples here are endless if we’re talking about literally anything we do because we enjoy it, but let’s talk about using this type for behavior change rather than behaviors that already come naturally. A couple would be choosing enjoyable movement in any form rather than what’s popular, painful, or inaccessible, an early-riser catching the sunrise with coffee and a journal as self-care instead of trying to fit something in at the end of a long day, or a night owl joining an evening group (walking, art, theatre, books, TV, shows, trivia, etc. etc. etc) to tackle boredom and blow off steam after work in place of less productive and satisfying behaviors.
After gaining an understanding of the different types of motivation and seeing that I had been employing a combination of introjected and external motivation, it was no wonder I didn’t feel healthy or like what I was doing was sustainable. I wasn’t prioritizing emotional health at all, which meant I didn’t fully know what I needed or what worked for me. So I was then using these short-term types of motivation to force myself to do things that I had told myself *should* work for me, but really didn’t. When I took a step back and started connecting my emotional health to my physical health – how I could focus on changing the way I feel through knowing myself and by using healthy behaviors as coping mechanisms to managing my stress instead of cause it – everything clicked.
The way I approach health now is varied, but the primary focus is on doing things that are good for me today, good for me tomorrow, and naturally feel good. My workouts are varied now. The only rule is that my body needs 150 minutes of moderate activity each week; it was beautiful to realize that I have the freedom to choose how I get there. It’s not about checking off a box on a plan; it’s about giving my body what it needs to feel reenergized each and every day. What I eat is varied. It’s about eating foods to make me feel good today and tomorrow. And the part I was missing entirely – it’s also about addressing the emotional aspects of stress and integrating that knowledge into the way I approach health moving forward. I couldn’t fully take accountability for my own health until I also started to take greater accountability for emotional growth, which is the key to employing the right type of motivation at the right time.
Getting started is hard though, right? I know. Next week, I’m going to talk about self-talk. Change talk, to be precise. Our emotions impact the way we talk to ourselves, and the way we talk to ourselves impacts our behaviors. So I’m going to run through some ways we can help spark change through self-dialogue, helping to set us up for greater success and a little less stress.