Motivation is our sense of potential. It orients us towards what is possible. By clarifying what we care about, we can create inspired motivation for our thoughts and actions.”  Dr. C. Dahl

Finding a Sense of Purpose

So, if you’re like most people, you have very good intentions regarding your health. But somehow those intentions get lost in translation, not seeing them materialize into an established exercise routine or healthy eating regime. It can be really frustrating and soul destroying.

I recall this situation in my own life. I was overweight and unfit up until my early 30’s. I’d tried many diets and exercise programs, but nothing really worked for me. I didn’t stick with them long enough to effect any positive changes.

Then I fell pregnant, and everything changed. I had another reason to eat well and exercise, which was swimming then- for the health of my baby and myself. I had found a profound sense of purpose; a feeling of what really mattered.

Given pregnancy lasts a long 9 months, that was actually a blessing, as it gave me the time necessary to establish healthy habits of diet and exercise. 32 years on, and I haven’t stopped eating well and exercising; well, apart from enjoying the occasional pudding or ice cream.

So, why did this change of focus work for me?

Drawing on the Power of Personal Values

Looking back, I realized that pregnancy allowed me to successfully reboot my motivation to be healthy. It gave me a chance to work out what was important in my life; what my values were- what gave me a sense of purpose.

Our personal values give our life meaning and purpose; clarity about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. My core values are patience, kindness, connection with family, fitness, health, and a strong work ethic.

Previously my only motivation was to lose weight, and this turned out to be very unhelpful. The usual pattern was to give myself a hard time because I was fat, and so I’d plan to get up in the morning and go for a run and eat only healthy stuff.

I would do this for a while, expecting instant results- significant weight loss. When this didn’t happen, I would sabotage my health program. Exercise stopped and binge eating took over, again.

“All because I was focusing on the wrong goal; an unattainable expectation of weight loss. It was doomed to failure and I often saw myself as a failure.”

Pregnancy was the catalyst I needed to change my orientations. I was able to refocus and take into account my core values of well-being, health, fitness, patience and kindness. By shifting away from weight loss as the main goal, and instead reflecting on the importance of well-being, fitness and the health for my baby and me, I experienced the positive charge I needed to kick-start an exercise program and appropriate diet.

Reflecting on my other values of patience and kindness brought a deeper clarity. It enabled me to firmly establish exercise and healthy eating into my life, which has stood the test of time for over 32 years. I would ponder on how patience is an important ingredient in realizing the long term benefits of exercise and good eating. Also, persevering with my health program was an act of self-kindness; treating myself well, like I would a valued friend or loved one.

So, how could you boost your motivation to exercise and eat well, and establish lifelong healthy habits?

It’s all about resetting and redefining your focus by defining your own personal values. This gives you a greater sense of purpose and makes things work for you, rather than against you. Re-framing your focus so it takes into account your personal values, and allows things to actually work in your favor. It takes a bit of thought, but it is very doable.

A common focus is to lose weight, “Why else would you get up at 5:30 am to jog in the dark and eat salad?” If it’s the only focus then it will be more often than not: doomed to failure.

There are many benefits of exercise, for instance: positive mood, feeling stronger and fitter, changes to health-related issues, less stress and more energy. You can draw on these benefits to help you re-frame your focus- taking into account your personal values, and giving you a sense of purpose.

Reflecting on what you value in your life; what is really important to you, what inspires you, gives your life meaning and purpose?  This kind of mental and emotional re-frame sets up a positive habit loop. A win/win situation.

Let me share examples from some of my clients (with their permission).

Client 1:

This client shifted her focus to the mental health benefits of exercise and healthy eating as she struggles with depression and anxiety. Her values included patience, acceptance, resilience and thoughtfulness.

Focusing on these values gave her a helpful perspective, and inspired her to adhere to an exercise and eating program, which she had not been able to do previously. This resulted in other “off the radar” benefits like weight loss, good muscle definition, and better balance and flexibility.

Client 2:

This client wished to look after themselves so they could better manage a chronic health condition. He had struggled with exercise in the past, as he couldn’t find the motivation to keep going with it. His core values were family connection and responsibility.

Refocusing on the importance of family and his sense of responsibility to them as well as himself, meant he established an exercise routine. Over time this contributed to an improvement in his medical condition.

Client 3:

Many of my clients have brought the elements of self-care and self-kindness to the forefront when considering their motivation to exercise and eat well. So, it’s more about looking after and treating themselves well; like they would a good fiend or beloved family member.

One client had battled with making healthy choices for decades, mainly because her focus was all on looking good. Several months into practicing self-kindness, as well as relating to exercise as a way of caring for themselves- courageously and purposefully, she had established an effective exercise routine. She went on to realize many other health benefits like better sleep, improved memory and greater ease with daily tasks.

Client 4:

For one of my male clients mastery, learning, being proactive, integrity and feeling energized are important values. When he built these values into his motivations to exercise and eat well, he experienced great benefits.

This refocus was instrumental in building his overall sense of health and well-being. It afforded him the extra momentum to keep up with his healthy diet and exercise program. Prior to this, he’d been hooked on weight loss as his only priority, and this had not been helpful as a motivation. Over time, this client felt he was being true to his values, and also improved his fitness and he lost weight.

Client 5:

Another interesting reorientation was expressed in the values of teamwork, challenge and growth. Whilst this client wished to get fitter and stronger, relating her personal values to the health program were really helpful. We ensured she exercised in a group setting, and was mindful of the relationship between challenging oneself and personal growth.

This was particularly motivating for her and a welcome relief as she’d been really struggling to maintain an exercise routine for the purpose of treating type 2 diabetes. In the end, she reversed the diabetes, made new friends and felt she had met and benefited hugely from the challenge.