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How to Motivate Yourself to Make a Lifestyle Change

(with practice exercises)

How to Motivate Yourself to Make a Lifestyle Change

The secret to getting things done is fairly simple: Just do them. How to motivate yourself to do them can be another story. Why is it so hard to do things that we want to do, choose to do, and will be good for us? It can seem as though getting ourselves to follow our own plans is a losing battle. The problem of how to motivate yourself to do things that are good for you is unfortunately not as easy as simply deciding to do something and then having it happen. If it were, we wouldn’t have the New Year’s resolutions jokes we do.

Walt Whitman, the poet with a famously large personality, once said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes,” when challenged about the consistency of a recent statement in contrast with something different he had said on an earlier occasion. We all contain multitudes. One of my multitudes, for instance, wanted to practice yoga for years before I got around to it. But another of the multitudes was in charge of the snooze button on my alarm.

When you make a decision to change your lifestyle, you mean it. So… what happens? You don’t stop meaning it, you just get sort of overruled, right? So many other things to do, and none of the multitudes want to give up any control over the ultimate vehicle: You.

Luckily, there are several practices you can do to begin to truly change your life and motivate yourself. Read on for our tips and tricks for how to motivate yourself once and for all. It’s not a quick fix or an overnight transformation, but then again, nothing worthwhile is.

Motivate Yourself through Mindfulness

The secret to a fulfilling life as an adult is to hold onto what has been called the magic of childhood. The magic I’m referring to is our birthright whether or not we had happy childhoods. It is our inner state of play and simply exists in each of us. Most of us have lost access to it over time. Some of us even lost it as infants in unsupportive environments. Its potential continues to exist, however, within each of us. The way to find it is to truly pay attention to the experience of living in our amazing bodies in this amazing world.

This practice of paying attention is sometimes called mindfulness, which can sound boring, but is not. Sometimes our bodies seem to exist merely to propel our brains around, as though the body and the head were not part of the same being. But our mind doesn’t have to stay inside our head.

Our mind can go almost anywhere, given the right circumstances. Certainly minds wander away from classroom lectures, or wander into the passing strangers as we idly wonder about their secret lives, or into the coral reef and swimming after fish while we snorkel. Our mind can also go into our own body. Our mind can go into our heart. This interconnection of body, mind, and spirit is our natural state. The attention of the mind is the key to rediscovering this magic.

Motivate Yourself through Remembering

When little kids are sad or hurt, their whole beings react. They fully experience their pains in the moment, and cry out for the comfort they need. When they are hungry, they cannot wait, they need to eat NOW. As they grow, they learn that sometimes their needs must be put aside for convenience or expedience or to protect other people or themselves.

While there are definite advantages to being able to wait as adults for the the things we want, we can go too far and lose touch with the things we want and need. We can lose touch with our need for comfort when we are in pain, and even our ability to express our pain. And far worse, we can lose touch with our ability to recognize that we are in pain.

This can happen to so many needs and wants that we eventually might even forget that we want certain things. This type of removal from emotion is never limited to just one specific feeling. If we are removed even a little from our hurts, we are removed that same amount from our joys. If we have so many hurts that we have become very removed from them in order to function, we are likely not enjoying our lives very much. We are merely functioning in a sort of forgetful state about who we truly are.

Pay Attention to Your Feelings

On our journeys to making lifestyle choices that will help us feel better, we have to pay attention to what we are feeling. You can get faster results and be more productive when you acknowledge that you are on an emotional journey as well as a physical one. As we develop the ability to find and recognize our wounds, we might experience a lot of pain. This is completely normal and to be expected. Embrace your pain.

Let me be clear: by “embrace your pain,” I do not mean that we accept our pain as inevitable and permanent. I mean that we embrace it as we would hold a little child, and listen to it. We embrace our pain and let ourselves feel it in order to release it. We aren’t supposed to hurt. Each pain is the body screaming at us to pay attention to something that we didn’t listen to back when the body was just talking politely. It’s our job to pay attention now.

Motivate Yourself by Loving Yourself

Love yourself. Sound crazy?

Isn’t it crazier to berate yourself for your physical “flaws” and emotional fluctuations and put off feeling happy until you change your body or life? If you love someone, it’s a lot easier to do nice things for them.

Look at yourself in the mirror with love. Think about yourself with love. Spend the time caring for yourself because it is a joy. Hate your thighs or belly? Poor thighs. Be a little kinder. Look at them, not around them. Touch them. Accept them as they are today.

It’s a lot easier to shift into a lifestyle where you take care of yourself when you love the person you’re caring for, and that means paying attention to loving all of yourself.

Know What You Want

Journaling, meditation, and many other practices can help you evolve your knowledge of who you are and what you want. Start where you are, and be specific. Specificity is the difference between “I want to be healthier,” and “I want to do yoga every morning, stop eating sugar and dairy, and go on at least two walks a week.” Journaling can help you figure out what exactly your goal is, so that you can make a plan to meet it, and track your progress along the way.

Journaling Suggestion

After meditation, or another time when you are feeling peaceful, sit with a pencil and piece of paper, and set a timer for ten minutes. Ask yourself “What do I want?” Repeat it a few times, out loud if you feel comfortable doing so. Write “I want” at the top of the page, complete the sentence, and keep writing until the timer goes off. Do not limit yourself in any way so long as you are writing what you want. Don’t stop writing to think. Don’t change your word choices or fix commas. Just write. After completing this, spend some time reflecting. You may be surprised by what you have written. You can then develop an action plan to achieve the authentic goals you are discovering.

Motivate Yourself by Embracing Your Pain

The great Audre Lorde said, “Pain is important: how we evade it, how we succumb to it, how we deal with it, how we transcend it.” When we embrace our pain, we create the conditions possible for transformation.

When you pay attention to your pain and acknowledge it, you can also choose to provide comfort to yourself. Doing so, increases our ability to find and feel happiness, comfort, love, and joy. And this, in turn, makes us more likely to continue the lifestyle that is bringing us all these healthy feelings of integration. As you integrate your multitudes, you will find that Motivated You spends a lot more time at the controls.

Practice Suggestion

Look on YouTube for videos demonstrating self-regulation techniques, such as “tapping” or “havening,” to help find and heal the emotional blocks we all have. Set aside time to follow the steps.

Welcome Imperfection

Go out there and do it wrong!

Writer Anne Lamott said, “Write a shitty first draft”. Buy the wrong food, completely forget about the whole thing for three days straight, never find the right music to listen to while you work out… That’s cool.

Now just keep going. That’s all. Forgetting about it doesn’t mean you’re a loser, not finding the right music today doesn’t mean you will never feel good while exercising, eating the wrong food once or twice or ten times doesn’t mean you don’t make better choices the other times. The feeling that one simple mistake has doomed the enterprise is one way a fixed mindset keeps us stuck and limited. So just get back on the path. Do it wrong, do it weird, but keep doing it.

Motivate Yourself with Your Imagination

Do you know someone who already does the thing you want to do? Or maybe there is an athletic icon or even a fictional movie character you can call on? Imagine being them for a second—only, say, under your covers in your comfortable bed you don’t want to leave. What would that other person do? Really imagine that. Then see if you don’t just do the same thing. Pretend. Or, better yet, use your imagination as you do the following meditation.

Practice Meditation

Sit quietly with your spine as straight as is comfortable. Breath in deeply through your nose and exhale through your nose. Match the length of your inhalation and exhalation. Breathe slightly forcefully, enough to make a noise in your throat, but not so much you feel real pressure. After you have breathed in and out fifteen times, think of a stage you have seen or one you can imagine.

Picture yourself sitting in the audience. Now, on the stage, picture yourself doing something you are hoping to add to your life. Imagine sitting there just watching yourself. For example, just observe yourself happily planning and preparing a healthy and delicious meal, or mastering that gym move, or climbing a rock wall.

Be a calm and receptive audience member, and don’t be surprised if the “you” on stage is represented metaphorically in your mind’s eye through a form that doesn’t necessarily resemble you. When you feel ready to leave the theater, open your eyes and look around you. Take a few minutes to continue sitting quietly before you rejoin your day.

(Not sure how to meditate? Check out our handy guide to starting a meditation practice.)

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