So I have mentioned a few times before on here how I used to be in amazing shape and run a 3:24 marathon. Swimming a mile without breaks was a warm up and biking 50 miles just hurt my butt. I was in pretty good shape.
I won’t go into the details of how I got out of shape too much here as you can read this post HERE if you are interested in that. I will say though that I went from 160lbs with nearly an 8 pack to 195lbs and a cholesterol dangerously approaching 200 (yeah that’s bad).
Here is a picture of me in 2009:
The Power of Habits – And What Motivates Me
I was always an athlete. I began playing sports from the time I was just learning to walk. In 4th grade I started running cross country, and I was pretty good.
I thrive on positive reinforcement from others. For that reason sports worked really well for me. As I improved my skills and found my niche in athletics I got better. Hearing praise from others fueled my ego. I loved having coaches, parents, teammates, classmates, and strangers tell me how good I was. Nothing motivated me more!
Once high school was over I continued to seek that positive reinforcement so I began running and working out religiously. I always chalked it up to “I just love competition so this is a way for me to compete”. But as I look back and think on it, I believe that I was seeking praise and admiration from roommates, girls,and probably to some degree I loved to think that other guys were jealous of me.
I would go to the college track when it was busiest take my shirt off and do my workouts . . . yeah I was that guy. Running certainly became a ritual for me. I bought the brightest shoes, wore the short shorts, grew my hair out, made sure the bandanna and sunglasses were in the exact right spot and that I would have an audience.
Don’t get me wrong . . . I did work my butt off, I just made sure I would achieve the praise I wanted.
The Habit Loop: Cue – Routine – Reward
Simply put, all habits whether positive or negative follow the course of cue-routine-reward.
- CUE: A specific time of day comes
- ROUTINE: I go running
- REWARD: I am rewarded by people looking, positive comments, and jealous roommates
So as long as my habit loop stays in place I am able to continue with the habit indefinitely (theoretically).
So, How Did I Stop Running
Assuming that this loop never breaks I am golden. The problem is life changes.
When Sandi and I lived in Oklahoma my cue to workout was 3:30pm. At that moment I stopped doing everything I was doing and started to get ready for the workout.
I packed the exercise bag and went through my ritual of ensuring I looked like I had wasted way too much time getting ready for my workout.
I did this EVERYDAY
But, like I said life changes. We moved. We got new jobs. We weren’t sure where to workout. We didn’t have our same running trails.
Suddenly my cues were gone . . . . and sure enough within weeks my routine was broken. My body was still in decent shape so I appreciated the occasional compliments at the pool or wherever we would go that I happened to take my shirt off.
Unfortunately, the residual effect of working out and running eventually fades if you stop . . . obviously!
With No Reward – There is No Routine
The compliments began to fade, life continued to change, and I began to put the weight on. Soon the compliments turned to suggestions from family members that I start running again or Sandi begging me to go on a jog with her.
The problem was: My reward was the praise for looking good!
Without that praise, I had no reward for working out and new habits began to form. Now instead of running, doing situps, and eating right, I had quickly developed habits tied to eating poorly, and the release of stress from watching a sitcom.
Soon the praise stopped. My body was no longer the envy of ANYONE! And here I am today at 195lbs barely able to run 3 miles.
So, How Do You Motivate Yourself – – – You Don’t
The question is less about motivation. I am MOTIVATED to get back into shape. I want to have a 6 pack. I don’t want to have a stroke at 40. Each night I go to sleep thinking . . . “tomorrow I will run”.
The Habit is stronger than the Motivation. I have to create a new habit to get out and exercise. The enormous hurdle though is that for 32 years my reward was always tied to recognition and praise for having a “good body”. That ain’t happening any time soon.
I have to Change my Reward
In order to create the new habit I have to do two things:
- Develop a cue
- Change the reward
Generally, the easiest way to change a habit is to simple change the action and maintain the same reward and cues. But that is not possible in this case. My reward is unavailable.
How to Create a New Cue
Creating a new cue is simple. I just need to develop a set pattern or time that becomes my new cue to workout. It can be as simple as having a pair of shoes that is only used for working out. Setting clothes in a place that I can see them. Creating an alarm on my iPhone. etc. . .
Finding a reward however will take some experimentation. The reward that I crave is praise. Here are some of the rewards that I have thought of implementing:
- Posting my runs and workouts on Facebook – this would allow for positive reinforcement from a community of friends.
- Taking weekly photos and posting them for family to see – or this community – the gradual progression my initiate praise.
- Buying a Smootie from Smoothie Factory after each run. This will allow for a guaranteed award after each run that I can count on.
Why Being Out Of Shape De-Motivated
So although it seems counter-intuitive that being out of shape actually demotivates me to workout, it remains that my reward and desire to workout was so directly tied to the pride of positive comments from outside individuals.
Encouragement would never work. The first step in getting back into shape was to recognize how I got to where I am and then investigating the Habit Loop that drives my behavior.
Once this has been done I can begin to create a new habit loop as discussed above.
Motivating a Loved One to Get In Shape
If you have a glimmer of desire to get into shape or reach fitness goals that seem unattainable right now or if you have a loved one or spouse who might need a boost it is important that you first try to understand the habit loop and that you don’t pre judge motives.
No one WANTS to be out of shape,no one WANTS to feel tired and overweight . . . no one WANTS these things but our habits are MUCH stronger than we will power.
Approaching with love and a desire to understand will create an environment that may lead to change.
- Attempt to understand cues for positive and negative behaviors
- Identify the habit that those cues lead to
- What reward drives the habit