Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation, How one can Get Going When You Don’t Really feel Like It

“I should train today.”

“I should eat better.”

“I should stop shoving food in my face.”

How many times a day should you use the word? Most of my clients know what they should be doing to improve their health but cannot motivate themselves to actually do it. That’s why they come to me. Here’s the thing. I can’t give you motivation, I can only give you the tools to motivate yourself.

So, if you feel like you should exercise more, eat better, or cut yourself another piece of cake, read on. I’m going to unpack what motivation is, why you’re getting stuck, and how to finally get off your bum and take action.

What is motivation anyway?

In its simplest sense, motivation is used to describe why you are doing what you are doing.That’s why the driving force behind your actions is whether you’re taking a swig from your water bottle because you’re thirsty, going for a run because you paid money to hire a trainer, or breaking the alarm clock because you got up late. Watch Netflix. Your why is likely to be influenced by a variety of intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) motivators.

Examples of intrinsic motivators:

  • Running because it relieves stress or is fun
  • Eat a high protein breakfast because it will keep you full all morning
  • Do yoga because it helps you clear your mind
  • Fill your refrigerator with healthy foods because it will save you time and money
  • Organize your space because it will help you feel calm

Examples of extrinsic motivators:

  • Lose Weight To Gain A Fitness Challenge At Work
  • Clean the house so your spouse doesn’t get confused by your mess
  • Avoid processed foods because your doctor or health advisor told you to
  • Sprint because that’s what the people on your FB feed are doing
  • Eat organic because you want others to perceive you as healthy

However, let me make it clear that your motivations (and your why) are entirely internal processes, ie It is your own perception of a situation that more or less motivates you to do something. For this reason, it’s important to find your own profound reason to stay committed to the path you are on – or to choose a path entirely different.

The reasons you’re getting stuck

Of course, there is more to motivation than wanting to do something or doing it because you should. That said, even with the best of plans and a handful of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, why is it still so damn hard to actually do it?

In my private practice and with my students and graduates of the Primal Health Coach Institute, I talk a lot about Toward Motivation and Away from Motivation. While the former is supposed to ignite a positive, transformative emotion that brings you closer to the things you want (having more energy, feeling good in your clothes, building your confidence), the latter is usually more negative and reminds you of all of the things that you don’t want in life

If you keep telling yourself that you are tired of feeling fat, foggy, and tired, guess what your brain is hearing? It hears that you are fat, foggy, and tired – which often creates feelings of fear, self-doubt, or self-pity. Trust me, this isn’t the best talk track. And it’s the fastest way to sabotage yourself before you even start.

When operating outside of motivation, you are more likely to use negativity to (try and) get motivated. However, studies actually show that self-compassion and self-acceptance are better tactics – especially after a setback. University of California researchers found that participants who spoke nicely to themselves spent more time studying before retaking a test after failing a test than participants who were upset or disappointed with their score. The self-compassionate group also reported that they were more motivated to see their struggles in a positive light when they practiced self-acceptance, which is an integral part of self-compassion.

Go with the (motivational) flow

As I said above, it is your own perception of a situation that drives motivation. How do you cultivate this inner positivity? Below are 5 ways you can create your own intrinsic and extrinsic motivators so you can take action right away.

  1. Find your why. Your why is a belief, cause, or purpose that determines your behavior. You may be currently working on someone else’s why (could be a spouse who wants you to start exercising; a parent who thinks you should be thin; a belief that you should). But your why can only come out of you. And without figuring out what is yours, your motivation is likely to deteriorate, especially when obstacles arise, which by the way, they always do.

ACTION STEP: Think about what will bring you to achieve your goal. Is it the pleasure of having joints that don’t hurt? Or the joy of being a role model for your children? Or the freedom to finally get off your medication? Take a minute and write down some reasons (that you really address) why you feel compelled to take action.

2. Assess the pros and cons. When you have so many motives for why you want to get there as well as motives for why you don’t, you create an internal conflict that basically holds you tight. You may want to eat healthy (and have a solid why to fuel your actions), but you may be worried that you will never be able to eat anything “fun” again, so sabotage yourself. Or maybe you feel great exercising every morning, but the thought of getting unwanted attention from strangers once you lose the weight is a complete turn off.

ACTION STEP: Think about how these changes will affect you. First, write down the benefits of this change. How will it affect you positively? Now do the same for the cons. Write down how this is negatively affecting you. Read through your list and cross off any downsides that feel trivial or insignificant – or if they don’t really apply to you. The secret to resolving internal conflicts is to have more reasons why you want than reasons you don’t.

3. End the grace period. You won’t always feel like getting up early to work out or schedule a high protein breakfast, but there are tactics you can use to do it anyway. There is a strategy called the 5 Second Rule which says you have 5 seconds to respond to an instinct (which is outside of your comfort zone) before your brain turns it off to protect you. Act within 5 seconds of the thought and you overwrite its protective hold on you. James Clear, another strategy used by the guru of habit, suggests eliminating distractions by making them more difficult to make. For example, if you can’t do yoga while watching TV, unplug the power cord or hide the remote control. Can’t you stop hitting the snooze button? Put your phone in the other room while you sleep so you have to get up to turn it off.

ACTION STEP: Try the 5 Second Rule Technique by counting down from 5 once you have the instinct to take action. Once you hit 1, move on! In James Clear’s strategy, think about the things that make you hesitate, then make them difficult by removing the temptation.

4. Reward yourself. Sometimes big goals feel intimidating, which makes it harder to get motivated. For an easy workaround, try setting smaller goals and then rewarding yourself for achieving those goals. You may be lacking the motivation to start exercising because you have 60 pounds to lose. However, you should break it down into 5 or 10 pound increments and reward yourself with a new workout top or healthy dinner every time you hit one of your mini goals.

ACTION STEP: Write down the big goal you want to achieve. Then create smaller goals (if necessary) and write down how you will reward yourself for achieving them. Just make sure that your rewards don’t sabotage your efforts. Rewarding hard workouts with a few beers or a plate of nachos is counterproductive.

5. Visualize your success. Visualizing your success is a proven motivational tool that is used by athletes to entrepreneurs – especially when it is accompanied by an increased emotion such as joy or excitement. When you paint a clear picture of what success looks like in your head, it becomes less abstract and more approachable. Plus, when you spend time doing the things you want (loose fitting clothes, sleeping better, chasing your kids around without stopping to catch their breath) versus doing the things you don’t want (feeling bloated, throwing and turning and sitting on the couch absent) Your brain becomes more receptive to searching for opportunities that are attuned to your goal.

ACTION STEP: Before you get up in the morning, take 2 minutes to introduce yourself as if you are already successful. Imagine what it feels like to have achieved your goal and pay attention to the positive feelings that come automatically with this exercise.

5 ways to motivate yourself now

Remember, when you tell yourself that you should be doing something, you are really only reinforcing the idea that you are not doing it. So first wipe the word out of your vocabulary, then dive into these 5 ways to encourage your own sense of motivation:

· Find your why

· Evaluate the pros and cons

· Hesitate to procrastinate

· Reward yourself

· Visualize your success

What worked for you Tell me how to get motivated when you don’t feel it.

About the author

Erin Power

Erin Power is the coaching and curriculum director of the Primal Health Coach Institute. She also helps her clients reestablish loving and trusting relationships with their bodies – while restoring their metabolic health so they can lose fat and gain energy – through her own private health coaching practice, eat.simple.

If you are passionate about health and wellness and you want to help people like Erin for their clients every day, you should consider becoming a certified health coach yourself. In this special briefing event hosted by PHCI Co-Founder Mark Sisson, you will learn the three simple steps to building a successful health coaching business in a maximum of 6 months.

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