In Part 5 of the Master Your Motivation series, I outlined six immediately implementable, autonomy supportive practices that foster optimal motivation!
If your goals have you feeling imprisoned & confined, it's time to reconsider your strategy, and these six practices can change the game! Each of them is a way to define your identities. When we define our identities, we consciously make shifts in personal meaning, we reflect about how we've changed over time, and we aim for continued growth and self-development.
In this sixth installment of our series, we will look at four more practices that relate to internalizing motivation. When we internalize motivation, we exemplify persistence and goal-congruent actions for reasons related primarily to authentic and values-based health and areas of personal importance (i.e., children, well-being).
What To Do When Things Get Hard
The individuals I’ve worked with who are internalizing motivation demonstrate thoughts and behaviors connected to their values, especially when perceived threats are encountered. When we choose actions that internalize motivation, we empower ourselves to choose long-term satisfaction over impulsive, easy, or immediately gratifying behaviors. The autonomy supportive practices connected to internalizing motivation include the following, listed below. As you read the list, note which are particularly relevant for your personal goal pursuit.
Taking actions related to long-term success versus short-term impulses
Persisting with goals by coming back to the influence of embodied health and collective health (i.e., personal values & acknowledgement of how our intentions and actions impact our relationships and the larger system)
Consciously looking inward vs outward and externally for the reasons to be consistent and persistent
Meta-cognition: thinking about how our thinking (i.e., mindset and attentional focus) influences how we feel and the actions we take
When we engage in the above practices, over time we learn how to trust ourselves and cultivate the belief in our capacities to change and overcome challenges. We draw upon this resilience and ability to discern what's most meaningful when temptations arise, cravings occur, or difficult circumstances are present that produce uncomfortable emotions that could potentially lead to dysfunctional behaviors.
Let's pause here. It's important to not gloss over that last sentence.
What happens when we experience a temptation?
Well, if I were surveying a group of dieters, they would likely share that they feel a tension, a push-pull between what they know they should do and what they want to do. They would say they feel a desire for instant gratification that argues with the desire to behave in a way that is aligned with their long-term intentions and principles.
What I think is missing from this explanation runs much deeper. Temptations and cravings are both cognitive (related to specific thoughts) and embodied (related to sensations within the body). Neither need to be perceived as uncomfortable, but when they are, what most people do is try to get away from them, stop them, avoid them, ignore them, or change them immediately. Herein lies the real skill to be learned. It is not about changing the external situation to minimize cravings or temptations (i.e., remove all the foods that you love; put a padlock on the freezer). That's a losing battle through-and-through. It is about shifting our relationship with the thoughts and the feelings so we can be with them differently and stop fighting with them (and ourselves).
In my work with dieters, those who regain have shared with me how they are motivated heavily by favorable external evaluations given by others, for example, compliments about their bodies, given as the weight was lost. During a women's retreat at which I facilitated a discussion group about emotions and mindset for maximal motivational resilience, one woman shared her reflections about how eventually the encouraging comments from others would end and she found it difficult to keep putting forth the effort. This is a prime example of what internalizing motivation is not. Situations in which we find ourselves trading our authenticity for attachment very often lead to poor outcomes and a dissolution of self-trust.
Tell Me I'm Beautiful, Sexy, and Smart Research has demonstrated what my retreat participant shared-- the difficulty many dieters have post- weight loss due to lack of positive reinforcement and comments tied to the changes in their bodies. Dieters who regain their weight, which I might add, exceeds 95%, also gravitate toward inflexible, dichotomous (i.e., black and white) rule-driven behaviors. These behaviors align with a need to avoid failure and demonstrate faux competence. They are perfect examples of why reflection is necessary. If a dieter can understand the intentions beneath their behaviors (conditioned or otherwise), in addition to the self-limiting beliefs driving their actions, they can consciously choose to adopt an approach of authentic competence development instead. Authentic competence development is a process of skill-building that is not linear. It's messy, wobbly, and oftentimes mucky, because we're learning and unlearning! And, because it is that way, the new knowledge we acquire can more effectively become a part of us, on the inside.
Are you Running Away from or Driving Toward Something?
Research also demonstrates how the process of internalizing motivation is bolstered by adopting an approach goal versus an avoidance goal. For example, a mother may be more likely to engage in practices that enhance her sense of well-being when she perceives the pursuit as moving toward feeling more energetic, confident, and setting an example for her daughter of what strength feels like.
Avoidance goals, on the other hand (think of these as goals that start with “I won’t” versus “I am aiming for…”), can sometimes negatively influence subjective well-being. The adoption
of black and white, rule-driven behavior that accompanies avoidance goals simulates certainty; however, this behavior creates a false level of security. It offers little direction to the person who desires a positive, competent state that would lead to more favorable outcomes and outcome expectancies. Avoidance goals often lead to adverse psychological, cognitive, and emotional consequences, including negative and escape-related thinking (we’re all familiar with the self-critic), distraction and avoidance behaviors (like numbing ourselves with food or drinking to forget the day), and anticipatory anxiety (believing the worst scenarios are ahead), which prompt impulsive, threat-based action.
I believe that for most intentions to have the greatest follow-through though, we would do well to get really clear about what we want to leave behind and avoid having happen, as well as what we want to get closer to and feel the benefits from. I have a couple clients currently who are choosing to quit smoking. This may sound like an avoidance goal at first glance. They want to leave something behind, give something up. If we left their understanding right there, it's likely they would not succeed, at least not in an enduring way. But we have worked together to very clearly imagine what they have ahead of them by letting go of smoking. As one client shared, she wants to be able to be in social situations and feel confident on her own merit, she desires to feel more choiceful, she wants to smell fresh, and she wants to know that she is filling her body with air that is not toxic. Most of all, she wants to learn how to be with the emotions that typically move her to reach for the cigarettes. She wants to learn to honor what arises within her instead of avoiding and suppressing.
Importantly, adopting an approach orientation moves you closer to uncertainty facilitative of growth and long-term skill development. You may not feel comfortable, but you recognize that to learn, you need to settle down in that space and practice having your own back while navigating it. This is just one practice of embodiment, which is how we show up in our lives. And how we show up is influenced by how we've been allowed to show up! My client is learning how to show up for sadness, for anger, for disappointment in ways that she couldn't and wasn't allowed to as a young girl.
When it comes down to it, when things get hard, we show up for ourselves. We show up with compassion, with gentleness, with welcoming for all the emotions that arise in our bodies. We show up with the intention to keep practicing honoring our personal and collective pain, and create spaces in which we can express it and return to places of wholeness and restoration. The four practices for internalizing motivation invite us to meet ourselves with tenderness and attunement. And that's an internal job.
If you haven't checked out my online courses, and you love this content, Radical Body Love (P.S., you don't have to love your body to have a different relationship with it), offers you the 4 steps necessary for engaging in a process of internalizing motivation, in the context of developing a sense of wholeness as a person with a body! I'd encourage you to see what it's all about!