Motivation - what is it and how to keep it?

I did a little blog on motivation back in July after going to see Sir Ranulph Fiennes – I was moved then, as I am now, to ponder upon this subject. Now we are in January, the month of good intentions and promises to yourself that often end up broken by February, I am looking at motivation from a slightly different angle.

What is it, and why is it so difficult to keep?

The dictionary definition of motivation is ‘a reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way’. Synonyms for motivation are incentive, impulse, inspiration, spur. I like these words because they clearly embody the impetus to do something, however, have you noticed they are also fleeting and symbolise a brief moment in time? 

That is very much what motivation feels like. It is here for a brief moment; the drive to do something and achieve a goal is very powerful and what makes us want to do better. But by its very definition it is not sustainable in the long term because once that moment of desire to do better has passed, we are left with nothing to keep us on the path we have set ourselves. 

Traditionally, we use goals to attempt to maintain that motivation.  Especially in January. We want to lose weight, get fit, be better parents, try harder, be nicer, learn a new skill, travel more. These might be admirable, but they are also very vague. In my Pilates training, I’ve been taught to set SMART goals with my clients, SMART stands for:

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Achievable

R – Realistic

T – Timebound

This is so that goals can be set with more clarity, direction of purpose, within realistic timeframes. They aren’t vague aspirations anymore, they are solid, tangible and have the added benefit of having something to measure to see how well you are progressing. Surely this is the way to achieve your dreams, right? 

It certainly helps, and so long as someone is there to keep you on track and hold you accountable, then it can work. But motivation may still suffer and peter out, particularly if the goals set are taking longer to achieve or perhaps weren’t really achievable in the first place. And if you don’t have someone holding you to account (a personal trainer, fitness coach, nutritional adviser, whoever it is you need to help guide you and keep you on track) it is very hard to do this on your own and can be very costly if that guiding influence is someone you need to pay for their expertise. 

A friend of mine recently pointed me in the direction of an excellent book on how to increase good habits and decrease bad ones. As I read this book, I realised that what the writer was talking about was motivation. By changing how we think about our motivation to do something, and to turn it into something that is more habitual rather than a spur of the moment thing, we have the power to transform our lives. 

He also debunked the theory that on their own setting goals, even SMART ones, is the answer. I found this truly fascinating. To form good habits that in turn keep us motivated by giving us positive feedback, we need to change not our goals and aspirations, but how we think and feel about ourselves. We need to stop telling ourselves the negative things we all do; I’m lazy, I’m not a morning person, I don’t like exercise, I can’t sing, I don’t have time, I’m a smoker; and start making statements that reflect who we want to be.

·      I am not a smoker (for someone who is giving up smoking)

·      I am a dancer (for someone who is learning to dance)

·      I am a musician (for someone learning a musical instrument)

·      I am a calm, rational person (for someone wanting to deal with situations differently)

 

Positive affirmations aren’t new, but they are powerful. I’ve used them myself to good effect and can vouch that they really can have a big impact. By telling yourself out loud that you are the person you want to be, your mindset shifts as your beliefs about yourself change.  You simply cannot keep saying ‘I am a calm, rational person’ if actually your behaviour clearly indicates the opposite, which tends to mean you end up actually changing to fit this new view of yourself. Wow!

The reverse is also true; you will never change if you don’t believe you are the person you aspire to be. I’m not a psychologist so I don’t know why this works – maybe it doesn’t work for everyone but I have found it very effective.

What is also fascinating is the power of the process. The how is as important than the what. So, whilst it is important to have a goal to give us direction and meaning, without knowing how you are going to achieve that goal, the goal remains unattainable and distant. Thus, motivation inevitably deteriorates. 

So my view is that sustained motivation is really about forming positive habits that allow us to achieve our goals. Habits are small things that together are very powerful and have a huge impact on us in the long term but are pretty unnoticeable day to day. But our habits cannot change if we are ignorant of them or believe in our old identity. 

So this January, if you really want to make a positive change in your life then you could try doing things a little differently, buy a really nice note book and a pen and make it yours and yours alone, then write down…:

·     The goals you want to achieve this year and make them SMART, eg

o  Goal: I am going to spend more time doing quality activities with my kids

o  Note on SMART: this goal currently isn’t specific enough, it doesn’t say what activities, how often, with which child, when etc

·     The habits and beliefs in yourself that are holding you back, eg

o  Belief: I am too busy after school pick up to fit all this in

o  Habit: I spend too much time on my phone (note: there are probably lots of habits that support this belief!)

·     Your new identity, your beliefs that fit with the goals you’ve set, eg

o  Belief: I always make the hour of 3.30-4.30 totally about the children, they decide on an activity and I do it with them (Note: some criteria might be needed! like activities have to be free or outside etc)

·     How you are going to achieve those goals, eg

o  Process: Talk to kids about what they would love to do most with me and make a list together

This is actually one of my own goals, so I might write back later in the year to let you know how it goes (nothing like holding yourself to account to keep motivated)!

If you need a bit more help or inspiration to get started, then go read Atomic Habits by James Clear. It’s a good read with practical tips to help focus the mind.

 

 

Back Pain and Pilates

 So many of us are plagued by sore, stiff muscles and back pain. There are a number of lifestyle factors that influence why this is that range from too much sitting, sedentary jobs, use of computers, phones and tablets, being overweight/underweight, slouching…the list goes on.

Many lifestyle related back pain stems from bad posture and not using the deep postural muscles effectively enough. We have two types of muscles; those that keep us upright (postural muscles, usually deep within the body) and those that help us move (movement muscles, usually nearer the surface that ‘lever’ our bones). Our clever bodies give our postural muscles the characteristics they need so that they don’t tire quickly in order to support our skeleton all day. But with our modern lifestyles these postural muscles are often underused and weak.

In that case, our movement muscles take over. These muscles are not designed for use all day. They get tired, sore and strained. Brilliant for graceful movement, walking, running, playing sports, gardening they’re not designed for standing in good posture for long periods of time. They literally wilt under the strain.

We end up with an imbalance where our postural muscles are weak and our movement muscles are overused and tight. This causes pain in our backs, shoulders, hips and creates tight hamstrings, lower backs and necks which makes the pain worse!

So what to do about it? My personal go to is Pilates of course!

Pilates is a set of exercises performed on a mat that improves the strength of postural muscles, mobilises the joints and teaches the body to operate in better alignment. For me it is the ideal form of exercise to support gentle development of inner strength. There are lots of adaptations to make Pilates safe and achievable for most of us and I’ve worked with lots of people who have found it very beneficial to successfully address their back pain. 

I am also finding it incredibly beneficial in my own life. I am sure Pilates is extending the amount of time I am able to keep dancing at a reasonably high level. I didn’t think I’d still be doing pointe work at 40 years of age, and to be honest I don’t feel any older in my body (apart from it taking a bit longer to warm up these days!) from when I was in my 20s. I believe Pilates is playing a big role in that as it is keeping me strong, toned and helps me get over any muscles twinges more quickly.

 

Part Time Vegan?

Is this even possible I hear you ask…well, I’m not sure either, but this is what I kind of define myself as nowadays. I’ve dabbled with being vegetarian a few times in my life, driven by a love of vegetables and not liking the way meat is processed. It has been a challenge for many reasons, like having a family that loves meat-based meals and finding myself craving chicken as I failed to supply my body with enough protein, but with a compromise of being sort of part time vegan, I think we may have found an approach that is working. 

For a long time I’ve been worried about our beautiful planet and the pressures it is under.  It has become ever clearer in the last few months with more articles in the media and online that living as we do, and using the land in the way we use it, is unsustainable – we use a lot of land to produce meat, particularly beef, when compared to pulses or other plant based products because we need to grow a lot of crops to feed cattle. This little nagging worry about how much land is used to feed not people, but the animals we then slaughter for meat has grown until I could no longer ignore it. 

There is an overwhelming amount of information available on the internet about how we use our land for agricultural and other purposes. A quick glance through left me feeling quite bamboozled, but I’ve tried to gather a few little facts together to illustrate the point that we use a lot of land to produce beef (there’s a little table at the end and a chart I’ve downloaded from another site). 

This, along with the use of chemicals and hormones in meat production, plus animal rights issues, is what is driving my need to reduce and in time cut out as much (all) meat from mine and my family’s diet as possible. I have removed almost all products derived from cows; milk, yoghurt, cheese, ice cream (bit of a weak spot for my son) and swapped them for dairy free alternatives; soya yoghurt and ice cream, cashew nut milk (delicious by the way). Myself, I rarely eat beef at all, but my kids love a spag bol and all meat replacement products we’ve tried have come in a poor second…I’ve even tried using turkey mince but they noticed right away! So I try to opt for using sustainably managed, organic mince when I can and the budget allows. 

I swear I feel better for having done this. I have far fewer digestive problems than I used to. I feel I have more energy, even after a rough night’s sleep which used to leave me feeling wiped out. I am running two jobs at the moment, working for a charity as a project manager as well as running Beyond the Mat – it is exhausting, but I don’t feel as exhausted as I thought I would. Of course, doing something you love and exercising regularly is definitely of benefit ;) but I do believe that adjusting my diet is helping immeasurably. My skin is also much clearer!

So now we have the majority of our meals meat and dairy free each week, with some meals, more at the weekend, including meat or fish. It’s taken a bit of getting used to that there isn’t always a meat-based protein on the plate but has become the norm. There is more I can do to ease us along this path, but I feel better about the choices we are making as a family and influencing (gently) how the kids see food and what is healthy. 

The information in the table below has been taken from the Our World in Data website – other data sets are available and information may differ from site to site (www.ourworldindata.org).

  • Total amount of our planet that is land: 29% = 129 million square KM

  • Percentage of habitable land: 71% = 104 million square KM

  • Percentage of habitable land used for agriculture: 50% = 51 million square KM

  • Total that is used for livestock including growing animal feed: Nearly 80% = 40 million square KM

  • Percentage of calories produced by livestock?: Less than 20% of the worlds total supply of calories

Here is a chart taken from Our World in Data showing the average amount of land that is needed to produce one unit of protein by food type. Basically, it shows that to make one gram of protein from beef or mutton, you need over a square metre of land. In a steak weighing about 100g, there is on average about 25g of protein. So according to this chart, and if I’ve interpreted that correctly, you’d need, on average, about 25 square metres of land to make one steak!

Taken from www.ourworldindata.org

Taken from www.ourworldindata.org

Motivation...

I went to an evening with Sir Ranulph Fiennes last night. A very entertaining and inspirational evening was enjoyed by me and the husband. 

What really struck me was the endurance of the man. The incredible motivation to keep going in the most life threatening situations.