If I conducted a poll out on the streets of Tallahassee and asked folks how to live healthy lives, I’ll bet everyone would know the correct answers. Eating healthy food, watching portion sizes, exercising regularly, and managing stress top the to-do list for a healthy life. We all know it. The mechanics of healthy living are simple! But of course, we also know that simple is not necessarily easy.
Let’s imagine a follow-up question to my poll: why? We know the how, even if we don’t do it, but what would be your answer to why? I’d predict a much wider range of answers to that question, varying from practical to personal, and each one would be a little unique, because the why is something that has to click within us.
The why, of course, is your motivation. Many people have a goal hidden somewhere to get healthier, and those who pursue it do because they decide the benefit outweighs the hassle. When push comes to shove, there is an internal dialogue that convinces them to lace up and get out there. There is a mental switch that flips and moves their hand away from the chips and towards the bottle of water. Something speaks up and makes it easier to turn down the second helping. That thing is the answer to their question, “why?”
The answer is different for everyone, but there are some definite trends. A longer lifespan to enjoy grandchildren, improving mobility for an active retirement, getting off of expensive medications or avoiding surgery, and increasing energy are some of the motivations I hear often as a wellness coach. And, if your motivation is to fit into your jeans and feel better when you look back at pictures from vacation, that’s okay too. The more motivation you can get, the better!
For me, the why comes in a combination of practicality and self-preservation. I have a busy day and know from experience that if I don’t exercise first thing in the morning, I will run out of time and energy for it later on. It just won’t happen. When I eat healthfully and plan my meals, I feel my best. When I feel my best, stuff gets done. But when I skip it, I am grumpy and disorganized. Adhering to my routine also helps me manage my weight. This is important to me because I’ve been overweight before and remember how uncomfortable, tired, and frustrated I was. I worked hard to lose weight, and I don’t want to do it again. When that alarm goes off in the morning or it is time to organize my meals for the next day, it is not a matter of how I will get out of bed or pack my lunch. It is simply reminding myself why. Sometimes I have to remind myself more than once, so those reasons need to be powerful enough to move me.
That is the key! The reasons why must be powerful enough to move you. There are plenty of perfectly logical reasons to eat healthy and exercise, but there may only be one or two that actually inspire you to get up and do something. Luckily, that’s all you need! So, how do you figure out what it is?
The next time you are standing at a crossroads for your health, listen to the internal dialogue that takes place when you negotiate with yourself. Take a step back from yourself and be the observer of your thoughts. Watch as your different priorities have their debate and pay attention to which one wins. When it does, make note of the prevailing reason. There you have it: your true motivation.
If the healthy choice was the winner, hooray! You are connected to a strong motivator (or have experienced the consequences enough times to know what’s best for you). If other interests prevailed, be honest with yourself about why. There are times when other priorities take precedence over fitness. Sometimes we don’t take action because the goal has actually been set for us by someone else, and we resent it. It’s important to know these things, because that awareness can relieve you from feeling like a failure for reaching a goal you didn’t even set. Instead, negotiate new terms to make the goal something you care about.
The truth is, sometimes we are not motivated to change until things have gotten so bad that the pain of change is not as bad as the pain of staying the same. Sometimes we are more motivated by avoiding unsavory consequences than by the promise of things being better. That is all okay! Your motivation isn’t up for judgment or evaluation. No one else even has to know what it is.
Connect with your why this week. Put a picture of it on the fridge. Write it on your shoes. Tape it to your computer screen. Make it the ring tone on your phone. Do whatever it takes to stay connected to it. Because once you are connected with the why, the how becomes obvious.
So, what’s your why?
Last month I traveled to Nashville with some fellow wellness coaches for a training meeting. We had a day to ourselves before our meeting began, so we set out to explore and find food. With no real knowledge of the city and a determination to find a healthy brunch in the midst of this biscuit and bar-b-que haven, we turned to our phones for a quick Internet search. And off we went.
We walked a few blocks, joking that none of us are great at following directions. It wasn’t long before we were off of our path. It wasn’t a problem though. We just re-centered ourselves on the map we were following and carried on. We walked and wandered, playing Goldilocks to Nashville’s three bears of breakfast options: too crowded, too greasy, too fancy. And each time we got turned around, we laughed and called out that phrase known by anyone who has relied on a GPS navigation system and gotten lost: “recalibrate!”
About the fourth time we recalibrated, about three miles into our sojourn for a breakfast that had turned into brunch, it clicked with me: recalibrating was an essential part of any health journey, and something that happens in different ways throughout our lives.
We all get lost along the path to a new and improved us, whatever that may be. Sometimes it is because of a deliberate pit stop, like deciding to let go of the healthy eating reins during a vacation. Other times the diversion is out of our control, like a health issue. Often, our wandering is because of something that we could have planned for but didn’t, like transitioning into a new schedule or lack of knowledge about how to take the next steps. It doesn’t always matter what the reason is, as long as we remember that our internal GPS is always there, ready to patiently announce, “recalibrating.”
But in order for recalibration to be helpful, there are a few elements that need to be working together.
A Destination. Your GPS knows you are off track because it knows where you are trying to go. Without a firm destination in mind, it’s useless. Our internal sense of direction is the same way. With a general goal of, “get healthy,” we’re doomed to wander around aimlessly, lost forever. Once we decide on a destination – it doesn’t have to be forever, just the first leg of the journey – it’s a lot more helpful. Decide where you want to end up before you start traveling.
A Connection. If we set our GPS to a destination and then ignore the navigation directions, never looking at the map for context of our whereabouts, not responding to nudges to take the next available u-turn, well, our GPS would be useless again. The relationship between traveler and navigator is a fluid one. We choose the destination, the best route is advised, and then it is up to us to take the lead and begin. The map only recalibrates once we start moving. Likewise, we need to be connected to our internal GPS, checking in periodically with ourselves to make sure we are still moving towards the destination we chose.
A Desire to Arrive. My friends and I could have wandered all over and discovered plenty in Nashville that day, but we were driven by our hungry stomachs to stay focused on our goal of food. We entered our coordinates with a purpose, and reaching health goals requires the same kind of commitment to a purpose and desire to arrive. Achieving goals absolutely has room for wandering, but the happiest travelers make efficient use of their resources and are excited to arrive at their destination.
In case you’re wondering, yes, we did find our destination: a little shack on the outskirts of downtown called the Blue Sky Café. It was delicious, and it was healthy! As we sat in the grass and ate our breakfast turned brunch turned lunch, we realized we had walked four miles in search of it. We had definitely not taken the most direct route, but the journey had been more fun because of it. We briefly considered catching an Uber back to the hotel, but decided we’d rather walk. After all, it would be a shorter walk back: the more we learned our way around, the less we needed to recalibrate.