The Art of Motivation: Take a Cue from the Olympians!




By Holly Glaubitz, Health Educator

Let me ask you a question: When was the last time you decided to make a behavior change based on negative motivation? Hopefully you answered never, but I suspect you have at least one instance in mind. Now let me ask another question: How did that work out? 


I recently had the opportunity to listen to a sports psychologist talk about how some of the elite athletes he works with become successful. Talent had a definite part to play, but so did their drive and motivation. They were motivated by becoming successful in their sport.


That got me to thinking about the rest of us who aren't elite athletes, but may want to improve in some area of our lives.


When I ask people why they want to make a certain behavior change (lose weight, stop smoking, be more active) the answer is usually something like, "I don't like myself at this weight." "My family told me I need to lose weight." "My doctor told me I need to stop smoking." "Society tells me I'm ugly for being overweight." The motivation for the behavior change is almost always because they don't like who or how they are right now. 


So let's go back to the previous example of an elite athlete practicing physically and mentally to hone their skill level. What do you think would've happened if the medal-winning members of the U.S. Olympic teams had told themselves they needed to practice because they hated the way they were? They wouldn't have gotten very far - and certainly wouldn't have been mentally prepared to do their best in the Olympics. Rather, for them, the motivation is: "How can I get better than I already am right now?"


So here's my challenge to all of you working on a change. What would happen if you switched your thinking from, "I need to change because something is wrong with me" to "I want to change because I like who I am right now, and I want to be the best I can be"? I wonder how sustainable that change would be if it came from positive motivation rather than negative. I encourage you to give it a try!