There are many different sources people use for motivation, whether that be motivation for sticking to an eating plan or a training program or to quit smoking. I have a tendency (and I'm sure I'm not alone) to separate these into "good" and "bad" motivations based on sort of moral grounds. For example, take two people, Abe and Ben. Abe has a mild heart attack at age 50 and, in order to extend his life and be around for his children, starts eating better (lots of saturated fat, low carb) and exercising more. Ben is also 50 and developing the middle aged middle - a roll of unsightly fat around his belly. He's married but has a hot secretary he's trying to sleep with. He thinks his chance of doing so would be higher if he had a six pack, so he starts eating better and exercising more so he'll increase his chance of having an extramarital affair.
Who has a better motivation? Thank you English language for giving us words like "better" that have so many different meanings. Well, I think we'd mostly agree that Ben is a bit of an ass as a person. We have a tendency to respect Abe's motivations a lot more - his reasons are in line with a good, moral life, while Ben's are not. But who will be more likely to be successful in improving their health? That really depends on a lot of factors about both individuals.
My father died at a young age (58) of heart disease. I did take a lot of motivation from that and increased my own activity level a lot to avoid the same fate. But I've also taken a lot of motivation for working out and eating better from what amount to pretty stupid sources. I'll list some examples.
We can start with vanity. I don't see myself as overly vain, but lately I've been possessed by a fairly strong desire to have a six pack for a few fairly ridiculous reasons. I want to put a picture of myself, looking lean and ripped, on this blog. Sort of proof that I know what I'm talking about when it comes to diet and fat loss. I want to be lean and muscular before I turn 40 (which is happening quite soon) for no other reason than to be lean and muscular when I turn 40. I want to put one of those stupid vanity shots on my Facebook profile - you know, the kind taken by somebody in their bathroom mirror, with their face obscured by the flash - so all the people who've known me as a fat person (which I've been, my whole life) will say, "huh, Joe finally stuck to a diet." These are all stupid reasons to go on a diet, as far as I'm concerned. But they're working.
There's more. I last ate grains on the day the finale of Lost aired. You remember Lost, right? Airplane crash, weird island, annoying characters? Ended last May? That was the last time I ate pizza. Or bread. Or a brownie. Or a chocolate chip cookie (I ate them all during that finale). Here's the thing: on June 1, saying I last ate grains on May 25th wasn't very cool. Or impressive. Now, however, it's getting to be. And I know if I can hold out for, say, two more years, then it will be awesome. "I haven't eaten grains since Lost was on the air." "What? Oh, you mean Lost that old TV show? That ended years ago, dude!" If I eat a slice of bread tomorrow, I will forever lose the ability to make that claim (unless I just start lying, and that seems like a bad plan.) Stupid, right? Well, again, it's kind of working for me.
My cousin Rachel started a blog about her weight loss journey. Result? She's thin now, for the first time in as long as I can remember. There are, in fact, a ton of weight loss blogs where people post pictures of themselves regularly. It makes them publicly accountable for the crap they shovel into their mouths - you can eat a half gallon of ice cream, but you'll be posting a picture of your fat behind on the internet for all your friends to see the next day. Stupid? Maybe, but it works.
I like watching martial arts related TV shows, reading fiction about martial arts, and watching cartoons about martial arts. Why do cartoons sometimes motivate me to get out and train? I have no idea. Stupid? Probably. Does it work? Sometimes it does.
Have an ex (girlfriend or boyfriend) you want to show up by running into them looking fabulous? Have a superhero you want to be like? Are you in denial about your age? These are all things that can get you into the gym. Would we be better human beings if we weren't susceptible to such base emotions? Well, maybe. But if we can harness those feelings for a good cause, and make no mistake fitness is a good and worthy goal, then what's the problem?
So don't try to force yourself to derive motivation from only clean, sensible places. Put a picture of Bruce Lee up on your wall. Watch Dragonball Z. Read old Eric Lustbader novels. Sign up to go to your high school reunion. Put pictures of yourself in a bathing suit up on Facebook every Saturday, no matter what.
Sign up for a tournament in 4 months. Buy expensive or nice clothes that are too small for you. Bet a friend $500 that you can lose 20 lbs. of fat in 6 months - but pick a friend who will take the money if you fail.
Will all or any of these tricks work for you? Probably not all. But if lifting up your shirt and seeing abs gives you a little boost and makes it easier to say no to the chocolate cake they're passing around at work, then make sure to lift that shirt up every day! Check yourself out in the bathroom mirror. It's okay - it's not like vanity's a sin or anything, right?
Just don't sleep with your secretary and blame me for ruining your marriage.