Motivation is fleeting and habits die hard. What is a busy mom to do?

Updated: May 14, 2020

“I need motivation.” Have you ever said that to yourself or to another person when describing your inability to achieve your goals?

This is how most people think motivation works:

Motivation -> Action -> Results

When in actuality, this is how motivation really works:

Action -> Results -> Motivation

Motivation is unreliable. To count on motivation to get you anywhere is like counting on that flakey friend for something you need. At first she'll always show up on time, but then she starts coming late. And soon come the [made up] excuses for why she can't come start to trickle in. And then not too long after that, she just doesn't show up without bothering to give you any notice.

We all have a friend like this. So, what do we do? Keep relying on them to follow through and help us do what we had planned? No, you look for something or someone else.

This applies to our goals. When we are trying to get from where we are (point A) to where we want to be (point B), we must attach ourselves to something that is dependable and that we are not completely dependent on to give us the drive we need to take action that will delivery results, and in-turn create the motivation that we are seeking.

Then what is to blame for your lack of consistency? Well…duh…kids! And… Um, nope, that’s probably the extent of it (and all that goes with #momlife). Well, guess what? The kids aren’t going anywhere for a while, so neither are the excuses. So, if you keep waiting for the perfect conditions to “get started,” you’re going to be waiting for a long time. There will ALWAYS be something to get in the way of your intentions…if you let it.

How do you keep all the bad days from snowballing into bad weeks, months, or even years?

First of all, let’s talk about bad days and BAD days. We all have the bad days (or string of bad days) where we really had the best intentions of making healthy food choices and finding time to be active, but instead we get thrown for a loop with a sleepless baby, teething, projectile vomit, stage-5-clinger-level separation anxiety, spoiled vegetables, broken AC, bad weather, etc etc. Trust me, NO one doesn’t go through this. We all have these types of bad days. But then there are BAD days, where you are in the NICU/ICU with your babe, where you’ve experienced loss, or when you are struggling with PPD. In these cases, this article is not directed at you. In fact, why are you reading this?? Mama, please do what you need to do to take care of yourself in the healthiest and safest way possible. Maybe a healthier lifestyle is part of that, but you’re not at fault for your struggles when your goals are simply to keep your head above water.

So, for the rest of us: having young children is HARD. Again, that’s never going to change. It doesn’t ever really get easier, because when one challenging stage goes away, another one steps right in to take its place. But what does happen is that we simply just get better at managing it. And then somehow, we convince ourselves to do it again! And again!

When we think about motivating ourselves, we usually say something like: “How do I get myself to start eating more vegetables/make time for exercise/drink more water/go to bed earlier/___?”

It looks like this:

The question that we ask ourselves should actually be: “How can I be disciplined enough to not let Netflix/the bag of chips/my thoughts talk me out of completing what are actually simple tasks?” The answer is: “You have to train yourself to work without motivation.”

There is just no other way around it. Motivation is fleeting – it comes, and then just as quickly, it goes. It comes in the form of a song, an impressive before/after photo you saw, a drop on the scale, or an upcoming vacation. So then what happens when the music gets boring, the before/after photos are no longer relatable, your weight stops dropping or starts to go up, or your vacation is over? Then the justifications to say “f- it” and go back to your old ways will almost always win. For this reason, you just can’t depend on that flakey friend motivation. You have to learn to be strong without it.

Here is where you can start:

(1) Let go of the all-or-none mentality. Something is better than nothing. Just because you can’t get in a sweaty, uninterrupted 45-minute workout doesn’t mean that it isn’t worth trying for 10-minutes of chasing around your toddler or pushing a stroller around the neighborhood. Just because you portioned out two cookies but then ate four doesn’t mean that you’ve ruined everything and should just go ahead and eat the whole bag, plus some ice cream, and pizza dipped in Ranch dressing for dinner. There is a middle ground. Find it and embrace it.

(2) Be honest with yourself. You can’t be frustrated in results you’re not getting for work you’re not doing. Achieving goals is WORK. If you don’t accept that, you will not get very far. You must work hard to deny yourself of things you want at the moment in order to achieve things that you want long term.

(3) Start accepting the blame. If you continue to place the blame on extrinsic factors, then you will never find ways to adapt and navigate imperfect conditions. “I had a busy day and forgot to bring snacks, so I ate fast food because I was starving.” Would the correct action have been to order a double cheeseburger and fries? Or opt for the less tasty salad with a grilled chicken breast? Or why not just wait until you can get home? Feeling hungry is not an emergency. In fact, feeling hungry can help you develop better intuitive eating abilities. The busy day is not to blame, but by displacing the blame on something extrinsic, you give up fault, and then it becomes easy to convince yourself that you were left powerless and without a lot of options. Being at fault is not necessarily a bad thing, but not being able to own up to it and address it with choices that are in line with your goals is.

(4) Set realistic expectations. A lot of our unrealistic expectations come from the same things that create our “motivation”. That 12-week challenge, the 30-day elimination diet, the picture of the amazing 8-week transformation, or the beach vacation in 6 weeks. Think about this one: isn’t it true that there are few things in life that we can be proud of that were achieved quickly? Whether it be buying our first home, running an 8-minute mile, earning a degree, building a garden, achieving your first job promotion, etc. – yeah, I just cannot really think of anything that brings pride that is also easy to achieve or that is achieved quickly. So, set realistic expectations and set realistic timelines, because transforming your life and your physique is not something that comes quickly or easily.

Do you see a commonality with these suggestions? They all involve changing your attitude and thinking patterns. You have to tell yourself that it is not the job of motivation to get you going, but it is your own level of discipline that will get you to follow through with action that will lead to progress.

One simple swap can make the difference:

I hope that this article, well, MOTIVATES you to rely on discipline and determination. You can do this!

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