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The New Science Of Motivation: Your Easy Guide To Staying Motivated FOR LIFE!

Learn about the science behind motivation and how you can use it to get better short-term and lifelong results.

Kris Gethin

If human beings were simple, we would operate like most animals and be driven to perform only activities that aid us in two things: survival and reproduction. We would also eat only the amount of food we need to fuel our bodies, and we would conserve all our energy for defending our families and for hunting. Of course, we've evolved beyond such a simple, primitive existence and we visit drive-thrus (not because we're"conserving energy") to pick up food that provides more calories in one meal than we need in an entire day, and we consistently make choices that lead to a decline in our health without regard for the clear evidence of the dangerous repercussions.

We make these choices because we can and because psychological motivators, of which many of us are unaware, drive us to do so.

For decades now, behavioral scientists have undertaken the task of understanding how we make choices, and recently they've revealed surprising information about what drives us and the part motivation plays. There are two types of motivation that I'll refer to throughout: fixed motivation and limitless motivation.

Fixed Motivation Why It Works Only In The Short Term

Fixed motivation is what you will find in gimmicky fitness quick fixes; programs that operate within a narrow focus and consequently produce quickly expiring results. Diet or workout programs like this are often matched up with equally fixed goals, goals such as "lose 20 pounds before my wedding," "get ripped for summer," "impress my ex-girlfriend at my high school reunion." Sure, goals of that kind may initially motivate us, but they don't inspire or ignite true change, which means that once the event has passed, the muscles soften and the pounds pile back on.

Fixed motivation expires quickly because the initial goal setup is focused only on external rewards, things like grades, money, and appearance.

Science proves that purely rewards or results-oriented goals like this don't create long-term commitment. And it's not a matter of willpower, as you might think; it comes down to how we're wired. I'm sure you recall the reward-and-punishment system used in school- good grades and gold stars for a job well done, a time-out or detention for a job not so well done. Whether you know it or not, those things were put into place to motivate you and help keep you on the right track.

The same can be said about business organizations; we may grow up and leave school, but we essentially enter a similar system of encouragement in our places of employment, this time based on rewards of bonuses and raises and punishments or being passed over for a promotion or losing our job. What the new science of motivation has shown is that, in truth, we really aren't that motivated by punishment, rewards, or surface level results. Even money does not motivate us to strive; in fact, it actually stifles vital character elements such as creativity and persistence.

Research has shown that children as young as elementary school age grow bored with superficial motivators; they are instead compelled to grow or learn when the rewards are things such as a supportive environment and acknowledgment.

One study tested a related theory by having two separate groups of college students play a puzzle game similar to Tetris. Researchers told one group that they would be paid for each puzzle they solved; the other was simply given the game to play. What happened was surprising-the paid individuals quit playing immediately once the experiment session ended, but those who weren't getting paid continued to play the game beyond the timed experiment, simply for the sake of enjoyment.

The monetary reward eclipsed the fun for the first group, and they lost their connection to the internal motivation to just play. The same psychological devices are in effect when it comes to establishing health and fitness goals. Creating an initial fixed goal such as "I want bigger biceps" or "I want a flat belly" can, like a candy bar, give you a quick burst of motivation, but it fades quickly and results in a complete loss of momentum. To build ongoing momentum, you need to connect to limitless motivation, which comes from feelings of accomplishment, skill development, connection, and enjoyment.

Limitless Motivation The Key To Long-Term Success

The truth is, we really don't change that much as we get older when it comes to what drives us to excel at, we may think that the most motivating goals we can set are making more money, driving a specific type of car, or hitting a certain goal weight. But science shows that in truth we are actually motivated by the kind of intangible benefits-enjoyment, social connection, and a sense of accomplishment or growth-that inherently motivate us from birth. Focusing on fitting into a wedding dress or impressing someone at the beach with a ripped physique might get you to that goal in the short term, but it won't keep you there for the long haul.

For that, you need to tap into a deeper system of limitless motivation. When it comes to exercise and fitness, these more profound drivers trump the traditional results-based motivation every time. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Psychology compared "extrinsic," or external, motivators that were body-related- goals that were connected to improving fitness or appearance-to "intrinsic," or internal, motivators, which were related to competence, enjoyment, and social interaction. They determined that the second group of motivators proved significantly more effective in creating long-lasting commitments to fitness.

Another study found that even though many people begin diet or fitness programs to lose weight and look more attractive-because that's also what most programs promise-these superficial types of goals tend to make them quit sooner and even minimize enjoyment; now, that's a lose-lose situation if I've ever seen one. These studies highlight the importance of strategically defining your goals-if you connect them to internal drivers such as self-confidence, skill development, and relationship building, you will increase your long-term motivation.

In the Body by Design book, which is powered by the profiles on BodySpace, I'll introduce you to the FLOW system for defining goals which includes creating goals based on both fixed and limited motivation, since one can give you the initial jump start and the other can keep it going long term

This may not sound revolutionary-that we like activities that are fun, prefer doing them with friends, and feel more confident doing them, but each part of the plan is based on this fundamental idea of tapping into your core of limitless motivation.

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