This is an article about motivation.

Oscar Wilde wrote in The Importance of Being Earnest that “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” What does Oscar Wilde and truth have to do with motivation?  

Writing plays, poems, essays, and a single novel in the late 1800’s, this guy was ahead of his time. Besides writing, the fashionable Wilde was known as a great conversationalist, mainly because he said exactly what he thought. No inner filter there. He was witty, educated and motivated to live a life of quality. These are things anyone trying to live the Fit Life should aspire to (minus the two years of hard labor he did in prison. One could argue that many inmates are in pretty good shape, but I just can’t bring myself to promote the jailbird lifestyle). The point is, this guy had motivation aplenty, and motivation, like truth, is a complex idea that differs from person to person. Even now in the 21st century, his words resonate..

Sometimes finding your motivation is sort of like catching a unicorn. It can be shy, elusive, and you practically have to be a virgin to catch it. Alright, well, maybe not that last one. Just the same, once you catch it, it’s not guaranteed to stick around. As if that’s not complicated enough, it’s appearance is ever-changing. It could be anything, positive or negative. It could be happy memory, or, like a boggart in a Harry Potter story, it could appear as your deepest, darkest fear.

There are two types of motivation: extrinsic, or external, motivation and intrinsic, or internal, motivation. Let’s take a deeper look into both to unravel our own sources of inspiration, using my personal motivators as examples.

Extrinsic Motivation is motivation that comes to you from an outside source. It’s typically ideas ingrained into us through things like society, television, and, these days, a great deal from social media. It’s recognizable as expectations of things you know you should do because someone else expects it. You may not necessarily want to do that certain something, but you feel obligated. We’ve been inundated with these things since childhood. Flashback to your school days: Grades, homework, report cards, etc. Now, as adults, we dress a certain way, hide our tattoos, and behave responsibly. This kind of motivation generally comes with a hefty price tag. Like a shiny new sports car, you probably can’t afford it. It’s a gas-guzzler. Extrinsic motivation might be quick to fizzle, but there are ways to make it sustainable. The possibilities are endless, but here are some ways I mix extrinsic motivation into my Fit Life:

I’ve been saying for years now that I want to be Gwen Stefani when I grow up.

Singers and actors and internet sensations, oh my! Celebrities are a major source of fascination for the general public. There faces are splashed across our TVs, Facebook pages, and the magazines as we stand in line to buy our groceries. I’ve been saying for years now that I want to be Gwen Stefani when I grow up. I’m 30, but I won’t give up on my dreams. I mean, those abs! Just as I covet Gwen’s abs, others are wishing they had Beyonce’s booty, or Carrie Underwood’s legs, or Michelle Obama’s arms. Be careful, as many turn this motivation into a pity-party way to bash themselves. Show some self-love by taking a moment to realize that celebrities are people too. They work hard for those bodies you want by living physically active lives. They may pay a personal trainer, but they eat healthy, exercise consistently, and sing, dance, and act for work. Most of us regular folks sit from 9-5.

An amazing numbers of people have brought attention to Lady Gaga’s appearance at this year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show. She sang and danced through eight songs lasting almost 15 minutes, yet people had the nerve to say she looked chubby or flabby. She jumped off the roof of the NRG Stadium for goodness sake! The woman is a healthy weight!

These are the reasons why extrinsic motivation can be so fleeting. We as a people set impossible expectations for ourselves and others. Celebrities are definitely are major source of inspiration to me, but not because I want to be them or like them. There’s no way I could ever be Taylor Swift. That beautiful creature walks on a 5’10” frame in comparison to my Hobbit-like proud 5’0.” However, I can take some “Shake It Off” motivation from her each time I go for a jog. Avoid comparisons!

Food is a huge motivator. Fast food and restaurant commercials plague TV channels with visions of perfect hamburgers and sugary drinks. When was the last time you took a hard look at what came in that greasy paper sack? Reality check. They look nothing alike! Not to mention that corporate food can afford expensive ads that independent farmers can only dream of. Can you think of any commercials about spinach or tomatoes or asparagus? Nope, because they don’t exist.

Then, of course, there is the ongoing confusion of what is “good” for me or not. We eat food with “health halos” because we are led to believe in their wholesomeness, when actually they are packed full of unpronounceable manmade products. In an effort to make food a healthy motivator for myself in my Fit Life, I try my best to cook at home. I use Pintrest for healthy recipes. The more I learn to cook, the more confident I am in the kitchen. I love being in control of the ingredients I put into my body. Meal prep is second nature to me now. I’ll be writing about it soon, so stay tuned! Here is a picture of a Greek Cucumber Noodles salad I made vs. the picture shared by Two Peas & Their Pod, who posted the recipe. Yum!      

Here is a picture of a Greek Cucumber Noodles salad I made vs. the picture shared by Two Peas & Their Pod, who posted the recipe.

Trends are a huge influencer of the masses. Whether it’s a diet, exercise program, or piece of technology, people are on board. The problem with trends is that they are fleeting and ever-changing (like motivation itself). Fad diet programs promote yo-yo dieting, which can be demoralizing. Of course you dropped some pounds while on the program, but it reappears as if by magic when you lose interest. This is because the linchpin of the program is your participation in it. If you chose rather to eat a healthy variety of foods in all the colors of the rainbow for life, you are adopting a lifestyle. Diets and lifestyles are not interchangeable words. My concern with exercise trends is enthusiastic people making their bodies go too hard too fast. The American culture admires the “hardcore.” Currently, we love extreme mud runs, races, and obstacle courses, MMA and UFC fights, CrossFit and the like. These sports and activities are amazing for transforming bodies and minds, but the potential for injury and burnout are very real. Start small and work your way up. Don’t defeat yourself before even getting started. Your body will love you for it.

I must admit I am a lover of the “hardcore,” so I recommend newbies finding an experienced trainer to guide you through the finer points. They can help you avoid injury through proper progression. Fitness technology is a whole other can of worms. Two questions will sum up my opinion: How much did you pay for yours? Are you still using it?  

Intrinsic Motivation overall is a more positive source of motivation. It comes from inside yourself. It’s what you want. It’s what you want to do. It’s all about who you really are inside, rather than what the outside world wants you to be. You might have to think about that for a minute.

So many of us allow our true personalities (and all that goes along with it) to be siphoned away by others, whether that is someone positive like your spouse, or children, or ageing parents, or something negative like past broken relationships or peer pressure. Even though we may enjoy taking care of those positive people in our lives, we need to remember to show ourselves self-love too. You cannot take care of others if you cannot take care of yourself. So, ask yourself Who am I? What interests me? What do I want for myself? You might label yourself a walker or a runner now, but, when living the Fit Life, don’t be surprised if your labels change over time.

Curiosity and discovery expand your horizons. When I began exercising, I would have labeled myself as “cardio only” or maybe “anxious exerciser.” Now I am so many things” “Black Belt,” “bodybuilder,” “Krav Maga practitioner,”  “Bikini competitor.” At the time, each of these labels came as a surprise to me, but they felt good and right. This is the kind of motivation that keeps you going.

Enjoyment plays a huge role in your level of motivation. This can be something that you do as a hobby or something that you are passionate about. As I mentioned in my very first article, from the early years of my life, I have been a reader and something of a scholar. I love to learn. As I grow older, I have found my interest in fictional work shift to memoirs and biographies of those I admire. Don’t worry, I still eat up fiction like it’s my last meal. I recently read Misty Copeland’s memoir, as I admire her deeply. I love ballet, but have no talent in it myself. I once signed up for a six-week ballet course with a friend. I went three weeks before deciding that ballet was better for watching than for doing. It was a great workout and the choreography was beautiful, but my body felt like the Hulk raging through a city. And why was the music an instrumental version of November Rain? I didn’t ask for my money back. Learning about strong females who break all the rules is an important theme in where I find motivation for exercise. Reading health or fitness magazines can do the same. These days, I’m bored by cardio machines, so I prop up an issue of Oxygen and go to town! Boredom erased.

Health can be a deep motivator, especially when it comes to family. We often see our closest family members decline in old age. We care for them and often children of our own. We want to set a good example and be there for them. We have a decision to make at some point on whether we’ll go willingly or go down swinging. I prefer to fight.

Competition is not a dirty word. Good sportsman-like conduct is taught to us from an early age, but self-competition is a fantastic way to get in shape. Establishing a baseline for yourself and then beating it is an empowering feeling. It’s a confidence builder. Once at the gym I was standing in front of the weight rack when a guy my age came up beside me.”Which ones are you using?” he asked, indicating the 10 and 15 pound dumbbells. I pointed. “I’m using the 40’s.” His response was to say “Oh.” and took his 15 pounds to the other side of the gym. Not going to lie. That was a good feeling.  Also, if you’re determined to outpace the girl on the treadmill next to you, no one has to know, just keep it to yourself and beat her.

I can hardly say “in conclusion” because this topic is endlessly evolving, so I will leave you with this: When living the Fit Life, be earnest in all you do. Look for the truth in yourself. Even in the most unlikely of places, motivation can be found.

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Brittany Hall is an American Council on Exercise Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). Known as "Pixie" to her patients at Dr. Evans' The Institute of Family, Preventative and Lifestyle Medicine; she is also an ACE-certified Health Coach. Brittany is an American Karate First Degree Black Belt, co-owner of Lionheart Krav Maga and Fitness, and is a Bikini competitor. She is currently training as a Krav Maga instructor with a special interest in women’s self-defense. She completed the Lifestyle Medicine Core Competencies Program through the American College of Preventative Medicine. She was also an attendee at the Active Lives: Transforming Our Patients and Ourselves conference presented by The Institute of Lifestyle Medicine at Harvard Medical School.