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Motivation: It's Not What You Think

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By Sue Ingebretson • • May 8, 2013

Motivation seems to be a limited commodity. Most people feel they either lack it entirely, or want more of the little they do have. We state that a lack of motivation is to blame for not starting a body movement program. Or even considering tailoring one to suit our needs. We simply aren’t motivated. We don’t have the get up and go. In fact, for some, it got up and went in tandem with the fibromyalgia diagnosis. Or for others, it got up and went quite some time before.

Do you buy into the scarcity model for viewing motivation? Is it something rare, out of reach, or in limited supply?

Here’s a favorite quote to nudge along a few thoughts on the matter:

 “Motivation is what gets you started.
Habit is what keeps you going.” -- Jim Ryan

I love this sentiment, but I think it leaves out one little, itty, bitty detail. Where does motivation come from in the first place? How do we get the oomph to start anything?

I’m often asked to speak on this topic, so here’s how I describe it: Motivation is the flame that burns hot enough to create repeated action. And, don’t overlook the desire that sparks the flame in the first place.

What do you deeply desire? What dreams smolder in your inner thoughts? Do you crave a healthier body? Less pain? More energy? Clearer thinking? Amazingly, all of these can be considered as “side effects” of body movement. A regular fitness routine does more than tone muscles.

Too many people get caught up in terminology. For some, “exercise” and “fitness” are scary words. They bring to mind visions of people who are strangers to us. We have nothing in common with long, lean yoga instructors, buff body builders, or not-an-ounce-to-be-spared distance runners. We could never be like that!

Why is it that we often jump to extremes when we object to an idea? We can’t imagine starting a fitness program, so we say we don’t want to become a slave to our workouts. Does it have to be one or the other? How about a compromise, say … something between a couch potato and a gym rat?

I often hear other objections, as well. Overwhelming pain. No energy. No money. No time. Not enough room, etc.

These were my thoughts, too, about a decade ago. I had to create and fan the flames of desire that eventually became my personal motivation. I realized that nothing happens without change. Was my current program of not exercising and not eating well working? No. Did I want to change? To be honest, no. But somewhere in my thoughts, I heard a little voice that said – something has to give. I didn’t think I was capable of moving my body every day, but I didn’t want to fail without even trying.

I started by doing a few stretching exercises on the floor of my bedroom after getting dinner on the table for my kids. It was a “two birds with one stone” approach. I ate my healthier fare and left the dining room before I was tempted to eat what else was on my table (this was before I understood that healthy food is for everyone in my household!). I did the full body stretches for several months and then moved on to working out to some fitness DVDs from my local library. After six months or so, I joined a new gym that opened in my area. It had finally become a habit.

Here’s a vital fact to keep in mind when it comes to motivation:

Successes build on each other.

As I made the commitment to move my body daily (and followed through!), I began to feel better about myself. Sure, I did slowly drop pounds, but that wasn’t all. I found that my posture improved. I began to breathe more deeply. I experienced greater energy and surprised myself by experimenting with new and healthier foods. That inclination was a natural result of regular body movement (a.k.a. exercise).

Oh, and here’s the real kicker. For the first time in almost 20 years, I started to sleep through the night … and feel great the next day! I experimented with this, too. It became clear that my sleep patterns definitely reflected my movement patterns. On days that I skipped the gym, I didn’t sleep as well. That was proof enough for me. Over time, I developed my own “sweet spot” of what time to exercise (not too close to bedtime), and what type of exercises work best. I like variety.

So, I’m often asked, “Where can I find motivation?”

As we’ve explored here, it’s not something you can find. It’s also not something you either have or don’t have. Motivation is the result of taking action. Once you take consistent steps toward anything you desire, motivation will follow. It comes when you appreciate and become aware of the incremental successes you’re experiencing. The signs may be small. They may be almost indiscernible at times, but stick with it. I promise you the motivation will arrive when it’s invited.
There’s much more to say about how to create and continue any healthy living program, but in honor of Fibromyalgia Awareness month, why don’t you commit to starting your own routine? Having an awareness of your own potential is a great way to take steps toward a healthier future.

For now, I’ll end this article with another favorite quote.

“People often say that motivation doesn't last.
Well, neither does bathing - that's why we recommend it daily.” -- Zig Ziglar


Sue Ingebretson ( is an author, speaker, certified holistic health care practitioner and the director of program development for the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Center at California State University, Fullerton. She is also a Patient Advocate/Fibromyalgia Expert for the Alliance Health website and a Fibromyalgia editor for the ProHealth website community.

Her #1 Amazon best-selling chronic illness book, FibroWHYalgia, details her own journey from chronic illness to chronic wellness. She is also the creator of the FibroFrog™- a therapeutic stress-relieving tool which provides powerful healing benefits with fun and whimsy.

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