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Motivation Basics

By Cindy Dormer, Ph.D., registered dietitian
Health Center at Auraria

If you’ve been working on your wellness and weight for a while, you may already know these essential motivation strategies:

  • Get enough sleep (otherwise you’ll be tired and hungry)
  • Keep healthy food in sight and unhealthy food out of sight (otherwise you’ll be tempted)
  • Weigh yourself once a week or so (otherwise you’ll get distracted)
  • Follow realistic menu, shopping, and food preparation plans (otherwise you’ll eat whatever is around)
  • Use self-care strategies including physical activities you enjoy to revive (otherwise you’ll feel like you just can’t do it all)

Here are two new and interesting motivation ideas to try:

Here and now reasons

Many of us make bargains with ourselves. We tell ourselves that if we exercise today then, eventually, if we keep it up, we will reach our weight and fitness goals. We might even say to ourselves things like, when I lose weight, then I will be worthy of love and respect. New research (see references below) suggests that it may be more motivating to focus on here and now reasons.

For example, instead of thinking of the long-term benefits of going for a walk today, on your lunch break, think of more immediate benefits. Maybe it will be a chance to clear your head and be more efficient and creative when you get back. Maybe a walk is the only way you can get away from constant emails, phone calls and office chatter.

Especially if you’ve told yourself you’ll take better care of yourself and do more self-care things after you’ve lost weight or gotten through a busy time. Think again. You’ll perform better, on any goal, if you take care of yourself. Use the performance reason to get yourself going now on essential self-care behaviors like cooking for yourself, getting to the dance class or scheduling that overdue doctor’s appointment.

When things go wrong, maintain a Growth Mindset

Almost everyone who has ever tried to do anything challenging has experienced failure and fallen into what researcher Carol Dweck calls a Fixed Mindset. Fixed Mindset thinking often sets in when, after trying a wellness or weight management strategy, you don’t see the results you were hoping for. You may say things to yourself things that sound like “It’s always been like this; It will always be like this; this is just who I am.” Dweck and other researcher recommend we fight back against the Fixed Mindset thinking and remind ourselves that:

  • The disappointment means (drum roll) you tried something!
  • When things don’t work out, you have a choice. You can be fixed (I’m a failure) or you adopt a Growth Mindset and say things to yourself like: “Well this is interesting.” “What can I learn from this?” “What else could I try?”

The really cool thing is that researchers find that people who remind themselves that failure can be viewed as an “interesting” part of progress begin to feel less bad about challenges and set backs. They are more apt to take on and succeed at difficult goals like losing weight, building their physical fitness or escaping unproductive habits and routines.

In summary, there are almost as many motivation strategies as there are eating strategies. Like eating well, finding the motivation strategies that work for you takes knowledge, coaching and some personal experimentation.

If you're interested in getting some help following through with your weight loss and wellness goals, be sure to call 303-352-7008 to set an appointment to see me, Cindy Dormer, Ph.D., the registered dietitian at the Health Center at Auraria.

Additional resources


Journal Articles:

  • Burnette, J. L. (2010). Implicit theories of body weight: Entity beliefs can weigh you down. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36, 410422. doi:10.1177/0146167209359768
  • Burnette, J. L., & Finkel, E. J. (2012). Buffering against weight gain following dieting setbacks: An implicit theory intervention. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 721725. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.12.020
  • Burnette, J. L., O'Boyle, E., VanEpps, E. M., Pollack, J. M., & Finkel, E. J. (2013). Mindsets matter: A meta-analytic review of implicit theories and self-regulation. Psychological Bulletin, 139, 655701. doi:10.1037/a0029531
  • Johannessen, K. B., Oettingen, G., & Mayer, D. (2012). Mental contrasting of a dieting wish improves self-reported health behaviour. Psychology & Health, 27(sup2), 43-58.
  • Adriaanse, M. A., Oettingen, G., Gollwitzer, P. M., Hennes, E. P., de Ridder, D. D., & de Wit, J. F. (2010). When planning is not enough: Fighting unhealthy snacking habits by mental contrasting with implementation intentions (MCII). European Journal Of Social Psychology, 40(7), 1277-1293. doi:10.1002/ejsp.730
  • Bryan, CJ; Yeager, D, Hinojosa, Cintia P; Harnessing adolescent values to motivate healthier eating by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 09/2016, Volume 113, Issue 39

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