My Thoughts On Motivation For Weight Loss (And In General I Guess)

The self help industry treats motivation like a cryptocurrency – it sells the idea that you can acquire and cultivate it and that, one day, you can amass enough of it to magically do the work that’s required to achieve something amazing. The psychological “secret” of motivation, hack more motivation, etc. etc. It’s an alluring proposition because it rejects what we all kind of know but often don’t want to admit: that motivation is unavoidably finite and limited, which means that permanent sacrifices are required to make sure what remains can be surmounted by the motivation we do have.

I’d say it’s possible to “grow” motivation you already have by maybe 15-20% but that’s about it (citation needed). Beyond that, you kind of just have it or you don’t. I honestly have no idea why I’ve been motivated to do some things and not others. In fact, the few things I’ve actually really stuck with and succeeded at never had deeply thought out reasonings behind them. I just kind of wanted to do it and that’s it, so I did. And far more often I just kind of didn’t really want to do it and that’s it, so I didn’t.

I wish I could proffer more wisdom on the esoteric nature of motivation but that’s all I really understand about it for now. But what I can talk more about is how eke out that ~15% and, much more importantly, how to lower the requisite motivation to succeed (at weight loss at least) enough that the motivation you do have is sufficient to get it done.

The first important thing I already mentioned: making sacrifices to make life doable. It’s an essential part of “adulting” in my opinion – accepting that no one can have it all, but that anyone can choose to have enough. Part of doing that means owning your sacrifices and choosing them. Because if you don’t, life will choose them for you. For example, maybe John Doe admits that he just can’t eat a certain trigger food in moderation, so he decides that he can live without it and sacrifices it. Otherwise, he’s prone to perpetual binges, subsequent shame, and sadness that he can’t reach or maintain his goal. In the latter scenario life chose his sacrifices for him: pride and happiness. If you have to make sacrifices — and we all do — then you might as well choose the least painful ones while you have the power to.

The second important thing is that motivation is results oriented. It just is and we all know it. That’s why I strongly encourage people to quantitatively track their progress, at least for a while, so they can actually see hard, tangible results. Here’s two things I recommend doing at a minimum: take waste and any other body part measurements you want to, and take progress pictures. Once a week to once a month. If inches are coming off and the pics are visibly improving, then you know it’s working and I basically guarantee your motivation will increase and subsist as a result. I wouldn’t put too much thought into the scale because weight naturally fluctuates enough to not be a reliable measurement in the short to mid term. If you do decide to use a scale, always weigh yourself across equal increments of time, and right when you wake up in the morning after going to the bathroom but before you eat or drink anything. That will ensure as consistent of a measurement as possible.

The third important thing is to create an explicit system – make it exactly clear what you are doing each day to achieve your weight loss goal, then stop worrying about it once that work is done. Looming thoughts of “could I do more” are terrible and are not needed whatsoever. The key of explicitness is that it allows for meaningful incremental adjustments if things aren’t working as intended (as ascertained by your progress tracking!). If John Doe’s weight loss system is something vague like “eat healthier” he can’t meaningfully adjust it if it’s not working because he has no way of knowing what the actual problem is. If, rather, his system is “eat about 2200 calories a day,” he can lower it to 2000 if he’s not progressing. He was eating too much, lower the amount, problem solved.

And that’s all I’ve got. To summarize, there are three things you can do get and stay motivated enough to lose weight and keep it off:

  1. Accept that motivation is limited and make necessary sacrifices to ensure you have enough of it
  2. Track your progress so you can actually see quantified results (this is what ekes out that extra 15-20% motivation
  3. Have an explicit system so that there’s a clear point of being done with it for the day, and so that you can actually make meaningfully incremental adjustments if needed