The Motivation Equation

By Elizabeth Keller, APRN-BC

One of the most important things for people who are developing new healthy habits and breaking old destructive ones is MOTIVATION.  Where do you get the motivation and will power to stick to it, after the shiny new possibility wears off into the humdrum duty and obligation?  Many people guilt themselves, “should” on themselves, berate or criticize themselves In an attempt to do what they wish they would do, but don’t really want to do.    Enough!  Basta!  Let’s take a look at this from a purely logical and mathematical perspective!  Although motivation is not something we can measure directly,  I have developed an indirect and subjective system for estimating your motivation levels.

For the purpose of this post, I will use the example of someone who is intent upon losing 10 pounds in 2 months, an achievable and common kind of goal. For the purpose of this exercise, pretend that you are this someone with this goal, or a similar weight loss goal.

Here it is:

On one side of a sheet of paper write down all the factors in your life which are motivating you to lose weight…and on the other side paper, write down all the factors in your life which are detracting from your motivation to lose weight. This would include motivations you have to do something that sabotages your weight loss program..such as ice cream cravings!

See below an example of what this could look like:

Motivating Factors                                                       Detracting Factors

To be healthier                                                            Too tired to exercise

To fit into previous clothes                                          Sweet cravings

To be more attractive                                                  Using food for comfort

Now, for each of those factors, assign an arbitrary (ie…you made it up) number from one to 100 that indicates HOW MUCH of a motivating or detracting factor it is.

For example:

Motivating Factors                                                     Detracting Factors

To be healthier, 100pts                                               Too tired to exercise   50 points

To fit into previous clothes  25 pts                             Sweet cravings    50 points

To be more attractive    75 points                                Using food for comfort   75 points.

If you add all the points in each column, the result would be 200 points in favor of weight loss, and 175 points against it.   You could suppose, if this was your motivation equation then you would be slightly to moderately motivated to lose weight.  Not exactly thrilled, but more likely than not to take action and stick to it.

Let’s say, however, that a major holiday comes up, Thanksgiving with family, and that has a detracting factor of 100 points.. oops. There goes the balance in favor of weight loss!  If you could see this coming..and frankly, you CAN, it’s on the calendar!…you could anticipate this difficulty and set out to make sure the score is in your favor.

For instance:  bringing you own healthy version some Thanksgiving favorites might be worth 25 points.   Agreeing to increase your exercise level for the week to one hour a day might be worth 40 points.  Visiting your weight loss consultant before you go and getting an apetite suppressant and encouragement might be worth 60 points.  Now you have balanced out the equation in favor of ongoing weight loss, despite the holiday.

Now the first reaction I usually get from people is, “Well, if I am making this all up, how will I know it is really accurate?”  My answer is:  you would be surprised at how well you can predict this!  If you notice that you were off in any particular situation, simply adjust the values you give that factor later.   You will soon develop your own personal scale of what is helpful and motivating and what is distracting and detracting.  Whenever you are not satisfied with your results in changing your weight, you would sit down and review the equation again, and make adjustments, until the balance is once again in your favor.

To provide yourself with some “insurance” against the odds of random events, make sure that your advantage to practicing the new habit is as far ahead of the detracting factors as possible.  How much of a cushion?  Once again, as you get to know yourself more and more, you will be able to be very accurate at this game!

The advantage of the Motivation Equation is it takes the mystery out of your “willpower” and your “won’t power”.

I am always careful, in my life coaching, to make sure clients set themselves up to win..  You see, there is a whole world of what you are able to do.  And there is another whole world of what you are willing to do.  When you are choosing an activity for your motivation equations it is important that it be something that intersects those two worlds. In other worlds, it needs to be something you are willing and able to do something about.

I have a couple of ways to check your motivation “temperature”  First, how does your current motivation equation add up?  And second, what are you willing and able to do about it?

Obviously the final factor would be checking in to see if you are getting some kind of measurable result from taking on your new habit.  In a weight loss program, this could obviously be clothes that fit better, weight based on muscle versus fat, etc..

Please find a blank sheet of paper, choose a goal, write down the motivation equation for it, and a list of actions you are able and willing to take to reach that goal.  Revise  your equation whenever you can see the factors have changed, or whenever you aren’t getting the result you are looking for.

The other advantage of the motivation equation is it takes the guilt and criticism piece out of the picture..  Either the equation adds up in your favor, or it does not.  If it does not, you can now modify the equation until it is where you want it to be.

Try it!  You’ll like it!


Leave a Reply