Motivation: Setting Goals and Recognizing the Source and Type

These next two weeks, we’re going to take a deep dive into motivation: proper goal setting to enhance motivation, sources and types, how to reclaim it, and what to do if you don’t have it. 


First, let’s take a look at setting proper goals to keep you motivated to continue to work toward them, as well as sources and types of motivation.

Chances are, you’ve heard of “SMART goals”. Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound, these goals keep you on track and headed toward accomplishing that end result. However, without proper thought, I’ve often found we tend to either over or underestimate our abilities, and as a result, we do the same with our goals. We focus on long-term accomplishments and forget about the short-term. We forget to enjoy the process.

While all aspects of “SMART goals” are important, when we’re talking about motivation, it’s most important that our goals are neither too small nor too big.

If they’re too small, there’s a constant feeling of “Oh, I can do that tomorrow. I don’t need all of the time.” We want to avoid this trap. Challenge yourself to set goals that are realistic, but make them ones you still have to work toward. For example, if you’re currently working out 1-2 times per week consistently, a realistic goal may be to increase this to three consistent days. However, if you don’t work out at all, it may be a challenge to get to the gym 1-2 days per week.

Let’s take a look at the opposite situation such as goals that are so long-term that we lose focus on what we can do right now. Say someone wants to lose 50 pounds. Although each situation is different, under nearly-perfect conditions, this goal will likely take at least one year. This would be considered a realistic timeline for most people.

We have to make sure we have process goals to keep us going along the way to our larger, long-term goal. For example, you may focus on daily habits such as drinking enough water or maintaining strength during your lifting sessions. These habits will ultimately keep you motivated and engaged as you work toward the end goal of weight loss.

I like to use the analogy of saving money. Recently, I started using an app that rounds up each of my purchases and saves the round up money. I don’t even see it and it feels like it’s not even happening. However, after a month, I’ve saved almost $75. That’s pretty significant! Weight loss is the same way. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to do without intentional focus so we have to adjust our goal setting instead of having an app to rely on to do it for us!

Regardless of your situation, it’s important to be honest with yourself when setting goals. It’s difficult to assess where we’re at, especially if we don’t enjoy it or don’t like being there. But ignoring that you’re at Step A will not bring you toward Step Z, or even Step B, any faster. In fact, it may even slow the process down. 

Motivation: Recognizing the Source and Correct Type

Last week, we talked about setting goals and making sure they’re realistic. With goals that are too simple or unrealistic, we’re likely to lack motivation to work toward them. Now that we have our goals in mind, let’s break down a few sources and types of motivation.

I’m sure we can recall a time when we’ve been undoubtedly motivated to accomplish a task. Acing a test, making a new sale, learning a new skill or sport, I could go on forever. Do you have a situation in mind? Good, we’ll use that situation throughout today’s article.

To provide context, I’m going to reference a sample situation of weight loss. It’s a common goal in the fitness space and one that many of my clients share.

Recall “why” you were motivated to achieve the said task. Popular sources of motivation include, but aren’t limited to: necessity, fear, revenge, love, vanity, travel, altruism, confidence, perfectionism, adrenaline rush, and mastery. With a goal of weight loss, more specific motivators may include: wanting to look better, feel healthier, play with their kids, and preventing or minimizing the risk of disease or injury.

While there are endless sources of motivation, they can be broadly grouped into one of two types: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation exists outside of ourselves. It may be rewards or praise from friends and family. Intrinsic motivation is that which exists inside ourselves. It includes the feeling of accomplishment after workout, the enjoyment of participating in physical activity, or the fulfillment found in cooking a new recipe.

It’s important to identify the source and type of motivation we’re relying on to assist in reaching our fitness goals. Early on in our journey, we may have to rely more on external motivation. For example, setting a goal and rewarding yourself with a new workout outfit when you have accomplished that goal.

However, it’s equally, if not more, important to begin to enjoy simply participating in physical activity. Developing this intrinsic motivation is a crucial component to sticking with an exercise program long-term. To do this, find types of exercise that you enjoy! You don’t have to run just because your coworker is and you don’t have to go to group exercise classes if you prefer working out alone. Try all different types of activities and find the ones that you enjoy, not for the outcome, but because you really enjoy the act of participating.

We’ve set our goals and determined our source and type of motivation. Next week, we’ll dive into how to reclaim your motivation and reconnect with your “why”.

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