Motivation Takes Work


The late Gene Autry, that wonderful old movie cowboy, once said, “You know, if it was easy, everyone’d be doing it.” I’m not exactly sure what he was referring to at the time (some difficult riding trick, perhaps?), but that doesn’t really matter. I heard him and thought, “He’s right. Deciding to live a healthy lifestyle, sticking to an exercise program, accentuating the positive, are worth doing. But they’re not always easy. Why, if it were easy, then everyone would be doing it. No one would be struggling with high cholesterol or elevated blood sugar, no one would have difficulty fitting a daily workout into her schedule, and no one would ever be as much as a pound overweight!

Easy, right? Clearly not. It’s not easy. It takes work. And everyone isn’t doing it. But you can. Unlike a risky riding maneuver that takes years of practice to master, making your goal the day-to-day journey to better health is something you can tackle without a lot of training, without a hefty bankroll, without a guru to guide you—well, maybe just a grandmother with a cache of commonsense ideas about “doing it.”

But “doing it” doesn’t mean eating healthy for just one meal, or taking one energetic stroll through the nearest mall. “Doing it” takes commitment and time, and most of all it takes staying power. What’s staying power, you may wonder? Is it like the mysterious diet aid, “willpower,” that we never seem to have enough of? I think it’s something else entirely, and here’s why: Willpower always seems to be one of those “either/or” propositions—you either have it, or you don’t. You’re on your diet, or you’re off. You’re good—or you’re not. Do you see where this is leading, down that dead-end road, perfection?

But none of us is perfect.

And, when faced with our imperfections, with our weaknesses, and with our lack of willpower, we often accept defeat without a struggle.

So let’s put “willpower,” and all that it stands for, in the back of your deepest closet or under a huge pile of dirty laundry. As an old-fashioned gangster might say, “fuggedaboudit!”

Instead, let’s tackle the idea of staying power. Staying power is having the guts to stand for what you believe in when others may discourage you. Staying power is sticking by a person you love and respect even when no one else seems to be. Staying power is recognizing that, as a great philosopher once put it, “success is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” Staying power proves the old adage that the most important ingredient for success is just showing up.

Okay. So you’re here and you’re feeling really motivated today. Good for you. You’re pumped up, you’re ready to roll. But what about those mornings when the sky is gray, you’re not in the mood to get up and walk, or it feels like just too much trouble to prepare a healthy meal when the telephone number for pizza delivery is looking mighty attractive there on the refrigerator?

Aha. Time to call on that old staying power. Make a little deal with yourself. Maybe say, “Get up and turn on all the lights in the house, and you can have pancakes for breakfast.” (You can, after all. It’s the piles of butter and sugary syrup that aren’t great for you.) Or, “Pull on your sweats, tie those shoelaces, and walk for just five minutes. If by then you’re still feeling crummy, you can come back.” (I’ve tried this. It’s amazing how just five minutes is enough to get you feeling more “up” about exercise!) Or you might try negotiating: “Instead of ordering pizza now when I’m home alone and might feel tempted to devour the whole pie, why not invite some friends over this weekend for a pizza party?”

Pets and Life Choices

How do you know when it’s the right time to make a change in your life?

Is there such a time?

So often you feel unhappy about where you are, but you also feel overwhelmed and uncertain about how to stop feeling stuck and move on. Whatever emotion has you in its grip—fear, anger, guilt, helplessness, hopelessness, even disgust—can be strong enough to discourage you from taking action.

I remember in those years when I was feeling desperate about my weight problem, I told myself I was willing to suffer just about anything for a speedy result—starvation, injections, pills, whatever promised to deliver instant change.

It took me a lot of years to accept the truth that there is no such thing as instant change. There’s no magic or secret, just commitment and hard work, along with my daily prayer, “Please, God, help me help myself just for today.”

Still, when people call or write to me about their own problems, I know that many of them are hoping for a quick fix, an easy answer. Just as I did, they’re wishing for something that doesn’t exist. What they want and need means digging deeper, finding the heart of the problem and beginning the healing process.

A woman called me one night recently, overcome by feelings of frustration and worthlessness. She had recently given up smoking and had gained a lot of weight. Her husband had been extremely critical of her, increasing her pain and feelings of isolation. “Maybe he thinks he’s helping me by pointing it out,” she said. “But he’s not telling me anything I don’t already know, and it hurts.”

As we talked quietly, I could hear the exhaustion in her voice as well as her fear that nothing would help. I responded to that first of all.  These happens to pet owners often, the fear of caring and not knowing.  Some help here, and here.

“You’re already doing something about the problem by sharing it,” I told her. “Give yourself credit for that. You’ve also accomplished something really difficult in deciding to quit smoking. Do you know how much strength it takes to give up a real physical addiction like that?”

She seemed surprised at my words. She hadn’t felt good about herself in so long, she never expected anyone to acknowledge her in this way. It gave her permission to admit it to herself, and to pat herself on the back just a little.  Her pets will love here for this.

We talked about how she’d replaced her oral fix with food, so that food had become her enemy, her prison. Because of her weight gain, she rarely left the house, and when she did, she wore the one outfit that fit and felt comfortable, a pair of old sweats. Every time she looked in the mirror, she felt defeated before she could even begin. But she told me she wasn’t willing to live this way anymore.

Those are the words I want to hear.