My name is Ryan and I run a site called Mr. SkinnyPants that focuses on fat burning.
I just hosted a weight loss challenge where 10 people competed to lose weight and win things. Everybody lost weight except…
I wasn’t sufficiently motivated. I was close to my maintenance weight, felt good about my body, and had prioritized other things in my life.
I’m not alone.
Motivation is a common concern among my family and friends:
- “how do i get motivated to do this diet”
- “why isn’t so and so motivated to do this diet w/ me”
- “ugh…I started this diet but can’t seem to stay motivated”
These phrases are often couched in whining and complaining, which I can’t stand, so I came up with 3 simple metrics to determine whether someone is actually motivated enough to lose weight.
Because I want this to be actionable for you, I also share 5 strategies you can use to motivate yourself when intrinsic motivation is lacking.
This post is rich with examples and tactics to differentiate it from the fluff that’s typically written about motivation.
Let me know what you think.
3 Easy Ways to Tell if You’re Motivated Enough to Lose Weight
This isn’t just about weight loss. Maybe you want to start a business. Or learn an art. Or become great at a sport.
A lot of people say they want these things, but don’t realize the amount of intrinsic motivation it takes.
Here are signs that you’re sufficiently motivated to do it.
1 – You’d gladly spend at least $100/month on it.
$100/month is the bare minimum. If you’re not willing to spend $100/mo on something, you aren’t really motivated to do it. I call it the “$100 principle.” If the problem is painful enough, if the desire is large enough, if the motivation is really there, then you’ll get the money and spend whatever is needed.
For example, take two hobbies from my own life: Brazilian jiu jitsu and guitar.
I am motivated to become great at Brazilian jiu jitsu. I spend roughly $100/mo on classes, $30/mo on equipment, $100/mo on better healthcare (in case of injuries), and $50/mo on competition entry fees. That level of spending is a reliable signal that I’m motivated.
I thought I was motivated to learn to play guitar. However, I bought a $50 guitar from a pawn shop, wouldn’t pay to take lessons, and unsubscribed from a $3/mo service that gave me guitar chords to practice. Turns out, I wasn’t all that motivated to learn guitar and unsurprisingly I haven’t touched my guitar in 3 years.
Think about how this might apply to your own life.
Would you spend $100/mo of your own money to upgrade your job skills? If not, perhaps your current job isn’t sufficiently motivating.
Are there hobbies that you say you want to be great at but aren’t willing to invest the money to learn?
Are you trying to lose weight, but find yourself avoiding paid services like coaching, support groups, and meal delivery? Are you worried about spending more on healthy food than you do w/ your current groceries?
I have found the “$100 principle” to be income agnostic. No matter the income level, people will somehow get the money they need to do the things they are motivated to do.
Chances are that if you’re afraid to spend a bit of money to lose weight, it’s not because you’re being frugal or resourceful, it’s because your motivation isn’t fully there.
2 – You think about it in the shower.
A fleeting thought or intermittent desire is not a good indicator of motivation. It must consume you.
At any given time, you’re only going to be motivated to do 2 or 3 things, max.
- If you’re broke, you’re motivated to get money.
- If you’re lonely, you’re motivated to find someone.
- If you’re self-conscious about your body, you’re motivated to lose weight.
- Etc, etc, etc
True motivations consume so much mental energy that we only have capacity to indulge a few at a time. You’ll think about your true motivations when you really shouldn’t. Every quiet moment, they’ll be on your mind.
Last year, my wife and I were motivated to buy a home. Every night we’d search homes on Zillow to make sure nothing new came on the market. In the shower, I’d visualize nearby homes that we could buy & fix up. In the car, we’d make checklists summarizing the features we sought in the perfect home.
To be honest, it was all-consuming and not always healthy. But it was effective.
We bought our home on the last day of 2016. Now our son has a backyard to play in.
What about you? What consumed your shower thoughts this morning? What were you thinking about today during your commute? What will occupy your monkey mind before bed tonight?
Those are the things you’re motivated to achieve.
If you’re not constantly agonizing about your body and it’s not bugging you at inopportune moments, you probably aren’t sufficiently motivated to lose weight.
3 – You’d willingly spend 1 hour a day on it.
If you won’t spend 1 hour a day on something, then you’re not motivated to do it. We make time to do things that are important to us. For example, right now:
- I spend 6 hours a day working to make money for my family.
- I spend 3 hours a day on activities I think will make my family happy — like cooking, playing w/ my son, doing dishes, chatting w/ my wife, taking on small home improvement projects, etc.
- I spend 2 hours a day on activities related to Brazilian jiu jitsu.
Nothing else routinely happens for more than 1 hour because I’m not sufficiently motivated to do anything else. Were I to have a windfall in earnings or win a jiu jitsu title, my motivations and daily calendar would change.
What’s on your daily calendar? What do you find yourself doing routinely even it’s not formally scheduled? What events do you carefully protect from being scheduled over?
How you allocate your time is a good indicator of your motivations.
If you’re not willing to spend extra time planning, prepping, and packing healthy meals, perhaps you’re not motivated enough to lose weight.
Making This Actionable
You may be reading this post and realizing you aren’t as motivated to lose weight as you thought. That’s OK.
Most people have a max of 3 primary motivations at any given time. Everyone else is fooling themselves. Knowing that you only have a few motivations is freeing. It enables you to focus on what’s truly important.
If you want to make this post actionable, list your motivations on a piece of paper or whiteboard.
Here are mine:
- Make money to support family.
- Keep wife & son happy.
- Become great at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Once you’d identified your motivations, let’s reverse engineer your life to achieve them.
Money. Free up as much spend as you need to achieve your motivations.
For example, I’ve invested $1,200 on a course to help me start my own business, spent several thousands on honey-do’s, and perhaps several thousands more on jiu jitsu training. My spending matches my motivations.
I’ve temporarily shifted money away from travel, nightlife, and clothing to help fund my motivations.
How can you best deploy your discretionary income to help you achieve your motivations?
Thoughts. Not much to do here. Your brain will focus on your primary motivations all by itself.
Time. Shift your calendar around to prioritize your true motivations. This could manifest itself in many different ways. Maybe you need to work from home a few days a week to free up commute time. Maybe you need to cut your meal prep time to spend more quality time with friends and loved ones (ahem…I can help with that if you signup below).
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Maybe you need to shift your working hours so you can attend a class.
My daily calendar generally looks like this:
- 6:30A to 9:00A – Make wife & son happy
- 9:00A to 11:30A – Make money
- 11:30A to 1:30P – Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
- 1:30P to 5:00P – Make money
- 5:00P to 7:00P – Make wife & son happy
My schedule aligns with my motivations. While it seems pretty straightforward in shorthand, I’m continuously tinkering to reduce commutes and free up as much time as possible to achieve my goals.
Any unscheduled time typically goes to friends, leisure, and other randomness.
How can you adjust your schedule to give yourself more time to focus on what’s truly important?
Once you’ve achieved your primary motivations, you’ll notice that other motivations flow in to fill the empty space.
For example, if income was a problem, but you find a great job or start a profitable side business, then your motivation to make money will slide into the background and something else will take it’s place.
If you were lonely, but found a great partner, you’ll be able to focus on other aspects of your life.
If your only motivation as a stay at home parent was to keep your babies happy & safe, then when they go to elementary school, you might have new motivations surface with your free time.
So, if you’re not currently motivated to lose weight, I wouldn’t worry. Address your other motivations first and then losing weight will become a higher priority.
Impatient and want to force the issue a bit? You might be able to summon a little short term motivation with these strategies.
5 Ways to Fake Motivate Yourself
There’s no substitute for intrinsic motivation. But occasionally you have to do some things you aren’t motivated to do.
- What if your doctor tells you it’s time to lose weight?
- What if you’re assigned an uninspiring project at work?
- What if your spouse expects you to do unfulfilling chores or house projects?
Intrinsic motivation can’t be manufactured in these situations, but could it be possible to summon a little extrinsic motivation to get you through the short-term? Can you fake it until you feel it?
Here are a few strategies I use to motivate myself when I feel intrinsic motivation might be lacking.
1 – Make it a competition. Drawing on inspiration from my youth, I often turn things into a competition as a form of short-term motivation.
I was not a huge reader growing up, but I remember reading a lot of books in elementary school to win a competition. I became a bookworm because if you read enough books by the end of the year, you’d win 2 free tickets to AstroWorld theme park — an absolutely mind-blowing prize for a 7-year old.
You can apply the same principles as an adult and create a competition for any activity which isn’t super motivating, but must be done.
A few things I believe to be important about using competition as motivation:
1 – “Winner take all” is more motivating than “everyone gets a ribbon.” Make sure the grand prize is big enough to really motivate people.
2 – The rules must be such that every competitor thinks he or she has a chance.
3 – Sometimes bragging rights are more important than prizes. Make sure there is a leaderboard where frontrunners & winners can be recognized.
For the weight loss challenge I recently hosted, the grand prize was two Roundtrip Airline Tickets. There were no finisher t-shirts.
Instead of basing the contest on pounds lost, which favors the largest contestants, I made it based on points earned, which favored contestants who closely followed the weight loss process I recommended. This meant every competitor had equal chance of winning.
I didn’t publish a leaderboard, but wish I had.
2 – Start a chat group for support & accountability. In the past, if you wanted support & accountability, you had to show up for in-person meetings. Now you can get it from your cell phone.
Just start a free chat group and add some people to it. I like the free app, GroupMe, for this.
For example, during the weight loss challenge, I created a GroupMe chat line w/ 10 other low carb dieters and we would post pictures of healthy meals and share our experiences and frustrations.
I can personally recall about 15 times where I made a better eating decision because I felt accountable to the people in that group.
This can be useful beyond weight loss.
For example, if you stay at home with kids and feel demotivated or frustrated by those responsibilities, maybe you create a chat group with other stay at home parents.
You could also use this in a work setting, like say if you’re assigned to a demotivating project. Just create a little chat group and add everyone on the project. It makes it a lot easier to stay motivated when you know that others are suffering too.
3 – Get a coach or boss or mentor.
If you’re at work, you already have this. And really, this is one of the few things bosses are good for: holding you accountable for things which you might not be intrinsically motivated to do.
If you’re doing something without motivation and without a boss, then hire someone who will hold you accountable and give you a swift kick in the rear-end when necessary.
Necessary qualifications for a good mentor / coach:
- Achieved what you want to achieve (observe, ask for referrals, ask for resume).
- Accessible through multiple channels – call, text, email and, if necessary, in person.
- Vested interest in your results. For example, if it’s weight loss coach, don’t pay full price unless you lose pounds. If it’s a strength coach, tie his bonuses to your max lifts. If it’s a business coach, pay him a lower fixed rate, but give him 1% of your revenue, etc.
- Demonstrates a good feel for when to pat you on the back and when to kick you in the ass (assess over the first month).
My most impressive business growth over the last 4 years happened when I was working with a mentor to grow my business. None of his advice was particularly mind blowing or revelatory, but reporting back to him daily kept me on task.
4 – Shorten the timeline. It’s easier to fake motivate yourself over shorter timelines.
For example, if you’re doing a diet, mentally commit to strict adherence for only 14 days and then plan to revisit your results.
If it’s a work project, ask your boss what’s the first / smallest milestone you can accomplish and send her for review.
For the weight loss challenge we did, I limited the Challenge to only 21 days and encouraged everyone to weigh in on day 14 and review their results to ensure they wanted to continue. This little checkpoint helps give proof that the diet is working and reinvigorates people who didn’t come in with a ton of intrinsic motivation.
5 – Pretend you’re stealing. This is a trick I use when I’m trying to stop doing something like eating sugary foods or playing on my cell phone for too long.
Instead of telling myself that I shouldn’t eat my wife & son’s treats because they are bad for ME, I tell myself that I shouldn’t eat the food because I’m stealing it from them.
Instead of telling myself that staring at my phone is bad for my well being, I tell myself that staring at my phone is stealing attention away from my wife & son.
I have always hated people who steal, so by reframing my bad habits as stealing from others, it helps me break the habit loop.
If you’re trying to determine whether or not you’re truly motivated to lose weight, put it through my 3-step test:
- Would you spend at least $100 per month to do it?
- Does it occupy your shower thoughts?
- Would you be OK with spending at least 1 hour a day on it?
If the answer is YES, then you’re sufficiently motivated to pursue it. Awesome.
If the answer is NO, you might need to fake motivate yourself to get it done. Some useful tactics to fake motivate yourself include:
- Turn it into a competition
- Start a chat group for support and accountability
- Get a coach or a mentor
- Shorten the timeline
- Pretend you’re stealing
What’s something you thought you were motivated to do but have realized you really aren’t? What’s something that you are motivated to do but haven’t correctly prioritized?
My hope is that this blog post has brought some clarity to those questions for you.
aka Mr. SkinnyPants