Don’t use fear as a motivator

It’s Fall – when we strive to prevent falls

It’s officially Fall according to the calendar, and my reminder to focus on my balance exercises. It’s an unkind fact – as we get older we not only gain more wisdom (that’s a good thing), we also lose things. Like our eyesight, our hearing, our hair (for some), our bone density, and our sense of balance. Falls are a primary cause of sending us seniors to the hospital. And once we’ve fallen, we live in fear of falling again. We may not be able to do much about our eyesight and hearing, but we can work to improve our balance. Fear of falling is a powerful nudge to get us working on our balance, but don’t use fear as a motivator.

Negative motivators are powerful

Fear has been called the most powerful motivator to get us to do something. And it certainly works. For a while. But we become fatigued. We can’t live in fear day in and day out. It’s not enough to be afraid of falling to get us to do the simple balance exercises. Fear tends to paralyze us. And if we don’t fall one day, or two, or a week, then we lose the motivation. We’re still afraid of falling, because the memory is there, but it’s no longer so powerful.

I learned a lot about aging

I started my balance journey a number of years ago after I fell and injured my knee and hips. It’s true that knowing our balance diminishes is often not enough to get us to work on it, though. In fact, I didn’t know about that aspect of aging until I started doing some research. I didn’t like the fact that losing balance is a natural part of aging, so I decided to see if there was something to do about it. Happily, I also learned that simple exercises (you can do the Core-Centered Balance Moves too) can help us regain the balance we’ve lost over time. This is a long-term prospect. Much like general exercises for the rest of our bodies, the benefits are lost if we don’t do them and they’re cumulative if we keep on doing the exercises. So we need additional motivation to keep us working on our balance.

Negative motivators are exhausting

But fear is a negative motivator, which never works as well as positive ones over time. Negative motivators are tiring. They’re unsustainable. Negative motivators work really well in the short term – like making you hurry if you’re late to an appointment and fear the consequences. Negative motivators are great at getting you to avoid doing things – like going out of your house if you’re afraid of falling. Positive motivators work much better in the long run at helping you to take action. You’ll want to go places and visit friends and family if you’re confident that you can do so safely. You’ll be able to bounce back and be more resilient if you’re confident in your independence.

So don’t use fear as a motivator to practice your balance moves. Instead, think of the confidence you’ll gain by your improved balance. You can step out of your door with confidence. You’ll revel in your independence. You’ll know that even if you do step on uneven pavement, the Inline Walking exercise that you do every week (yes, I know it looks and feels weird) will help you keep your balance. 

It’s just two minutes a day. Practice your balance. Be confident.

Third type of motivation

A while ago I told you about 2 kinds of motivation – extrinsic and intrinsic. External and internal motivation – your motivation is fueled by outer forces, or you’re motivated because you enjoy the project. But, that doesn’t explain how people who do not like to exercise still get up, change their shoes and work out five days a week. The benefits of exercise don’t matter. When it comes to doing a bunch of burpees and getting hot and sweaty, I don’t care if this will help me remember things. I’d rather do a Sudoku puzzle. My heart is fine, thank you. My healthy aging? Doing great, thanks. And as long as I can zip my jeans, my weight is good.

What makes mundane tasks more motivating?

So here’s where the third type of motivation comes in. The Harvard Business Review did a study on how to make even the most mundane tasks more motivating. And you might be surprised at the results.

Do it for others

Do it for others. You’re part of a team. When you exercise, you make an investment in yourself. Your family needs and depends on you. You exercise for them. And that’s the third type of motivation. The motivation that inspires you to go above and beyond what you think you’re capable of. The thing that makes you push beyond what you thought were your boundaries. You can achieve more than you ever thought possible when you do things for the people in your life who you love, and who love you.

Your secret weapon

The third type of motivation goes much further than intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. This motivation brings in a secret weapon – other people. You can use these other people as your exercise team. Some people are able to sustain exercise when they do it with others, either as part of a group class or an accountability group. When I took group step classes, for example, I was able to forget how out of breath I was. The music and cheering of others lifted me up and kept me going. My classmates, or my team, motivated me to continue stepping, jumping, and lunging past the point where I might have stopped.

Your accountability team can also keep you going. If you have a group that checks in with each other once a day, for example, you know that you’re going to have to tell them that you worked out for a half hour or 45 minutes, or an hour. Or you have to tell them that you wussed out and didn’t exercise. Most times peer pressure motivates us to do the thing we really don’t want to do.

If you really like to exercise – great! Do it. If the benefits you get from exercise motivate you to work out, that’s good too. But if these types of motivation just aren’t doing it for you, you can rely on the third type of motivation to get you up and moving. Exercise for others.

The Rewards you Get

COVID takes your brain to interesting places. You’re sitting there and trying to focus, and your brain takes a detour down a rabbit hole. The other day I was thinking about positive reinforcement training and rewards. In my other life, I’m a dog trainer, using positive methods, and lots of rewards. So I thought, what’s different about people and motivation – people deserve great rewards when we do awesome stuff, just like our dogs do! Motivation and reward have to be linked, or I wouldn’t get things done.

Rewards in Positive Reinforcement Dog training

When I’m training my dogs, I reward things I like. That has the effect of the dogs doing that thing I liked more, so they get more rewards. Motivation and reward are linked. We say, “What gets rewarded gets repeated.” If the reward is a high value treat, my dogs want more of it. They think, “How can I get more of that yummy cheese?” Pause a moment. “Oh yeah. I was sitting.” They probably don’t use words, but I can imagine the thought process goes like that.

Rewards for Humans

When it comes down to it, people like rewards too. Our rewards might take a different form – less cheese, perhaps, and more chocolate, but cheese is good too. I have a feeling that we often disregard the “Reward” part that comes after we complete an item on our “To Do” List. And, yet, to keep us motivated, the reward plays an important part. I always say that we should celebrate every small victory! Every step toward a goal’s completion deserves a reward. Incidentally, achieving goals is also great for our optimism and our resilience. 

Enlightened self-interest

Exercise shouldn't hurt, but if the reward for doing it isn't motivating, make it hurt not to.

Enlightened self-interest is what makes the world go around. If I don’t want to do something, I’m not going to do it unless I have a very good reason to do it. Like exercise. If I were just starting an exercise program, I’d need really good rewards to make me change into workout gear and get all out of breath and sweaty. But if I promise myself that I’ll get a new top if I stick to my program for a solid week, then I’ll stick with it.

Hierarchy of rewards

But not every reward is the same. Just like I do for my dogs, we should have a hierarchy of rewards for us. For a dog, kibble is at the low end of the hierarchy and hot dog may be at the high end. For us? Perhaps taking a five-minute breathing break is at the low end of the reward spectrum, and a new set of colored gel pens at the high.

Or if the task is more difficult, then a new pair of shoes may qualify as a high-end reward. As a reward, that pair of shoes carries much more value than a 5-minute break, so the task it’s rewarded for must be more difficult or time-consuming. Pair the reward with the task. And make sure that the reward is something you really want. You won’t be motivated to perform the task by that reward if you don’t care if you receive it or not!

Don’t wait until it’s finished for a reward

You may think that the carrot dangling on the end of the stick will see that task done to completion. But research has shown that a reward given when a task is started helps to keep us working. If we like the reward, then we have a positive association between it and the task, and it keeps us going. And this immediate reward doesn’t have to be big, either. The study showed that smaller, more frequent rewards had a bigger influence on a person’s motivation to complete a task than a bigger reward when the task was complete. The person’s mindset was changed to continue the task even for a smaller reward.

Motivation and rewards are linked – so make sure you’re clear on what your reward is for performing a task. Make sure the reward is something you actually want. And rewarding yourself for starting a project may just keep you going through to the end.

Motivation when you’re sick

During the height of the pandemic, most of us were vigilant about wearing masks and keeping social distance. Now, three years later, most of us have relaxed our vigilance. We’ve been vaccinated and boosted, and since the virus didn’t greatly impact us, we didn’t think about taking precautions when in a large gathering. And now it’s come back on me. I was at an Agility trial this last weekend, along with over a hundred other people (and their dogs). And now I tested positive and have mild symptoms. I don’t feel all that bad as I’m writing this, but I don’t feel that great either. Working holds no appeal at the moment, and if this article is not up to my usual standards, I apologize. So, how do you maintain your motivation when you’re sick?

Focus on one thing

When you’re sick, focus on one thing to accomplish. Any more than that and you’ll be overwhelmed and end up not getting anything done. So, figure out the most important thing you want to get done. Then, since your brain might not be working at its usual high level, think about how to start that task. Write it down. Motivation when you’re sick requires much more detail than at other times. When you’re well, once you start many tasks, the steps become a natural progression. But when you’re sick, those steps may not be clear. So write the steps down. Writing those steps down will change your mindset from planning to doing.

Do it

Then buckle down and do it. Motivation when you’re sick requires that you stay focused. Your thoughts may want to scatter in different directions, so it’s important that if you want to get things done, you reign in those thoughts and stay focused. This is not easy. I currently have eighteen tabs open in various browser windows. But I set the task of writing this article for myself. And I will finish it! 

It’s not easy to maintain motivation sometimes, even when you’re feeling well. But when you’re sick, it’s even more difficult. So just try to get one task accomplished. See how you feel when it’s done. If you’re feeling good after that, move to the next item on your list. Last week I had some tips to maintain motivation, and one was celebrate the smallest victory. That applies here. Finishing anything when you’re ill deserves a celebration!

Things to remember if you’re sick

Meanwhile, things to remember if you are sick with COVID and are treating yourself at home (from the Mayo Clinic) – get lots of rest, drink plenty of water, throw those tissues away and wash your hands a lot. If you can, isolate yourself from the rest of the people in your household. And if your symptoms get worse, see a health professional.

Motivation tips for anything

I recently read an article that had motivation tips that were fashioned for weight loss. But any project, whether it’s short- or long-term, needs the proper motivation to see it through to the end. So here are motivation tips for anything.

Motivation to finish a knitting project

Like knitting a sweater. To me, the fun part is knitting all the pieces. But then I really need strong motivation to put those pieces together.  My mom was great at finishing knitted projects. I’d love to do the knitting part, but then I would sew them together and my sweaters would look homemade. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with homemade projects, of course, but my mom’s would look totally professional. I knew that my sweaters wouldn’t look fantastic, so I’d procrastinate until it was summer and I didn’t need a new sweater.

Remember why you started

Obviously I was not motivated to finish that sweater. On the other hand, if the knitted pieces were so gorgeous that I couldn’t wait to wear the sweater, I would have to finish the thing. Every evening I would picture myself wearing the sweater, its softness, how it would drape just perfectly, and keep me toasty warm. And I would pick up the pieces, pin them carefully together, and sew the sweater together. That’s “remembering your ‘why.’”

For weight loss, remembering your ‘why’ is different for every person who wants to lose weight. If you have a trip planned and you want to do a lot of walking, you want to be in the best shape you can be so you can see all the sights. And you know that if you’re at a lean weight, your endurance will be so much better. 

Focus on the fun

Another motivation tip for anything is to focus on the fun. For weight loss and getting fit, the process is always more sustainable when your workouts are fun. If you’re having fun when you exercise, you’ll want to lace up your sneakers. You’ll want to move to the great music in the workout. Or perhaps the moves themselves make you want to do them more. Exercise won’t be a chore, it’s something you have fun doing. You can apply this to anything else you have to do. Find the fun in the project. Even if the project itself is mundane, perhaps use different colored pens to spark your interest. 

Celebrate even the smallest victory

Renegade row - one of the killer moves in Saturday's workout

When the going gets tough, focus on your victories. And for some projects, the smallest victories are the ones that excite you the most. Because those wins are indicators that you are succeeding. If your goal is to do 10 regular pushups when you couldn’t do a single one to start, then completing 2 with great form is time for a celebration.

Celebrate your wins. And your wins will fuel your happiness, and your resilience. You’ll want to keep going for more wins.

More tips in the “Get Up, Get Moving, Get It Done” Guide

When you have things you want to get done, projects you want completed or simply chores to complete, you need the proper motivation. If you’re unsure of your motivation, download the “Get It Done” Guide. It has motivation tips for anything.

When you keep finding other things to do rather than the project you have to finish – you keep procrastinating, download the “Get it Done” Guide.

The Guide is filled with ideas to keep you on the straight-and-narrow to get that stuff done. It give you actionable steps to follow to stay motivated and complete projects.

It will also help you identify time-wasters that prevent you from finishing projects.

The Guide even has a worksheet to get you started on completing the things you want to get done.