Boost your motivation by turning "challenge" into habit-what I've learned from Diabetes UK's #Swim22
Updated: Jul 25
Motivation is also commonly divided into:
EXTRINSIC – External drive eg money
INTRINSIC – Personal desire
INTROJECTED – Avoidance of guilt
IDENTIFIED – Needs to be done sometime
Challenge can get you started, intrinsic motivation turns it into habit
My coach said to me "What do you do for yourself?" I replied "Since starting the 'Swim22' challenge I've found out I quite like swimming." He then asked "Listen to yourself. Is there anything you do that isn't a 'challenge'?"
This left me reflecting for some time and I realised, very much like most things I enjoy now (especially relating to fitness - with the exception of dancing...but I think I like that because I'm quite good at it and I enjoy performing!!) - I'm happy I can do them, but I had to start them as a challenge...and I'm only just now making the transition from "But I'm still doing it to lose weight" to "Actually, I do this because I enjoy it! (sort of!).
Humans were not made for formal exercise...and because it was definitely not something my parents enjoyed (my dad played badminton competitively, my mum danced and played table tennis!!) I didn't have a childhood of walks, or cycles and so on.
But let's go back to this "formal exercise" point for a moment.
If you think about it, humans' survival used to rest on their ability to hunt and gather - there's a lot of exercise right there...as we evolved and developed ways of making life a lot more "comfortable", we might still feel exhausted - but, certainly in some professions, it's because we've spent all day exercising mentally rather than physically (our time and level of useful energy still remains finite, however they are distributed!) So formal exercise, on top of mental exhaustion isn't necessarily what we're keen to do - especially if we've not grown up with it...ie. it's a "habit".
But we have other drives - those driven by cognitive pursuits may well respond to taking up a sport if the opportunity is set as a challenge...it's a little competition (extrinsic motivation). Perhaps a health scare has meant that we are motivated because we simply need to do it (identified motivation). Or maybe we do things because we "should" (this is the drive I had mid way through the challenge ie. I don't feel like swimming, but I ought to go - introjected motivation). Then I'd actually add a personal one - the one that keeps me going to dance classes - my personality is such that I like showing off, even in an exercise class, because it's dance based I get to "perform"...just for myself (no-one else cares!!)
One thing you might notice, and you may see this in yourselves too - is that when we lost extrinsic drive, the other two - "I need to" and "I ought to" can keep us going that little bit longer.
But how do we keep motivation once the challenge is over?
This is probably the age-old diet question too...
Extrinsic motivation can run out
Intrinsic and Identified motivation can both cease when the goal is achieved
...and if there's no other driving force (I can't - or at least don't - "perform" swimming!!)...what is going to get me to the pool tomorrow? Especially when Introjected and Identified motivation...the two drives I "switched" to after my fundraising became quieter - are not particularly encouraging...in fact, they are guilt laden, and almost punishment based.
One option...sign up for another challenge (admittedly I'm guilty of this), BUT I'm going to frame things in a different way. I want to see if I can switch from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation (rather than identified or introjected by looking at all the benefits I gained through completing a challenge, and those I gained through the process!)
What have I gained by COMPLETING this challenge?
- Goal achievement: I've had a number of badges - which have certainly been a little dopamine boost
- I can post it on social media (likes - will get me more dopamine boosting) - but I can only do that once.
- I know if I say I'll do something - I work to get it done...even if I'm not enjoying it all the time
- I can say I've swum the distance - and did so faster than I thought I would
- I've had a lovely opportunity to raise money and awareness - Talking about the challenge while doing it has seemed to inspire others to take on their own fitness pursuits AND brought me into conversation with a number of people with Diabetes to learn their stories, as well as with the amazing work of DiabetesUK themselves.
What have I gained GENERALLY
- A bit like running 5k, I have noticed that I am very comfortable swimming, and I feel good having done it. I'm sometimes reluctant to get to the pool, BUT I miss it when I don't go.
- It's a really nice alternative to running/walking - and it has allowed me to build in resistance work without weights
- My core is stronger and I like that!!
- I have been invited to be in a triathlon relay team as the swimmer as well as to swim the Dart10 - these invitations came from people whose fitness I admired and always wondered "How do they do that?"...I guess I'll find out (and if you go back to the start of this blog, I have always opted for mental and emotional pursuits over physical ones (unless I could "perform" - so I danced and roller skated) - but I learned to Ski at 36, to run at 42, and this year - at 46 - is the first year I've swum regularly (head in water) not on holiday!! So I'm going to add - it's never too late to give something a go and get ok at it!
- What I really recognise is that it's not all about having the medal/t-shirt/goal on my Strava profile, but actually that going skiing, running and swimming are now things very much on my radar...they don't strike the fear of the unknown into my heart...I know what they are about and in some ways I've given myself the choice to do them if I want to.
There are benefits to both the challenge and the process - with the challenge goals feeling a little more finite eg: I'm someone who did that; but process-wise, I'm now someone who can say NO thanks - rather than someone who doesn't know they can do it at all!!
BUT this is about motivation - so when do I WANT to?
I think it's the last point that's key.
All the way through this challenge - because of the nature of it being long term (and knowing I couldn't "bash it out in a day") - I've had to keep consistent. Yes, perhaps that's part of forming new habits, for me it's certainly part of improving my ability. BUT generally I've fallen into "I have to go" and "I'll feel bad if I don't go", and maybe a little "and if I go I might get another badge"... Being able to say now - actually I don't NEED to go, in some ways makes me feel so much better about going. Contrary to putting me off, releasing the pressure on having to do something, has restored much of the pleasure I've found in the activity itself...intrinsic motivation. It's less to do with a "why" or a target, but much more about knowing - I feel good when I swim and I feel good after it too, so maybe I'll just go again because I like it!
So - perhaps there's a little more to moving from extrinsic, introjected and identified motivation to intrinsic...the others will all help, but only intrinsic, is really about working with your body and mind, and that comes through taking a moment to not just accept the achievement - but appreciate the process.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt