When looking for motivation, sometimes you have to look beyond yourself

In my former life as a martial artist, I encountered a number of women in self-defense classes who said that they could never hurt anyone and that in response to any form of brutality, they’d rather be hurt than hurt someone else.  The instructor’s response to this selfless position was to always ask the student if there was someone else they could think of who might also be harmed if the non-combatant student were harmed.  A child?  A parent?  A puppy waiting at home?  If the student was not willing to defend herself, she was asked to look for sufficient reason outside herself to spur her to action.

Off the mat, behavior theorists tell us of course, that this is not the generally accepted norm for motivating behavior.  In general, we agree that we cannot lose weight, for example, for someone else; we have to do it for ourselves.  The motivation must be intrinsic. While I don’t dispute this basic motivational principle, I have found that at times, it very much works for me to look beyond myself for a little motivational activation energy.

Recently, I’ve been asking myself why I can’t seem to sustain an exercise program since I know all the benefits of regular exercise…and I can’t seem to eat as well as I say I want to, because…Well, there is no good ‘because.’   So, recognizing that I need to look beyond myself for a catalyst, I’ve made the following agreements with myself, supported by the opportunity to do something meaningful to help my community at the same time.

  • I’m going to run the local 5k Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning again this year.  That’s a charitable event having an entry fee designated to underwrite activities at one of the local schools in town. Given that I am going to run that event in just five weeks, I have got to consistently get on the road – or at least the treadmill – -four times a week.  Starting now. The goal this year is to run the whole event; no walking.  If (ok when!) I do it, I’ll make an extra cash donation in the amount of three X (that’s a “turkey” for you non-bowlers.  Get it?) the race entry fee to the sponsoring school. I will inform the race coordinator in an attempt to challenge others to do the same.
  • I have a special evening coming up in NYC in two weeks.  There will be trim and attractive people there from my husband’s circle of friends.  So as not to look like I just got off the train from the country, I’ve bought a new dress.  However, said dress will look MUCH, MUCH better if I stop slathering ice cream and potato chips over my hips and thighs.  Since my hips only like the best, richest ice cream in the land (Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, as if you didn’t know), I’ll save a pretty penny when I stop eating it for the next three to six weeks.   I will donate that cash – and the accompanying contribution from my foregone bag of Lays – to the local food shelf.
  • I am going to stop the well-meaning cycle of buying excessive  fresh produce– and then subsequently throwing out the same now, rotting, uneaten produce.  I am electing my husband to do the shopping, every other day, with the agreement that we are only going to buy what we plan to eat in the following two days.  Since neither of us would have any idea who would do any cooking, we’ll agree to buy only consume-as-is produce.  I will commit to eat this fresh produce, and the extra money we save with these limited purchases will also go to the local food shelf.

It’s a beginning.  To get going, I need only brush the potato chip crumbs from my soon-to-be-shrinking lap.  I’ll look for similar moving/giving/uneating opportunities on the way to Christmas. By the time 2012 ends, I’ll have a running start to a disciplined new year – - encouraged by my community.  With any luck, they are soon going to also care about the size of my hips!