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The Psychology of Wellness

Why motivation is only part of the story when it comes to resolutions

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The Psychology of Wellness

It’s 9 pm on a rainy September night. Headlamp on, Mike Hugo is doing a 10 km run. It’s been a long day, but the 100 km ultramarathon he signed up for is coming up and preparedness matters. “I signed up to challenge myself and for the opportunity to do better this time,” says Hugo, who has participated in similar races and learned from each.

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Motivation is not the whole story

Hugo has learned that, just like with New Year’s resolutions, results depend on more than good intentions. If you dread talking about New Year’s resolutions for fear of failing, you’re not alone. Reluctant or not, we set our minds on new goals anyway because it’s in us to seek personal growth and well-being, and the occasional challenge too. Some say all we need is motivation.

“Motivation works when all conditions are aligned,” says Hugo, “but you need to dig deeper when the going gets tough.” Said another way, motivation is only part of the story. What carries us through challenges is finding the why.

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Fill in the details

“In order for our motivation to be a catalyst for personal goals, it’s critical to understand why what we want is meaningful to us,” says Jocelyn Gordon, a certified life coach based in Kamloops, BC.

“Motivation is vital and is also complicated,” says Gordon. It comes in two flavours: extrinsic and intrinsic. The first is fuelled by external values, or involves doing something because you desire a “separable outcome” (for example, wanting to win a race to receive a reward versus being motivated from within to see what your body can do), which could work well for a short time but may not be sustainable long term. Once the goal is reached, motivation can wane.

Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is fuelled by having found your why, which can provide a better foundation. However, we need to “feed” that motivation, and that’s where habits come in.

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Reality check

Before we start on habits, let’s acknowledge the critter that gets in the way: procrastination. We can all succumb to it.

“We procrastinate because it’s easy and more pleasurable in the moment,” says Gordon. “We’re creatures of habit, and we want things to be easy.”

It’s not only about willpower, though, which many opine is a dwindling resource. Whether it’s a fitness goal, time management, or changing your lifestyle for better health, you must consider hurdles too—and procrastination is one of them.

Having a strategy helps. “Start small; start with one habit,” says Gordon. “Keep the bigger goal in mind but focus on being consistent with small daily actions.”

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Mindset and preparation

You know why you want it and you’re ready to go. But don’t go unprepared. “I looked up resources to get the low-hanging fruit, such as gear, for example, and I went over the mistakes from previous races,” says Hugo. He decided on must-have items, and committed to a training schedule, weather notwithstanding.

Another way is to keep a journal or share our ups and down with close friends, which can help us establish accountability.

A daily visual of your progress can be a catalyst for positive discipline. Add a daily checkmark to a wall calendar and strive to keep it going. “It’s like building your path forward one brick at a time,” says Gordon. “When you miss a day, or a few, just come back to the next brick.”

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Ditch perfectionism

We use the word too often and without a second thought. Perfect can mean great, outstanding, or amazing, or it can be a bitter reminder.

“At the seed of perfectionism is feeling like you’re not enough: not thin enough, tidy enough, strong enough, or smart enough,” says Gordon. “That comes with a lot of negative self-talk too.” Being firm with ourselves allows us to go through fear and discomfort—but doing so with appreciation for past accomplishments is empowering and self-sustaining.

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The gut connection

When we’re happy, we’re more likely to get things done and maintain good habits. Happiness, of course, sounds elusive, but the connection between serotonin and mood is real. More than 90 percent of serotonin is made in the gut. However, the production of the “happiness hormone” depends on having a healthy population of gut bacteria.

Mood disorders, as well as digestive issues, are often associated with the presence of pro-inflammatory bacteria. Adopting a mostly plant-based diet that includes plenty of fibre and polyphenols, as well as consuming fermented foods regularly, encourages the good gut bugs to thrive and work their mood- and health-boosting magic.

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Bottom line

Our resolutions, whether made at New Year’s or any time of year, do not have to end up unfulfilled. When we align our goals with our values and pursue them from a place of loving ourselves, we find the resources to make it happen.

Forgive yourself when you fail

We don’t chastise our children for failing at something, because failures are learning opportunities. Do the same for yourself. Employ forgiveness instead of judgment; assess what went wrong and find solutions. After all, it’s not a race; it’s a journey of learning and growth.

Positive thought-boosting supplements

lemon balm may help reduce stress and anxiety and improve mood and cognition
valerian root has demonstrated support for sleep and for reducing anxiety
reishi has antioxidant properties; may lower blood pressure and improve memory
lion’s mane has been shown to improve memory and cognition
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) may help induce sleep
zinc supports proper brain function
omega-3s can help reduce inflammation and helps with depression

Did you know?

  • The most popular New Year’s resolutions are health oriented.
  • Taking baby steps, rather than leaps, increases the chances of success.
  • Good quality sleep can boost your commitment to new resolutions.

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