Written by Dr Lynette Mackey, Dietitian and Behavioural Change Consultant to the LifeShape Clinic.

Previously we talked about taking committed action. Taking committed action requires motivation. When you’re motivated, it’s easy to maintain your commitment and keep your goals in mind; when you lose motivation it’s harder. The motivation to strive towards one’s goals is typically lost when the effort that’s required to reach the goal is subjectively perceived to be too great and no longer worth the investment.

Searching for Motivation

As previously discussed, we are wired to approach pleasure and avoid pain. As far as the reactive brain is concerned, effort is the equivalent of pain, so why are you going to take committed action, and more importantly, do what it takes when the going gets tough and it’s easier to give up?

Many individuals pin their motivation to the number they wish to achieve on the scale. If this is true for you, I would like to challenge you to think beyond this level of motivation. Why? Because, evidence shows that when motivation is lost, individuals revert back to their habitual behaviours and regain their lost weight, irrespective of their weight loss goal.

When is motivation lost and why won’t that number on the scale motivate you? Motivation can be lost during the experience of:

  • stress,
  • distraction,
  • boredom,
  • fatigue,
  • depletion,
  • anxiety,
  • depression,
  • excitement
  • And other high levels of positive emotion, or intoxication.

Think back to the last time you gave up on your resolve to eat healthfully. Was it during the experience of any of these states? What happened to your motivation? This example clearly shows that the thought of achieving a certain number on the scale did not act as a source of motivation at the time.

Maintaining Motivation through Values

So how do you maintain motivation? Additionally, what other sources of motivation are available to you? The clinicians at the LifeShape Clinic would like to encourage you to consider consciously using your values as a source of motivation to dig deep and do what it takes, especially when the going gets tough or when you want to kick back, extend the pleasure and just cruise. Values? What are values? And how can they be used to assist you to achieve a healthy weight?

At the most basic level, values are our fundamental beliefs that motivate or guide our actions and attitudes. They help us to conduct ourselves in a manner that we personally determine to be “good”, “desirable” or “worthwhile”.

Ultimately, the values you choose to embody, or aspire to, are qualities that describe your “best version of yourself”. You can gain a sense of your values through the way you treat yourself, others and the world around you. If you are unsure of your values, please ask the clinicians at your next appointment to help you to clarify them!

Values can be used to assist your weight management efforts, because they are capable of motivating and inspiring you to adopt purposeful attitudes and behaviours. They are capable of doing this because research has shown that when we recall and then choose to act in line with our personal values, even when times are tough, we feel invigorated, energized and satisfied. Therefore actively recalling and then acting in line with your values, at your “choice point”, will make it easier for you to do what is going to help rather than hinder your weight management efforts.

Rewards for Acting in line with Values

Why do we feel so motivated when we make the effort to act in line with our values? We feel motivated because there are reward centres in our brain that receive a burst of a rewarding chemical called dopamine, when we do so.

This is why we feel so great when we do whatever is our “right thing” to do. For example if you valued being an honest person – you would feel great if you returned a dropped wallet to its rightful owner, even if you really needed the money. That great feeling is transmitted via dopamine. It is also why you would feel terrible if you decided to keep the wallet. By deciding to keep the wallet, when you value honesty, you don’t act according to your values and your reward centres don’t receive a dopamine burst.

The lack of reward is effectively an “error signal” that is experienced as a feeling of discomfort. The discomfort is a signal that you are off target and not acting in your best interests. Subsequently, if you don’t act according to your values, it’s hard to feel content and satisfied.

Similarly to the above, the value of being loving or caring will motivate an exhausted Mum or Dad to get out of bed to tend a sick child, even when they would rather sleep. It is also why some courageous, committed, responsible, supportive and caring individuals kept their neighbour’s houses safe, but lost their own homes in the recent, terrible bushfires. Positively lived values embody some of our greatest qualities. They showcase our capacity to be incredible human beings who are capable of doing amazing things, at some of the worst times.

Values and Weight Management

How do the reactive and responsive parts of our brain fit into this picture when you are deciding not to make your usual habitual, unhealthy choice?

By consciously recalling your values, and choosing to act on them, you achieve three things.

  1. You switch your responsive brain on.
  2. You slow your reactive brain down and allow your responsive brain to catch up.
  3. You provide yourself with a burst of motivation to choose a behaviour that is going to take you in a valued as opposed to an unhelpful, habitual direction.

When you undertake these 3 steps, you strengthen your capacity to interrupt your old unhelpful behaviours and discover your best way to change your behaviour. Through these actions, you strengthen your responsive and weaken your reactive brain!

The LifeShape clinic hopes that this article has helped you to see that you are already practised at digging deep and rolling up your sleeves, when required. So rather than reinventing the wheel, how about reorienting your behaviours to ensure that at your choice point you choose a values based action that is aligned with your best self? By learning how to align your eating and exercise choices with your values, you will find your best way to achieve the weight loss you desire.

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to change the way you gauge your weight management success. Ask the LifeShape clinicians to help you learn how to enjoy the rewarding experiences that come with consciously striving to take values-based actions that are aligned with your best version of yourself. The fabulous irony is that the only loss to you will be the weight on the scale!