Motivation vs Momentum

Motivation is fickle.  It’s unreliable.  Yes, it can be sexy and dramatic and impressive – and it may show up out of the clear blue some days, but it’s not the way that human beings make long-term changes.  Motivation is like an Instagram post – fleeting and easily forgotten once your brain moves on to something else.

Momentum, however, is a completely different beast.  Momentum is something that grows over time.  It’s not fleeting or sexy or dramatic, but it’s a great way to move mountains.  And because it’s long-term, momentum is much more reliable and forgiving than motivation.  

Think about a little boy on a swing set.  He loves swinging, but his little feet don’t reach the ground.  He has two options to get going.

Option one is to call for help.  Someone comes and gives him a big push, which gets him swinging back and forth for a few minutes.  He has a ball, but eventually, he’s back to sitting there, feet dangling, not moving.  If he hollers again, he may get another push – then another – then another.  The swinging is sporadic.  Fun, but not predictable.  This is motivation.

Option two is to get going himself.  This isn’t easy – he has to work really hard, pumping his little legs like mad to get himself to start swinging.  After some initial work, he gets himself swinging.  Slowly at first, but he keeps pumping those legs and builds momentum.  Eventually, he is soaring forward and back.  He still has to keep pumping his legs periodically, but once he has momentum, he doesn’t have to do it every single pass.  He can enjoy the swinging sometimes – simply closing his eyes and throwing his head back.  Eventually, the periodic pumping will begin to feel natural, and he won’t even have to think about it. If he stops pumping for long enough, he will slow down.  If he doesn’t pay attention (or ignores it altogether), he will eventually end up at a complete standstill.

In a perfect world, the little boy gets a big push, which gets him swinging right away, then he begins pumping his legs to keep him swinging.  However, if he’s never been taught how to swing his legs, it’s not going to happen.  

Let’s apply this to weight loss.  After all, you are reading this on an Obesity Medicine website!  Most of us want to swing.  We want to lose weight and/or improve our health.  However, most of the time, we wait for a burst of motivation.  We wait for a big push.  When it comes, we get a big, impressive start – clearing out the pantry or buying a weeks’ worth of healthy foods or joining a program.  However, fairly quickly, the motivation wanes and we are back to square one, wondering where all of that energy and enthusiasm went.

Rather than sitting on the swing, waiting for another push of motivation, we need to start thinking about how to develop momentum.  We have to figure out how to move our legs the right way and do it.  Yes, it’s difficult at first, but it gets easier with time.  And once we are doing it – once we are soaring – we have to keep doing it over and over again.  Not every single moment of every single day – but we have to keep at it.  

If we can channel the two together and do it right, the process is easier.  That’s what we try to do in our office.  Motivation usually sends people in the door – which is great.  If we can work on momentum while we are riding the wave of motivation, we can make the swinging easier.  Medications, supplements, counseling, and nutrition (especially nutrition!) are essentially the momentum.  Patients that do the work of learning and harnessing the momentum, and deploying it over and over again, are the ones that see huge changes in their long-term weight and health.  

As yourself two questions:

  1. Which one are you focused on: motivation or momentum?
  2. Is it helping you?

If you need help, you know where to find me.  I work with a great team of people that live and love this stuff every – single – day.  If you need help with the momentum part, come chat with one of us!

Courtney Younglove, M.D.

ATTENTION LAWRENCE PATIENTS: 18th Street is closed at Wakarusa until further notice due to construction. You can access our parking lot via Research Parkway and Research Park Drive. Expect traffic delays and make sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to our office.
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