How to Identify Your Motivation Style—and Use It to Improve Your Health and Fitness

People are motivated by different things and in different ways; what motivates you could have zero effect on your partner, friend, or colleague—and vice versa. So, if you want to harness motivation to get things done (including becoming a healthier person!), you need what specifically motivates you and how you specifically are motivated.

But how, exactly, do you do that? Let’s take a look at how to identify your personal motivation style—and how to use it to improve your health and fitness:

What are the different motivation styles?

As mentioned, there are a variety of motivation styles, including:

Extrinsic motivation. “Extrinsic motivation comes from outside of us,” says sports and performance psychologist Dr. Haley Perlus. This means external factors—like external pressures or the desire for recognition, praise, or acceptance—are going to motivate you to take action. For example, if you’re trying to start a new running routine, you might be motivated by joining a running group; knowing that your new running buddies are waiting for you to go on a run can help you get motivated to lace up your shoes and hit the pavement.

Intrinsic motivation. On the other hand, “intrinsic motivation is when one is motivated by internal sources,” says Perlus. This means you inspire yourself to get things done—for example, you are driven by things that make you happy, make you feel good, you enjoy the challenge, or they align with your personal values.

So, if you have an intrinsic style and are trying to get into the habit of running, you might be motivated by how good you feel after a morning run. Just knowing how good you’re going to feel is enough to get you up and running when your alarm goes off.

Introjected motivation. Introjected motivation is similar to intrinsic motivation in that it comes from inside yourself—but it’s a different type of motivation. “Introjected motivation comes from within, but instead of doing tasks with pleasure or passion, it’s with the pressure to perform,” says Perlus.

This means you’re more likely to be motivated out of an internal pressure to achieve your goal, as well as a desire to avoid the guilt you’ll feel if you don’t complete it. You may have set a goal for yourself to complete a 10K by the end of the year—and the thought of not hitting that goal (and how terrible you’ll feel if you don’t hit it) is what’s most likely to motivate you to stick to a regular running schedule.

Identified motivation. One more motivation style worth noting is identified motivation—and it’s a bit different from the others. “Identified motivation is activated when a person knows that something needs to be done—but they have not decided to do anything about it,” says Perlus. “This powerful form of…motivation can prepare the person to act.”

This means you may have accepted that you want to start running, but aren’t quite ready to lace up your shoes and go. Instead, you harness your motivation to create a plan around becoming a regular runner. You might try researching potential running routes, finding the right running shoes for your feet, or looking into common running injuries and how to avoid them.

How to identify your motivation style…

If you need help identifying your personal motivation style, “the first step that you should take is to think about the most challenging situation you’ve experienced,” says Perlus.

Once you’ve identified a challenge you’ve experienced (and overcome), Perlus suggests asking yourself specific questions about how you were able to navigate that challenge, including:

How did the situation make you feel?
What brought you to how you were going to handle and resolve the conflict?
How did you overcome your conflict?

Once you’ve thought about how you overcome a major challenge, it’s time to switch gears and start thinking about your accomplishments. “Reflect on a few of your most significant accomplishments,” says Perlus.

Again, Perlus suggests digging into the “how” behind your accomplishments, including:

How were you able to achieve this?
How were you able to meet these set goals?
What motivated you to tackle such a goal?

Your answers to these questions should help you identify what motivates you to overcome challenging situations and hit your goals. “You can then use this knowledge to motivate you in the future while assessing what specific motivational style works for you,” says Perlus.

…and use it to improve your health and fitness

You know the different motivation styles. You know how to determine what motivates you and how you, specifically, are motivated—both to overcome challenges and to achieve your goals.

So how do you use that information to improve your health and fitness?

If you have an extrinsic motivation style, try enlisting an accountability partner. Knowing that there is someone else who is invested in your health and fitness—and checking in on your progress—can give you the boost of motivation you need to follow through on your health and fitness goals.

For example, you might have a weekly check-in with your accountability partner to talk about how you progressed towards your health and fitness goals the previous week—and what goals you’re working towards the following week. Or, you can make plans to meet your partner for workouts or other healthy activities.

If you have an intrinsic motivation style, make a list of what health and wellness practices make you feel the happiest. Try making a list of the health and wellness practices that make you feel like your healthiest, happiest self, as well as the benefits you receive from these practices.

You might love the endorphin rush you get after a challenging bike ride, the zen you feel after a yoga class, or how strong your body feels when you incorporate a variety of fruits and veggies in your diet.

Taking the time to write out this list will remind you of all of the benefits you reap from your health and wellness routine—and knowing how good you’re going to feel should give you the motivation you need to stick to your routine.

If you have an introjected motivation style, make a list of all the negative health outcomes you want to avoid. You may want to make a different kind of list—one of the negative health outcomes you want to avoid.

For example, your list might include items like “if I don’t stretch every day, I will have limited mobility and increased pain,” or “If I don’t run three times a week, I won’t be prepared for the half-marathon I signed up for—and will feel bad for not finishing a goal I set for myself.”

Focusing on the negative may not feel fun, but if you have an introjected motivation style, reminding yourself of how you’ll feel if you don’t hit your wellness goals or stick to your health and wellness routine can be the kick you need to take consistent action.

If you have an identified motivation style, start working on a health and wellness plan. Start researching what health and fitness activities might feel good to you. Do you want to start a regular strength training routine—or does training for a triathlon feel like a better challenge? Do you want to start learning how to cook healthier food choices for you and your family—or does enlisting the help of a nutritionist or meal planner feel like it would be easier?

Once you’ve identified some changes you want to make to your health and fitness routine, start researching how you can make those changes a reality. Once your plan starts to come together, you’ll find the motivation to move from identifying what needs to change to actually being ready to make those changes for yourself.

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