“The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do.”
You may recognize that as a Jack Sparrow quote from Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s amazing how such insight and wisdom can come from such unexpected places. And this applies to so many areas, but especially to weight management. The thing to keep in mind is this:
Whether you believe you can or whether you believe you can’t, you’re right.
When I first started doing weight management, I was struck by the fact that some individuals were incredibly successful in spite of the many obstacles in their path. Others had difficulty even getting past the first hurdle they ran into. This made me think: what’s different between these two kinds of patients and what can I do to make patients in the latter category successful?
There’s only one factor that makes any sense of this equation: motivation.
My highly successful patients are all highly motivated. They come to their appointments regularly, they implement what we talk about in those appointments and work constantly to make these things habits. On top of that, they continue to persevere even when they encounter (or start with!) obstacles in their path. As I tell each of my patients—weight management is not an easy process. It’s not quick. It takes work. And in the end, no matter the resources or opportunities you have available to you, you must have motivation to make it all work together.
So I’m sure you’re wondering, what can I do to get motivation? What even counts as motivation?
The answer is simple.
Your motivation is your “WHY?”
Why are you doing this? Why do you want to lose weight? If you can answer that question, you’ve found your motivation.
Now, motivation can be divided into two different types: extrinsic (or external) and intrinsic (or internal) motivation. If we’re applying this to weight management, an extrinsic motivator might be your doctor telling you that you need to lose weight. An intrinsic motivator would be wanting to manage your weight for your self confidence.
This may seem like a silly distinction—after all, why would it matter where your motivation was coming from? It turns out that it makes all the difference.
If you look up study after study that examines the link between motivation and achievement, internal motivation typically proves itself to be the “superior” type of motivation. In short, if someone is internally motivated to achieve a goal, they’re more likely to achieve it than individuals who are externally motivated.
I believe that the reason for this phenomenon boils down to something called locus of control. Locus of control is simply a fancy term to describe where a person believes “control” of their life lies. Someone with an external locus of control believes that outside forces drive their lives. Events happen to them. On the other hand, someone with an internal locus of control believes that they have control over their lives. They affect events, not the other way around.
In my experience, a person’s locus of control can vary across different areas of their life. Usually, the more competent and skilled someone is in an area, their locus of control in that area will probably be more internal. Think about it—to become skilled at something, you’d have to believe that you can improve, right? Otherwise it would all be down to fate.
In turn, it’s not too much of a stretch to see how an internal locus of control would relate to having internal motivation. They feed off of each other. If you believe you are in control of your improvement in an area then A. you will have the motivation to improve and B. when you improve, you take credit for that improvement which will then reinforce your motivation.
Let’s apply this to weight management. If you believe that your weight is under your control and influence, you will be motivated to take steps to manage your weight. When you take credit for what you’ve done, you’ll become more motivated. Again, it’s back to that self-reinforcing circle.
So I can already hear your next question: “But Dr. McGuire, what if I have an external locus of control with weight management? I do think that other factors affect my weight!”
Don’t worry—there are very few people out there that start the weight management process with an internal locus of control. This is not something that you have or you don’t. In fact, I believe that everyone can find that internal locus of control. And we’re going to go about finding that internal locus in a very backwards way.
By focusing on your external motivators.
But I just said earlier that internal motivation is more effective, right? Then why go about things this way?
We have to begin somewhere and starting with a significant amount of internal motivation, especially in weight management, is a rare phenomenon. But just about everyone can find extrinsic motivation for weight management. We’re then going to leverage that external motivation to build up your confidence in the area of weight management. As your confidence improves and as you see how you can positively impact your weight, your locus of control will become more internal and ultimately, you’ll find that source of internal motivation. It’s a natural progression.
So let’s talk about this week’s homework.
This week, I want you to figure out your external motivation. Who are you doing this for? What rewards do you have to gain by doing this? Both of these questions can start you off on this path. Grab a piece of paper and write them down. Really–you wouldn’t believe the impact that physically writing something out can have on your brain. And write down all of them. It doesn’t matter how small a motivator seems. Once you have that together, stop by next week for a discussion of how we start turning those external motivators into an internal locus of control.