People often assume that motivation is like money in the bank, you either have it or you don’t.

The truth is that motivation is a little more complex than that, both in its inherent nature, but also it’s presence.

Motivation can take a number of forms and vary, with financial success being a driving factor for one person and irrelevant to another. You could be incredibly motivated to eat well all day and then faced with an iced bun at lunchtime, postpone starting your healthy eating plan to the following day.

So why is that?

Behavioural psychologists have found that rather than being a constant force, motivation is both variable in intensity and situationally dependent. This is because conscious motivation is determined by your awareness of competing demands for your action, whereas subconscious and unconscious motivation are determined by your foundational principles.

To illustrate this, consider the example of Chris. Chris wants to lose about a stone and eats well on a daily basis, paying attention to not only the quality of food consumed, but also the amount. Overall caloric intake almost always comes in at a slight deficit.

However, Chris places a great deal of importance on spending time with friends, not only that, but really enjoying the social aspect of those interactions. As such, whenever Chris meets up with friends for food and/or drinks, healthy eating goes out of the window, because of a concern that restrictive or purposeful eating may interfere with the relaxed social focus of the event.

Hardliners may argue that the lapse in commitment indicates that Chris isn’t really that motivated, otherwise eating appropriately wouldn’t have been a problem. Others might argue that what happened was actually perfectly healthy and argue against food obsessiveness.

So what really happened?

Ultimately, Chris’s food choices were based on the fact that at that time, the nature of the social interaction was more important than the food plan. Unfortunately, in Chris’s mind, it’s an either/or situation. Either, have fun and chill out with friends, or stress people out with dieting demands. What Chris actually needed may be one of the following:

  • An exploration of the friends’ feelings about a goal specific set of eating behaviours (choice of venue, alcohol, shared dishes, etc.)
  • A set of strategies to mitigate the impact of the meal (have a large meal 2-3 hours before dining with friends, drink a pint of water with each course, follow the meal with a fast, etc.)
  • A more flexible approach to dining out

Regardless of the issue that prompted the blip in otherwise perfect behaviour, Chris is quite clearly motivated, but needs a little more freedom and guidance as to what to do with it.

The important thing when assessing or relying on motivation is to remember that it is rarely constant. For this reason, make sure that your goals are accompanied by strategies that help manage or mitigate problem situations or circumstances. In addition, remember that one trip won’t lose you the race; the main thing is to keep moving in the right direction, one step after another.