There is one source of information we receive that is intended to motivate, but creates a slow, invisible leak of our motivation. It starts the moment we are born with What a good baby, and continues in school, Why did you get such bad grades this year? It is infused into popular media with good guys and bad guys, and into our efforts to be healthy and well, You are being so good by going to the gym or I was so bad this weekend, just vegged out on the couch.
We like categories. They make life simpler. The fact is, when we determine something is good, or bad, we are judging it. Yes, even “being good” is a judgement. When we are “being good”, it feels good. Your brain gets rewards from the kudos. Your self-esteem is boosted … temporarily.
Have you ever felt paralyzed by fear of failure? Or the opposite, paralyzed by fear of losing success? I see this all the time when someone reaches a goal weight. They live with the fear of “going back”. The slightest bump in weight will trigger panic. There is always a little voice inside saying “what if you can’t keep this up? What if you start being bad again?”
Judgment automatically triggers that fight, flight, freeze response in our body-brain. This is why it limits our capacity for lasting change. It suppresses all the skills we need to sustain motivation through the ups and downs of life—creativity, confidence, problem solving, and memory. Judgment, negative or positive, keeps your motivation dependent of outside forces. Your success is determined by the judgments of someone else, or society as a whole. This is a really sneaky way we outsource motivation.
We might need this categorizing of behaviors in some aspects of society, but when it comes to taking care of ourselves, it distances us from what is most important to us, our internal motives. Over time, this drains our sense of self worth and our confidence we can stay motivated. Like criticism, trying to be good works only temporarily. It turns out you can be either good, or bad, or you can be motivated.
Let’s lose this merit-based system of motivation. Instead, build your choice to exercise on the foundation that you are already whole. You don’t need to be “an exerciser” to prove that. Knowing you are okay, whether you exercise or not, gives you a much better chance of repeatedly choosing to exercise for self-care.