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Motivation, Self-care and the Holiday Weekend

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June 30, 2016

By Joel Kreisberg, DC, ACC

With the holiday weekend approaching and the excitement of travel and friends, a quick primer to keep one motivated might help you enjoy the barbecues, picnics and holiday gathering without waking up on Tuesday feeling guily, bloated, and wondering how you gained so much weight. My own quest to better understand my compulsion to overeat sweets lead me to better understand motivation. Our hope is that a brief update on motivation just might be the ticket to a weekend of good food AND self-care! Let’s look at the work of Daniel Pink, especially his book Drive. Though Pink’s book focuses on a business context, his science helps us upgrade our thinking about promoting health in our personal and professional lives. Let’s look inside.

Science suggests there are three essential elements to Motivation 3.0: 1) Autonomy – the ability to direct our own lives; 2) Mastery – our ability to get better at a skill such that we achieve a clear sense of successful flow; and 3) Purpose – to have a clear sense of why our work matters. How does this work for motivating optimal healing?

Let’s look at the family barbecue. Why do we love to offer so many high fat foods and so many sweets? Is it that we want get stuffed on these foods ourselves? Or perhaps we like to share our feelings of abundance with our friends and family. We are certainly not thinking of physical health or the challenges of our family members having to work to control weight. We are definitely interested in love, feelings of satisfaction, and connection—all intrinsically motivated. Trouble is, next Tuesday some of our family members will have to return to a restricted food regimen, which for many is a extrinsically motivated.

Medical advice from physicians to public health officials offer absolutes: don’t smoke, eat a low fat diet, get 30 minutes of exercise three times a week or sleep eight hours each night. Trouble is, this has little how are actually living our lives. Yes, in an ideal world, we would do all of these activities, but my life doesn’t work that way. How about yours? Autonomy is increased by learning the difference between intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is to act for the inherent satisfaction of doing the activity. Extrinsic motivation is action in order to obtain the outcome—completion. Losing weight because 30% body fat is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and diabetes is relying on extrinsic motivation. In Pink’s Motivation 3.0, intrinsic motivation is key. This could begin with mindfulness, learning to attend to our experience—how we feel. Can I feel the love and the connection with my family, still have a great time, and not overeat? Connecting with internal motivation helps us choose fulfilling experiences that are satisfying and fulfilling. Intrinsic motivation supports healthy autonomy.

Mastery comes from regular engagement. Counter to the quick paced world of easy access to information and media, mastery occurs when countless hours are spent engaged in an activity of choice. I’ve always appreciated George Leonard’s definition of Mastery: “The process where what was difficult becomes easier, a life-long commitment to hone your skills, realizing that the ultimate goal is the path to mastery itself, and practicing, even when you seem to be getting nowhere.” Unpacking this, one can see how this relates to motivation – when I choose to master something (autonomy) and I stick with it, I’ll come to know myself as I learn the skills. The learning is just as key as reaching the goal. For our July 4th picnic, somatic practice begins with noticing when we are full. This requires pausing, taking a few breaths, and sensing our belly and asking the question; Am I full? Starting at the picnic may be challenging so perhaps this is a skill to master daily during regular meals- alone and with family.

Purpose may be more elusive in a health context, for purpose often has to do with being in service of others. Why should my health matter? How do I know that I’m making a contribution beyond myself? This is why a broader, more integral perspective of health and healing is essential. Rather than conventional perspective of health as physiology within normal ranges on a blood test, or cardio-vascular fitness, an integrative health perspective considers the whole body-mind-spirit. A useful example can be found in the social determinants of health–the two most involved with the holiday are, social cohesion and civic participation. Evidence continues to mount that positive family interaction impacts our health. Social cohesion, the number of healthy friendships, has been show to have a very positive salutogenic effect in reducing depression as we get older. Social interactions and civic participation nurtures our healing resources. Independence Day parades, festivals and celebrations just may have a greater value then we think!

In narrative health coaching, helping clients get in touch with a deeper sense of purpose offers a powerful opportunity to support healing by increasing motivation: grandparents for the love of their grandkids, parents for their commitment to leave a better place for their kids, and health professionals creating positive change and innovation. Being more closely aligned with a deeper sense of purpose motivates ongoing improvements in health.

Motivation 3.0 offers a powerful frame. Investing in Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, serves each of us—the holidays are no exception. As we celebrate, spending time outdoors with family and friend, noticing what’s really important will bring about ongoing healing. As we flourish, our motivation for health deepens. Take a few breaths after a serving of pie at the picnic and see if the conversation you are having is just as sweet tasking as another trip to the buffet.

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