Motivation and Mindset (CUSD replay)

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to present two sessions at my school district’s Wellness Expo—one on Motivation and Mindset, and one on Sugar. I’ll post here what’s essentially the transcript for each, editing for reading as needed. I was allotted an hour for each session, and while I didn’t talk that long (I leave time for questions, and I’m not going to include my introductions here), these posts will be long. Enjoy!

I introduced myself, told a little about me, encouraged folks to take what resonates and leave the rest—especially if they’re feeling overwhelmed by the information—and let them know that the space for the next hour is judgment-free: we all have strengths and weaknesses and because of factors outside of ourselves, this healthy living thing is hard.

What is motivation? Here’s our dictionary definition. 

motivation (noun)

• the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way (motive, incentive, stimulus)

•the general desire or willingness of someone to do something (enthusiasm, drive, ambition)

So we basically have two things to tap into: motive or incentive, and drive or enthusiasm.

These are two pretty different things, and we need to know how to tap into both of them in order to be successful. 

What’s your “why”?

We’re going to come back to those in a minute, but first, we need to dive into our “why.”

Here are my “why”s. (Photo displayed is at the top of this post.)

For me:

  • I had cancer once already and don’t want it again.
  • I feel better when I have energy, and taking care of myself gives me energy.
  • My mental health is substantially more stable when I take care of myself.
  • I want to be able to continue to run, to climb, to do whatever the next thing is that I decide I want to do, to continue to have adventures.

For my son:

  • Lead by example.
  • I’m hoping that by establishing healthy habits young, he will get to avoid some of the demons that I have struggled with.
  • I was 36 when he was born. I want him to have his mom around for as long as possible.

For my husband:

  • We just got married and want as many good years together as possible.

For others:

  • The top right picture is my late friend Michelle. I run for her, because she can’t. Often, when I don’t feel like it, I remind myself that that’s a luxury afforded to me not afforded to so many other people, and I go do it, because I can.

It’s important to have a “why” for those moments/days/weeks when you don’t feel like it.

Mindset shift #1: you’re not lacking motivation that others have

The first change to mindset is an assumption we make to let ourselves off the hook. We assume, when we see people who are consistently exercising, for example, that every time they go do it, they want to, and that if only we wanted to, we would go do it, too.

This is not true.

Sometimes, they want to, and are driven and enthusiastic to go to it. And sometimes, they do it because they know they have to in order to get the job done.

A friend posted this on Facebook the other day: “The best workouts are the ones you do when you didn’t want to go.” True story.

Lack of motivation is a rationalization for not doing. You can’t reasonably expect to feel enthusiastic about everything you need to do all the time. And other people who are doing what you wish you were doing—in terms of health habits—are not somehow magically gifted with daily energy and enthusiasm for these tasks.

Using myself as an example, several times over.

First, I was very excited to have the opportunity to come and speak here today, not once, but twice! And on topics that are fresh. (I’ve done label-reading the last couple of years and was ready to do something else.) My goal was to have both presentations finished by the end of the first week of break, so I could go out of town the second week without them hanging over my head.

I pulled Bermuda grass out of the yard. I cleaned out and reorganized the pantry and the fridge. Because putting off one task often leads to many other things getting done. And finally, on Friday morning, I posted on Facebook: “Irony: when you are not motivated to create your presentation on motivation.” I engaged some of my focus strategies, and I got it done.

Second: I love rock climbing. I go to the Phoenix Rock Gym at least once a week, twice if I have a partner twice, occasionally three times. It’s a lot of fun, and it challenges me mentally and physically.

There are days I don’t feel like going.

There are days when I am half way up the wall and think, “I really don’t feel like climbing any more.” But you know what? I finish the wall. And I pick a harder one for next time, because if I have the brain space to think about getting down, I need a bigger challenge.

We plan family meals for the week over the weekend, often but not always with input. I make a shopping list from the meal plan, do the shopping, and do most of the meal preparation. 

There are plenty of days when I don’t feel like planning meals, or shopping, or cooking. But you know what? Eating well is a high priority because it directly feeds every single one of my “why”s. So it gets done.

What would you say to a student or employee who didn’t do their work because they weren’t motivated? Or just didn’t have the drive to do this particular assignment?

As you think about that, are you gaining empathy for them or grit for yourself?

In short: don’t compare your insides to others’ outsides. (This is true for way more than just health habits.)

Plan for bumps in the road

No matter what your goals are, there are going to be things that don’t go the way you expect them to go. Sometimes, we can plan for them.

If you’re trying to eat well and it’s November or December (or pretty much any month, really), there are going to be pitfalls.

If you’re trying to exercise regularly and there are changes to the schedule, watch out for change in routine.

If you’re trying to cook dinner at home regularly but you’re going to be at work late twice this week, you need to plan for that.

These are all foreseeable events and it’s possible to make a plan to get through them and stay the course.

Other stuff pops up that throws everything out of whack. You can have an emergency backup plan, including exercises to do at home or a couple of meals in the freezer. You can modify the plan and go for a walk instead of a run.

Mindset shift #2: work through the bumps

Little things are not reasons to quit! We have a saying in my room that is just starting to take off: don’t quit—grit!

There’s the age-old, “Well, I already went off my diet today, so I might as well forget it and just start tomorrow.” NO!!

Now, with all that said, I’m going to go on a little tangent to tell you that in order to have the emotional reserves to be able to pull this stuff off, you need sleep.

Crashing on the couch is not the same as relaxing

Sufficient sleep plays a large role in many aspects of our physical, mental, and emotional lives. Here’s a brief list.

  • proper cognitive functioning
  • weight management
  • safe driving
  • overall body maintenance/health
  • patience

Getting enough sleep is one of the most undervalued habits we have given up. It is far from a waste of time to get enough sleep.

So when we don’t get enough sleep, we come home and crash on the couch and don’t get anything else done because we’re so exhausted, but we’re not really getting rest, either.

There are games I like to play on my iPad. The first game is enjoyable. The second one might be. By the third or fourth, I’m just being lazy and not getting up to do other things.

Mindset shift #3: change your default setting

If you’re home and you’re mentally and emotionally done for the night, go to bed. If you’re too tired to do something else that you enjoy, go to bed.

A friend of mine a few years ago said that he changed his mindset about sitting down to watch TV and it substantially changed his home life.

He changed his default setting. Instead of “sitting on the couch” being his default, he actively chose when he was going to sit and for how long. When he sat down to watch something that he wanted to watch, when it was over, he turned off the TV and got back up. He didn’t sit down and channel surf to look for something to watch.

Very few of us have the goal of watching more TV. Watching TV isn’t a bad thing. No guilt or shame for doing it. But when it’s the default for three or four hours every evening, that might be impeding your goals.

Exercise is good

Now, let’s take a quick walk through the benefits of exercise, since this is a pitfall for many people. Having some extra knowledge may help you to strengthen your “why.”

Here are the known and potential benefits of getting enough exercise. 

reduced risk of:

  • —heart disease
  • —heart attack
  • —high blood pressure
  • —stroke
  • —Type 2 diabetes
  • —most cancers

reduced feelings of:

  • —depression
  • —anxiety
  • —stress
  • —self-loathing


  • —increased mental clarity
  • —helps build/maintain healthy bones, joints, muscles
  • —helps achieve/maintain a healthy weight
  • —helps long-term memory
  • —helps ward off cognitive decline and dementia

—That’s a lot of benefit. Note that some need to be combined with movement, which is the act of being on your feet more than you’re on your butt.

The easiest way to get exercise on a regular basis is to pick something you like.

Here are a few options.

  • —weight lifting
  • —running
  • —walking
  • —swimming
  • —biking
  • —hiking
  • —yoga
  • —jumping rope
  • —step
  • —Zumba
  • —dancing
  • —roller skating
  • —organized team sports
  • —pole dancing
  • —kick boxing
  • —aerobics
  • —water aerobics
  • —rock climbing
  • —martial arts
  • —kayaking

Try something new. See how it goes. You are unlikely to be the only one there who has never done it before, but even if you are, the instructor or others will help you. I love bringing new people to the rock gym, or running with people in their first 5K. And it’s not that I stifle giggles or talk trash about it after we’re done. It’s genuinely exciting for me for someone else to be participating. I’m not the only one who is enthusiastic about newbies joining, so swallow the apprehension and go do it!

Also: you don’t get extra credit for being miserable while exercising, and it doesn’t count less if you enjoy yourself. Find something you like! That said, sometimes it takes a few tries before you enjoy a new activity. So give it a little time, but not if it’s completely miserable.

Mindset shift #4: exercise isn’t punishment for eating

I’m going to take another slight tangent here, while we’re talking about exercise…

Exercise isn’t punishment for eating. Eating isn’t a reward for exercising.

Healthy eating has a long list of health benefits that exercise doesn’t touch.

Exercise has a long list of health benefits that can be reduced or eliminated through consistently poor eating.

If you’re already complaining that you don’t have enough time to get regular exercise, how are you going to exercise enough to “work off” the junk food?

They’re not opposite sides of a scale. Eat well. Exercise regularly. There is so much more to health than how you look. Or how you think you look. Or the number on the scale.

Eating well and exercising regularly, along with enough sleep, will increase your energy levels. I can’t tell you how many times I felt so much better after going to exercise when I really just wanted to lay on the couch.

Which brings me to my next tip.

Maintenance and change are easier with a friend or two

Get a buddy! Or two!

There are a lot of ways to implement a buddy system, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be with regards to exercise.

First, they can be someone to do the stuff with. Exercise is an obvious one, but if you decided you’re going to try out one of the “prep two weeks of freezer meals in four hours” plans that float around Pinterest, and your local friend wants to do it, too, why not go shopping together and prep together?

Second, they can be someone to try new stuff with. A new exercise class. Meditation. Following through on a self-help book you both liked. A different set of two weeks of freezer meals.

Third, they can simply be accountability. A friend of mine who lives in Peoria is my accountability buddy. Every now and then, one of us sends or receives a text that says, essentially, “I don’t feel like doing it.” The other will acknowledge it, then eliminate the excuses and require a selfie during or after the workout is complete. It works. As long as your buddy doesn’t let you off the hook.

Last, if you’re together, you get adult conversation time. And maybe this isn’t a thing for you, but I know I don’t get enough of this.

Mindset shift #5: redefine yourself

As you are working your way through your goals, you are going to need to redefine yourself.

I used to be an ice cream addict. If you’ve been to my sessions before, you’ve probably heard this story, but the very first change I made to my diet almost 20 years ago, out of shape and 200 pounds, was “eat ice cream not more than once per day.” And it was hard.

But what was harder than changing my habit of eating ice cream multiple times per day was changing my friends’ definitions of me. And harder than that was changing my definition of myself. Because at that time, the Heat word cloud had ice cream as big as anything else.

Now, I still enjoy ice cream. But not habitually. It’s not part of my self-concept any more.

I have gone from “run when chased” to “I run a little” to “I do 5Ks” to “I do 10Ks and I did some triathlon” to “I’ve done a couple of half marathons but that’s too far” and have settled in right now to “I run a couple days a week for a handful of miles.” But it changes, and it’s OK for it to change.

For a couple of years, I was into triathlon. “Triathlete” was part of my self-concept. I’m not into triathlon any more. It’s OK.

For many of us, nothing about our self-concept has changed in a long time, and it might feel a little threatening to change it. But if you want to BE different, then BE different!

A few more little bits here…

When you’re setting your goals, start where you are. Don’t shame yourself for not being somewhere else. Today is what today is, and you can change where you’re at down the road, but your yesterdays decided where you are now.

Set yourself up for success. If you want to eat better, get the junk food out of the house. And out of your desk. If you want to run regularly, have your running clothes and shoes handy. Tell people you are in daily contact with what you’re doing. Ask for support.

Sustainability is key, so pick things that you can do and can continue to do. The body you have is the only one you get, and it requires good fuel and proper maintenance indefinitely.

You will sometimes not feel like it. Different tasks require different tools for working through that, though mostly, you just need to open up a fresh can of “get off your butt and do it.” But all tasks require you to at least get away from whatever online distracts you. Get off the electronics altogether if possible.

We all know about the downward spiral, but the upward spiral is not often noted. The more you do, often the more you want to do. I’ve had so many people tell me that when they started exercising, they automatically started eating better.

Let your successes build on each other instead of cancelling each other out. This goes back to the concept of food not being a reward for exercising. Exercise, then eat well. Top it off with a good night’s sleep.

Changes get easier over time. The very beginning might be easy because it’s exciting (depending on your why), but a few days in? It’s less fun. A drag, perhaps. Keep going. Employ grit. Trust that it will get easier.

It’s easier to stay on the wagon than to get back on it. I’ve gotten on and off many wagons many times. I’m getting better at staying on, because I know that if I make it through this moment, the moment I’m standing on the side looking over, debating if I should just hop off, it will be easier than if I give in, jump off, and have to get back on.

Enjoy the journey.


We all get stuck. Figure out why.

There’s almost always a reason hidden under the reason hidden behind the reason that you’re thinking. Dig deep. It might be a little sore in those places you’re looking. Take on that hurt. If you can go straight into it, work through it, and come out the other side, the long haul is easier, because that wall just got dismantled.


These are the people who try to change your mind about what you’re doing. Who don’t take no for an answer.

“You can afford it.”

“But it’s [special occasion].”

“You shouldn’t deprive yourself.”

“Life’s too short.”

The #1 reason these people are trying to derail you is to relieve their own dissonance. You’re doing something that, somewhere in their brain, they think they should be doing. It might not even be conscious. They see you doing it, and you doing it means they can and should be doing it, and they’re not, so instead of doing it, too, they try to stop you.

Their behavior is rude, but let it go. If they’re offering something you don’t want, just say no thank you. As many times as you need. I don’t typically offer explanations, as that just invites counterarguments.

It’s rare that I encounter someone who continues on after two “no”s, but if I do and I’m feeling cantankerous, I will ask them to stop bullying me. I said no, please respect that boundary.

If the person is someone close and/or someone you come into regular contact with, you can use this statement with them to try to get them to at least stop being negative, and maybe possibly even be supportive.

“I am [doing whatever you’re doing] because I think it’s the right thing for me to do—but it’s hard. It would help me a lot if you could support me. I’m not judging you for not doing it, and I need you to not judge me for doing it.”

As I was typing this here, I thought, “How could I have done a session on motivation without talking about [something that I now forget again]?”

Maybe I’ll remember, maybe not…

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