Self-­motivation is fueled by an intimately personal and deep-rooted desire for change. If your reasons for losing weight are grounded in other people—a loved one who is pushing you to slim down or a doctor who monitors the scale’s latest readout—then you might be setting yourself up to become demotivated when times get challenging. Scientists who study motivation call this controlled motivation, as opposed to autonomous motivation. Researchers from the University of Kentucky define controlled motivation as coming from an outside source, while autonomous motivation is what lights your inner drive. Determining your personal and emotion­-driven reasons for wanting to change is what will sustain your motivation long term. For example, according to recent research from Portugal that looked at the exercise behavior of more than two hundred women ages 30 to 45, those who had the most internal motivation lost more than four times as much weight and exercised 85 percent more than those who were not self-­motivated.

In the scientific community, the concept of grit is all the buzz with researchers who study the psychology of success. Grit is the ability to try and try again; it is exhibiting passion and perseverance. It’s the ability to say, “I can do whatever it takes to accomplish my goals, no matter what.” University of Pennsylvania researchers, who did the groundbreaking work on grit, found that having it could improve success rates for almost any type of goal by more than 30 percent. The big news here is that it really isn’t about a high IQ or how much money you have; what matters is resilience, resourcefulness, and self-­belief. I will teach you to have this stamina, endurance, and tenacity in your core so that you will never give up, no matter what. Period.

Putting Wood on the Motivation Fire

Emily, a client of mine, came to me wanting to lose weight so she’d look fabulous for her twentieth high school reunion. She confided in me that she’d always felt she wasted her high school years because she had such low self­-esteem and set herself up for rejection. “There’s no good reason why I should have been asked out back then. I wouldn’t have asked me out if I’d met that girl I was. I would have run the other way,” she said.

Emily told me that she’d recently reread her diary, and she couldn’t believe how self-defeating and sad she was. “I used to really justify how lazy and unmotivated I was, and I stayed that way into my adult life,” she said.

Emily said that she could understand why her work as a travel agent wasn’t up to par. Her agency had just hired another woman who was also lazy, and Emily told me how annoying this coworker was. “It’s like looking in a mirror and really seeing my reflection for the first time. I could see that it wasn’t who I wanted to be,” she said. “Seeing how I really am makes me want to go back and change my story right from the beginning. I want to alter how others see me. I want to show them the real me, not this sad sack I’ve been. I know I can change,” she said with fire in her eyes.

What Emily wanted most was to rock a pair of jeans and to feel comfortable wearing them. I gave her some assignments. First, I told her to hang the affirmation “I love the way I feel both on the inside and outside; I am stunningly beautiful” in her house where she would see it frequently, and to stop and repeat it to herself every time she passed it. Next, I ordered Emily to buy the actual pair of jeans she saw herself wearing to the event, even though they wouldn’t fit yet. Finally, I asked her to try these jeans on every day before getting dressed in the morning.

In the meantime, Emily and I got to work on exercise and nutrition. We met three times a week, and she followed my videos two days a week. After nine weeks, Emily burst into a session to tell me that the jeans she’d been trying on every week were now too loose. She ended up having to buy a smaller pair for the reunion. She had lost two pounds every week since we’d started our work together.

Emily explained to me that the physical act of trying on those jeans each morning provided a regular reminder of her goal and how much she wanted to get those jeans over her hips, be able to zip them up, and walk outside and breathe freely in them. Saying the affirmation helped her change her thought patterns and encouraged her to believe in herself. Trying on the jeans helped Emily live in reality, and repeating the affirmation helped her shift her reality to the person she wanted to be.

As Harvard University social psychologist Amy Cuddy points out, this is “faking it till you make it,” and it works.

Check out Joel Harper’s website, or click here to buy his book, Mind Your Body: 4 Weeks to a Leaner, Healthier Life.

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