3 Ways to Increase Intrinsic Motivation to Lose Weight

Are you familiar with intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation? Although both these types of motivation play unique roles in weight loss, intrinsic motivation is more effective at turning a behavior into a habit.

Intrinsic motivation is when you are self-motivated to do a task for the enjoyment of it without a need for reward. For example, if you lift weights because you enjoy the feeling of your muscles pumping or if you enjoy the process of getting stronger you would be intrinsically motivated.

Extrinsic motivation is when your primary motivation for a particular behavior is an external reward. Using the weightlifting example, if you are lifting weights so that you can look better at the beach, you are externally motivated. If you reward yourself with a vacation after completing your goal of losing 30lbs, the trip would also be an extrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation is a more powerful driver for getting you to start a new habit, but extrinsically motivated habits often don’t last as long as those formed through intrinsic motivation.

Here are five ways to increase your intrinsic motivation to start losing weight.

  1. Find Like-Minded Individuals. Trying to lose weight by yourself can be a lonely journey especially if your friends and family don’t have the same exercise and eating habits that you’re developing. Try to build connections with other people who are also trying to lose weight so that you can make goals together and provide encouragement to each other. Exercising in a group setting has the benefit of keeping you honest to your goals. If you tell other people about your goal, you’re more likely to stick with it than if you keep it to yourself.
  2. Set Frequent Goals for Yourself. If you only have one goal and your goal is to lose 50lbs by the end of the year, it may be discouraging if six months go by and you still have 27lbs to go. However, if you break your goal into smaller chunks like losing a pound per week, you can check off a lot more goals from your list. Every time you complete a goal, your brain will release dopamine, and you’ll get a feeling of satisfaction that will make more likely to stick with the behavior.
  3. Stick to Exercise You Enjoy. If running is your least favorite form of exercise, there’s no point in forcing yourself to go running each morning when you have a passion for swimming. There are thousands of different ways to stay active, and most of them don’t involve forcing yourself into doing something that you hate.

The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined the term “flow” for when you’re so hyperfocused on a task that you lose your sense of time. If you want to reach this state of flow while you’re exercising, you’ll have to find something that you love doing. That shouldn’t be too difficult with over 8,000 sports in the world.

Finding ways to motivate yourself intrinsically will increase the probability of making regular exercise a part of your lifestyle. Try to find forms of physical activity that you enjoy and surround yourself with people with similar fitness goals to maximize the probability of sticking with your program.