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Increase Motivation and Decrease Resistance, All at Once

Increase Motivation and Decrease Resistance, All at Once

BIG thanks to Barclay Schraff, ACC for initiating and co-authoring this post with me. Barclay incorporates positive psychology into her health coaching practice and focuses on disease prevention as she offers the Smarts and Stamina Online program. A graduate of the International Coach Academy, Barclay studied with the VIA Institute on Character, and earned a certificate in Whole Food Plant Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Foundation.

Motivation: any's health promotion program's best friend

Photo credit: Daily Motivation

The Holiday Season is upon us, and you can bet that New Year’s Resolutions aren’t far off. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, of the 45 to 62% of us who make resolutions each year, roughly 40 to 75% will be about health and well-being. Yet, how many of us consistently achieve our goals for the New Year, you figure? Only 8%.

That’s not very encouraging, but it’s not surprising considering that most of us tend to pick a resolution and hope to achieve it, without much planning. But as Einstein would say, if we go about it differently, we can get different results this year.

If you are a fan of positive psychology, then you already know that willpower is an exhaustible resource. David Katz, M.D. M.P.H. and Founding Director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, suggests that we combine willpower with skillpower to increase our chances of success. Skillpower refers to having a detailed plan, accompanied with the right tools and relevant knowledge.

To create a solid base combining willpower and skillpower, we like Katz’s Pressure System model, which its name from meteorology. In his model, our Effective Motivation is the net result of our Motivation to Change minus our Motivation to Maintain the status quo.

  EM = MC – MM

The best way to boost our Effective Motivation therefore is to bolster our MC and reduce our MM at the same time. Here are our four best suggestions to do so:

Suggestion How it will increase MC How it will decrease MM
Start with mini goals Smaller, faster to achieve steps are easier to tackle. For example, if your goal is to eliminate sugar from your diet, thinking of a full year without sugar may seem like an eternity. However, avoiding sweets for just 2 or 3 weeks will seem a lot easier. After your initial 2 or 3 sugar-free weeks, your taste buds will have already started to adjust, so smaller servings of sugar will light up your brain’s pleasure center.You’ll also be able to observe changes in your body by now. Are you less bloated? Have your allergies or levels of energy improved? In case you’re still not convinced, have a large serving of the banned food, and see if the symptoms return. You might just find that you hate the symptoms more than you enjoy the food itself.
Use past experiences strategically Take some time to look back on a time when you successfully broke a bad habit or created a great one. What helped you implement the lifestyle change? What got you going? How did you maintain the momentum? Often what motivates us to keep the status quo is the fear of repeated failure, so allow yourself to think about past lapses, but only long enough to understand why they happened. What is different, or what can you change this time around? The goal is not for you to live in the past, but to learn from it.
Capitalize on synergies Make your goal public by sharing your intention with family and friends. The bolder you are in announcing your goal, the costlier giving it up will become.Family and friends can offer you support when you need it. They’ll also be less likely to unintentionally (or not!) put temptations in your path or lay a guilt trip on you. Our sleep, food, mood and exercise habits are mutually reinforcing, thanks to the biochemical activity that they produce in the body. Learn how to use these synergies to your advantage. For example, if controlling your food intake is difficult, try working on your sleep, mood or exercise habits for a few weeks and see if these complementary changes also benefit your food habits. Our bet is that they will, while taking your focus away from the initial challenge for a little bit.
Build stronger confidence One factor likely to sap your MC at some point is a lapse. How will you react when you mess up? Stumbling is a normal part of the process, and you shouldn’t let it discourage you. Have a compassionate mental response ready for yourself so you aren’t discouraged when you fall, and you can get back on your feet quickly. Think about how maintaining the status quo hurts other areas of your life. For example, your high meat consumption may be at odds with your desire to protect the environment, or your sedentary ways may not set a great example for your kids. Use the dissonance caused by such inconsistencies to help you reduce your MM.
Health behavior change requires effort

Photo credit: Nanagyei

We all serve lots of wellness participants who will want to form healthier habits for the new year, so we’d love to hear your best thoughts on how we can increase MC and decrease MM at the same time. The more effective our participants are in achieving health behavior change, the better our social norms will become. What ideas can you recommend?

In the end, let’s be honest: getting and staying in shape requires some serious effort effort and dedication, no matter how much willpower, skillpower or motivation we have. In our world of sleep deprivation, fast and processed foods, stress and sedentary jobs, unhealthy habits are unfortunately the new normal. But “normal” isn’t only the result of what is most prevalent around us. More importantly, it is shaped by what we intentionally choose to make our norm. Let’s choose carefully.

Note: For those who would like to join a community of health-seekers and benefit from wellness coaching for their 2014 health goals, Barclay is offering the 6-week Smarts and Stamina Online program starting January 14th. But don’t delay! Her early bird special ends December 20th! Check it out here.



Allen J. (2008). Wellness Leadership: Creating Supportive Environments For Healthier And More Productive Employees. Burlington, VT:

Baumeister, R. & Tierny, J. (2012). Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. Penguin Books.

Katz, David L. & Colino, S. (2013). Disease-Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well. Hudson Street Press.

Katz, David L. (2000). Behavior modification in primary care: The Pressure System Model.

Prochaska, J. O., Norcross, J. C. & Diclemente, C. C. (1994). Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward. New York: HarperCollins.

Shaar, M.J. & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Positive Psychology Press.

Shaar, M. J. (2011). Why happier people are healthier. Positive Psychology News.

Shaar, M. J. (2013). Please don’t be normal! Smarts and Stamina Blog.

University of Scranton and Journal of Clinical Psychology (2012). Statistic Brain: New Years Resolution Statistics.

MJ Shaar – in 20 seconds

MJ is one of the most sought-after experts blending positive psychology and health promotion. She spent over 15 years coaching, teaching, speaking, researching and testing smart health habits. Marie-Josée Shaar received her undergrad at McGill University in Organizational Behavior, followed by a Master of Applied Positive Psychology at University of Pennsylvania. She's certified as a Wellness Culture Coach, a Personal Trainer, and a Nutrition and Wellness Consultant.

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