For 40+ guys, fitness and nutrition are so key to maximizing our rich opportunities for the 2nd half of life. If you’re not convinced, before continuing you may want to read this about our decades-to-come and the role of fitness, nutrition and wellness within them.
But still, here’s an ultra-common situation. Picture a guy (could be you, a relative, a friend) who:
- Realizes his road is forking, with fitness/nutrition a huge determinant of which way he’s headed
- Knows, generally, how to get/stay fit and eat well (or at least, knows it’s easy to learn how)
- But…he doesn’t do much about it
What gives? Is the explanation “Don’t care?” I don’t think that’s often the case.
“Don’t have time” is a common refrain. But a minimum level of exercise doesn’t take that much time (see this on fitness while in “survival mode.”). Especially given the stakes. And nutrition-wise, eating a doughnut isn’t any faster than eating an apple.
So while the “time” factor is real, especially for guys with young kids, this situation boils down to one problem and one solution. Motivation.
OlderBeast has discussed motivation often. But here, let’s take a different perspective on the topic: The idea of Relative Motivation. Understanding this distinction—and exploiting it with an approach that seeks only very modest behavior change—can overcome a fundamental roadblock to motivating on fitness and nutrition.
Said simply, Relative Motivation means giving yourself a break from thinking, “I’ve got to get motivated.” Instead, think “I need to target super-easy goals, initially.”
WHAT IS RELATIVE MOTIVATION?
The presence or absence of motivation alone is not enough to explain why you do or don’t do things.
Additionally, we need to consider how motivation relates to the difficulty you perceive in a given action. Let’s call this Real or Perceived Degree-of-Difficulty (or “RoPDoD,” since I don’t want to type this long text string ten times here, and besides, this is a cool-sounding acronym).
Example: I point a gun at you and say, “do a push-up or I’ll shoot.” You’re highly motivated, and doing the single push-up is easy for most guys, or at least perceived as easy enough to be worth attempting if under the gun. The ratio of Motivation to RoPDoD is very high, so you act.
But what if I said, “do 1,000 push-ups or I’ll shoot”? You wouldn’t be any less motivated to not get shot, but the 1,000 push-ups are beyond most anyone’s capabilities, so there’d be no point in trying. The RoPDoD was too high; not even a gigantic motivation could overcome it.
This is the core problem a lot of us face when it comes to fitness and nutrition. We’re at least somewhat motivated, but also see things like “start working out 3+ days a week” or “cut out white flour and refined sugars” as just too difficult.
From an analytical standpoint, the Relative Motivation is negative. That is, Motivation < RoPDoD.
THE IMPACT OF A RELATIVE MOTIVATION DEFICIT
When a Relative Motivation deficit exists, efforts to trigger and sustain behavior change (by other people or yourself) will fail. For long-term behavior to change, then, either motivation needs to go up or RoPDoD needs to go down. The graphic below shows different Relative Motivation situations and links them to whether or not a given thing actually happens.
A lot of OlderBeast articles seek to “raise motivation”. Sometimes, a “scary” doctor’s appointment can do this, too (though research shows this type of “negative” motivation is less long-term beneficial than positive motivations).
But let’s put motivation level to the side for a moment. An alternate approach is to focus on the other side of the Relative Motivation equation: decreasing RoPDoD.
DECREASING RoPDoD: EMBRACE MICRO-GOALS
Image a super-easy goal for a positive habit that’s SO small and easy to do, you can and will definitely do it. For something like that, motivation doesn’t need to be high, because positive Relative Motivation still exists due to very low RoPDoD.
Successfully achieving a super-easy, or micro, goal has twin effects of (a) increasing motivation to do more, because your initial effort was successful and gratifying rather than disappointing, and (b) spurring you to think of other goal areas where you can try this tactic and form new habits. This positive cycle is depicted in the graphic below.
So often, if feels like the only two choices for fitness and nutrition are to embark on a major fitness or diet “program,” or to do nothing. Setting micro-goals, to achieve positive Relative Motivation and build from there, is a third choice…a way past this conundrum.
Here are just a few examples of super-easy fitness/nutrition/wellness goals you can try to start forming new habits. I’ve calibrated these to be really, really small and basic. If your starting point is a little higher than this, of course you can create scaled-up versions.
- Take a 10-minute walk (near home or work).
- Do 10 “bodyweight” squats (or even just stand up from and sit back down into a chair for a targeted number of “chair squats”).
- Do (appropriate very small # of) push-ups, on the floor. Or if needed, with hands on a wall or table to make them easier.
- Pick one day of the week when you’d ordinarily eat a dessert, and just that day, don’t do it.
- Make one snack every day (or even just on chosen days) be fruit, vegetables or nuts instead of sugary or flour-based things.
- Make the first flour-containing thing you eat each week be a whole-grain version.
- Do a 5-minute deep breathing exercise.
As a Part 2 to this article, please look for an “OlderBeast 90-Day Micro-Goals Challenge.” If you have specific ideas here, your input would be great!
LEARN MORE & TAKE ACTION
I know, a lot of this is just common sense. Other parts are based on my own experience. But also, academic researchers have tested and validated this type of approach. For example, Stanford PhD B.J. Fogg coined the term Tiny Habits and has done interesting research on their impact. Here’s a TED Talk by him that goes a bit deeper on the psychology at work.
The concept of Relative Motivation and tactic of micro-goals can really help if you currently struggle with “motivation,” brother. In a real sense, this is a life-or-death struggle (at least about quality-of-life and eventually, longevity). So let me know how OlderBeast can keep striving to be of help here!
“It seems so easy, oh so doggone easy.” (Buddy Holly, It’s So Easy—click to listen)
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