Internal Motivation Is Key to Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle (And You Can’t Buy That)

Nicole Davidson

Nicole Davidson

This blog post was written in response to the June 2013 Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “How can we maintain healthier lifestyles at work?”

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle for me has always been one of those ideals that I just can’t live up to. Even when I get the strong desire to exercise or eat healthy, it tends to pass fairly quickly; I can’t seem to translate that desire to execution. I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit lately, since I’m planning for my wedding in November. All of the sudden trying to achieve toned arms or eliminating the dreaded “back fat” have become bigger priorities- not that I have managed to do anything about either.

It’s even more pressing because of my new job. In my past work I spent far more time up and walking around, and work often left me physically as well as mentally exhausted. That is not the case with my current office job. Aside from walking to grab coffee from the other side of the building, I’ve become largely inactive. Worse, the mental (and occasionally emotional) exhaustion I feel when I get home feels like an impossible hurdle when considering going out to exercise. Even going grocery shopping feels like excessive physical exertion. Exercising before work is a non-starter; I have a hard enough time getting up each morning at 6am, and I’m certainly not willing to get up even earlier to torture myself with exercise.

Instead of focusing on exercise, I’m trying to focus on my diet. I bring fruit for snacks and pack my own lunch at least 4 days per week. I take my coffee black, though I feel as bitter about that as my coffee tastes. I tried using an app to track my calorie intake, but I found it firstly too time consuming and secondly deeply depressing. I dislike how calorie counting seems to lend itself naturally to a caloric obsession- it perpetuates a certain circular thinking that I very much dislike.

Basically I am at a loss. As I work for a relatively small company, the wellness program consists of a financial incentive for smokers to quit and a bike storage room- and there is no real interest from either staff or management to implement much more than that. To be honest, I’m not a big believer in formal wellness programs. There is a significant element to wellness that is internally motivated (see above) and I’m not sure that employers can do much to influence that. Further, certain wellness incentives can go significantly awry.

A friend of mine recently told me about a wellness initiative put on by her company. It was set up as a weight loss contest with weekly prizes as well as a grand prize at the end of a 6 month period. Unfortunately it significantly devolved to a group of participants whispering about each other’s lunch choices and openly criticizing each other’s exercise habits. One participant thought it would be fun to present the person who lost the least amount of weight each week with a blue ribbon that said “prized hog”. The contest was abruptly ended shortly after.

I think that the best an employer can do is put support systems in place for employees who do get the self-motivation to maintain a better lifestyle. Offering healthy options in vending machines, organizing voluntary healthy activities (such as a Sun Run team or monthly lunch time baseball games), and providing support for those who do exercise, like showers and bike rooms, are the best ways for employers to support healthy lifestyles. That way, when someone like me gets a hint of that elusive motivation, it’s not quite as difficult to implement.

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