Ep #82: When Motivation Fades, Try This

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | When Motivation Fades, Try This
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We are well into the New Year, and whether you’re taking on Whole 30, 75 Hard, Dry January, or you’re trying to adopt any new habits into your diet or exercise plan, you might be having some difficulty sticking with these new habits. If this is you, let me give you some tools to help you stick to your habits now that the novelty of your New Year goals has started to wear off.

It’s normal to feel a drop-off in motivation after the first couple weeks of January. So today, I’m showing you why this is something you’re experiencing, and most importantly what you can do about it so you can stay on track toward the goals you set for yourself.

Tune in this week to discover a new tool for sticking with the healthy habits you adopted at the start of this year. I’m discussing what it means to have standards that you can stick to when motivation starts dropping, and you’ll learn how to come up with your own set of standards and use them to your advantage in pursuit of your health goals.


Are you ready to eat, move, and think in a way that gets you strong both physically and mentally? You deserve to have both no matter how busy you are, and I can help. I’m opening up my one-on-one coaching program for new clients, and I would love to work with you. Click here to learn more about working with me.


What You Will Discover:

  • Why no human feels motivated 100% of the time.
  • How motivation around your new habits naturally starts to drop after a few weeks after the New Year has passed.
  • What it means to have standards you can lean on and some examples of standards you currently hold yourself to.
  • How to create standards for yourself that you can stick to, even when motivation is low.
  • Where people tend to go wrong in creating new standards for their lives.
  • How to use your new standards to your advantage when adopting and sticking to new healthy habits.

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Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #82. If you have trouble sticking with your habits, try these tools out.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high-achieving, busy, working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer, and Certified Life Coach, Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? So, what’s good here, it’s mid-January. We are well into the new year, and this month is already more than half over. Some of you may be in the midst of Whole30 or 75 Hard or Dry January, or even a new Peloton Power Zone challenge. Or maybe you just decided to eat less fast food and more salads instead, without any sort of challenge or time constraint to it.

So, whatever it is, if you use January 1 as the official start of a new habit, how’s it going? We are 17 days in, and for some of you maybe the newness and novelty of your diet or exercise plan has started to wear off. If that’s the case for you, or if you feel like things have started to get hard, you’re most definitely not alone, at all.

Maybe you’re starting to feel less motivation than you were feeling on January 1. That is entirely normal. I want to help you understand why that is and what to do about it. So, if your motivation is starting to slide, remember that no human is motivated all the time. No one, okay?

To help you with this, remember the connection between action, results, and motivation. I want to pull apart how this works, and remind you of it, especially at this time of year, when so many people are starting new habits.

When you’re initiating a big change or a new habit, the order of operations is generally motivation, action, results. And so, it makes total sense that there is a lot of motivation at the start of a new year, it’s a new beginning. Meaning, the flip of a new calendar is essentially a psychological do over that is enough to cause you to feel motivated.

There’s a newness and novelty to the fresh start of a new year that makes your habit just a little easier to swallow, and motivation is in higher supply at this time of year. When you’re just getting started out on your new habit, it’s easier to find the motivation to make a salad instead of order takeout, to head to the gym for your early morning workout class, or to stick to your plan of skipping wine during the workweek.

From there, when you do those things, when you take new and different actions, you see results. Meaning, you feel better, you sleep better, you’re less bloated, you have more energy, maybe you put on muscle, maybe you start to lose weight. Those are your results. And when you experience those results, it’s motivating.

With that the cycle perpetuates itself; motivation, action, results. For many of us, that’s how habits start at the outset. That’s January 1 in a nutshell. You feel motivated by the fresh start of a new year, you take action by exercising or eating differently, and you see results in the form of a stronger body, weight loss, better health, or all the above. It’s motivation, action, results.

But then, over time, as the newness and novelty of your habit wanes, you may find that your motivation does the same and starts to drop. That is when you’re going to need to call on something else to get you to the gym. That’s when something besides motivation will be necessary to keep you eating veggies and salads instead of pizza and french fries for lunch.

Because, you know this already, but let me spell it out. You will not always feel motivated to stick to your habits. No one does. You will not always feel motivated to get out of bed before the crack of dawn to get your workout done. You will not always feel motivated to eat salad. You will not always feel motivated to turn down a glass of wine.

So, what do you do when you’re not feeling motivated? You follow your standards, you create standards for yourself and you practice following them, hardcore. That is where we’re going today. We’re going to talk about what it means to have standards and how to use them to your advantage when you’re putting habits in place.

This is a concept I’ve evolved over time to help you stick with your habits long after your motivation has faded. So, this is just another tool in your toolbox for habit change. This is one to store and keep coming back to. I have found it not only helpful for me in my own life, but for my clients too; create a standard, then practice living it out. All right?

Let’s talk about how this works. Okay, to get started, what exactly does it mean to have a standard? When I think of a standard, I think of a guiding principle. I think of a line in the sand that is very clearly delineated that you just don’t cross. You can also think of a standard as a benchmark or a personal metric to measure how you think, feel, and act.

To illustrate this, I’ll share my own example that I use all the time, because it’s an easy one. Before I went to medical school, I worked as a case manager. I did home visits with clients who are living with HIV, to ensure they had whatever health and home services they needed. Some of my clients were injection drug users.

I very clearly remember, on one particular home visit, my client offered me heroin. To be even more specific, he offered to have me try a speedball, which is a mixture of heroin and cocaine. I’m not really sure if he was being serious at the time, but it kind of seemed like it.

While I appreciated his generosity, it was in fact very, very easy to say ‘no, thank you’ and decline his offer. Because I don’t use heroin and I don’t use cocaine. I created a standard for myself that I don’t use drugs. So, when someone offers me drugs, which never happens nowadays, it’s a no brainer, because that’s my standard and I practice living it out.

My standard is something that is essentially non-negotiable. It’s something I hold myself to, and I will not accept less for myself when it comes to that standard. It’s kind of like a personal policy. I know that’s a fairly basic, easy example. But now take a second and think of a standard you already have in place for yourself.

Maybe you’re a nonsmoker, and if someone were to offer you a cigarette, like my client offered me heroin, it’d be really easy for you to decline the cigarette because you’re a nonsmoker. Or maybe another standard for you is that you always wear your seatbelt. Whenever you get in a car it’s a non-issue and you buckle yourself in before you get moving.

That’s a standard you hold yourself to, because you will not accept anything less from yourself. You will not accept the risk of riding unrestrained in a car. So, you set a standard that you buckle up, each and every time. There’s your standard. All right?

With those somewhat easy examples in mind, let’s take it a step further. Let’s take this concept and apply it to other parts of your life. Let’s talk about creating a standard and what that looks like. Because there’s a difference between having the standard firmly in place versus the process of creating the standard, those are different things. Okay?

Let’s start with exercise. For some of you, especially at this time of year, you may be working really hard to establish the habit of exercise. Maybe you’ve decided that you want to move your body more, and you know how awesome exercise is both for your brain and your body and you’re ready to commit to a regular exercise routine.

But knowing what we know about human nature, we know that putting this habit into practice can be a challenge. If you’re used to not exercising, or if you’ve been sedentary for a long time, it can be hard to change up your routine. It may be an uphill battle to get up early in the morning. Or it may be a major challenge to exercise after a long day at work when you’re used to coming home and putting on your comfy pants.

For some of you, there are schedule and life changes that you’ll need to make in order to create time for a regular exercise routine. So, this is where you create a standard for yourself. You get to decide what it is you want to practice holding yourself accountable to.

Maybe you’re just getting started, you’ve decided to commit to exercise. But you want to take the slow and steady approach, which is what I most definitely recommend, so you create a standard. “I will get two workouts of at least 30 minutes each done in the span of a week.” That’s it. You’ve created a standard or a benchmark. There it is.

The next piece to this is to go and practice following your standard. What that means is you put systems in place to help you fulfill the standard you’ve created for yourself. So, if you’ve decided that two 30-minute workouts in a week is your standard, the next step in the process is to determine how exactly you will get those two 30-minute workouts done.

That means having a plan. You knew I was coming back to this, right? It always comes back to having a plan. So, if your standard is two 30-minute workouts in a week, the next thing is to decide when. Will you do them in the morning or will you do them right after work, or in the evening or even over your lunch break? Where will you do them? Is it at home with an app or do you need to join a gym, or do you need to dust the treadmill off and plug it in and get to work on that?

Challenge yourself to go through all of the nitty-gritty details to decide exactly how you’re going to meet your standard. I highlight this point especially, because this is often where I see clients get stuck. When I encourage them to set a standard, they can do that fairly easily. But then, when it comes time to parsing out the details and deciding exactly how they’re going to meet that standard, they tend to waffle.

This is what I help my clients do. I will not let you waffle, because I know that in order for you to succeed at creating new habits and new standards for yourself, you need to be specific. You need to plan, instead of simply declaring ‘I just need to do it.’ Which some of you have told me, “No.”

I’m encouraging you to ask for more of yourself and have an actual plan to back up your standard. Remember that when you’re creating a standard, you’re in progress. That’s why I called it “creating a standard”; it’s not there yet. It’s not a done deal, yet. So, in order to make this happen, and for regular exercise to become your standard, you need a plan to back it up, okay?

There should be details and specifics put in place so that you’re set up to meet your standard. Do not leave it to chance. You know what happens when you leave something to chance, right? Generally, it doesn’t happen. For me, in my own life, I’ve created a standard that I get my workout done first thing in the morning, no matter what.

I know me and I know how I am. Once the day gets going, I will be very quick to talk myself out of any exercise. So, if it’s going to happen, it happens in the morning; like, first thing, period. End. Yes, that means I get up at five in the morning on Saturdays when my kids have swim meets, so I can get my workout in beforehand.

It also means I’ve gotten up at three o’clock in order to work out before catching a plane or heading to an early meeting. Maybe that’s crazy, I will be the first to admit it. But exercise is important enough to me that it’s worth it. It’s worth it to me to meet my standard, and set an alarm for a ridiculously early hour so I can get my workout in. Because I feel so much better when I do it.

Here’s the kicker, I don’t do this begrudgingly. I set my alarm and I do it willingly, because I choose to meet the standard I’ve created for myself. My standard is I get my workouts done, and I get them done first thing in the morning. I’ve practiced it enough times that it’s as easy for me to get that done as it is to say no to heroin or cigarettes. I don’t complain about it. I don’t make a big deal about it. I choose it, and I choose it on purpose, because I know how good I feel when I exercise.

As I share this, my point is not to convince you to do the same. I’m not telling you to get up at three or four o’clock in the morning, if that’s not going to work for you. But maybe for some of you, you’ll decide that’s what you need to do. But instead, on a broader level, I’m encouraging you to decide what standards are most important to you and then work it backwards to devise a very specific plan that enables you to meet your standards.

Because a standard really does you no good without a plan to back it up. So, if you are determined and committed to making exercise a part of your life this year, I encourage you to create a standard. Decide for yourself what your expectation is, and then practice holding yourself to it.

Remember, this is all you. This is one of the most important concepts when it comes to creating standards. You are putting expectations on yourself here, no one is putting that upon you. One of my most favorite things about creating standards for yourself is that they are entirely personal. Your standards are yours and yours alone. You’re making them with yourself, for yourself, in order to grow and evolve and become your next best version. Okay?

All right, let’s keep running with this idea and apply it to your diet. Think of a standard that you’d like to adopt related to your nutrition. What is the guiding principle you want to have for yourself when it comes to how you eat?

Again, I’ll use myself as an example. Here are some of my standards related to food. I eat 99% of my meals at home; from meals that either I or my husband cook or chop at home. I have a salad every day. I don’t drink alcohol other than on rare, special occasions. I don’t eat fast food. There are others, but those are the big ones off the top of my head.

Because I have thought it out and set those standards for myself, I can go practice meeting them. This is not to say that it’s perfect, by any stretch, but I have my standards to constantly come back to. On the days I mess up, I can remind myself of them and try to do better next time. Every decision you’re faced with is an opportunity to meet your standard.

Now, think about it for yourself. What do you want your standards to be around your nutrition? You can borrow one or all of mine if you want, or come up with your own, that makes sense for your life and your schedule. I’ll share with you some of the examples of standards my clients have come up with during coaching sessions. Here’s some of theirs:

I will limit myself to two alcoholic beverages in a week. I will not eat out more than once in a weekend. I will not skip lunch. I do not eat food off my kids’ plates. I do not snack while preparing dinner. Again, there are many others, but those are some of the big ones that have come up repeatedly over time. They may be applicable to you too.

Again, borrow any or all of these, and adjust as needed, okay? Once you’ve set your standards around nutrition, you practice them. You practice living up to the standards that you’ve set for yourself. I hesitate for a minute to say it that way, but when I was preparing for this podcast, I ultimately decided to frame it that way on purpose.

You are practicing living up to your standards. So, let’s talk about this. Setting standards for yourself and then living up to them, whether it’s related to nutrition, exercise, illegal drugs, your seatbelt, or whatever the case may be, living up to your standards is entirely self-initiated, self-directed, and self-regulated.

No one is requiring you or forcing you to set the standards. No one’s forcing you to do anything. Instead, creating standards for yourself is an exercise in self-care, especially if the standards you’re setting are new or hard for you. You’re setting your standard on your own free will to level up.

Because when you do the work of creating a standard for yourself, and then you hold yourself accountable to it, there it is. That’s where the growth is. That’s when things like self-trust, self-efficacy, and discipline, really expand and take hold for you. I know I’ve said this many, many times before, but it feels really, really good to do what you say you’re going to do.

When you do that repeatedly, it leads you to ask for more of yourself. So, really think about that for a minute. When you declare that you will no longer eat food off your kid’s plate, because cold chicken nuggets and limp, soggy french fries don’t taste that good anyway, and then you repeatedly follow through and adhere to your standard, that feels good.

And once that has become your standard, you can build on it. You can add another standard like, “I will not snack on my kids’ food as I make their school lunch.” I use this one in particular because it comes up all the time. Many of my clients struggle with snacking. And for some of the parents I’ve worked with, that often means both eating off their kids’ plates and snacking while they put together school lunches.

So, I help my clients decide on the standards they’re going to set for themselves related to their kids’ food. Often, when we really dive into it, we find that it’s just a habit. The kid food isn’t amazing, it’s just there, and usually the snacking is out of boredom or habit. So, we address that and come up with a standard: “I do not eat my kids’ leftover food. I do not eat handfuls of Cheetos while I pack my kid’s lunch.”

These are not big, wild things; we’re talking about Cheetos here, right? But when you practice these self-created guidelines enough that they become your standard, the impact is huge. Not just from a caloric standpoint, this is about something far deeper than Cheetos, okay? We’re talking about your lifestyle.

When you create standards, you’re creating habits and systems that set you up for success from a lifestyle standpoint. And those standards are meant to stay with you for the long haul. That’s why standards are so useful. They’re meant to help you create the lifestyle you want.

Remember what your lifestyle is, it’s a collection of your habits and standards that combine to give you a certain level of health, strength, and wellness. So, think about it, the standards you create, by nature, will dictate your actions. I get my workout done in the morning. I eat a salad every day. I get at least seven hours of sleep at night. I don’t eat food off my kids’ plates. Your standards are your personal metric for how you act. And when you repeatedly take action in favor of your standards, that adds up to give you your lifestyle. When you practice living up to your standards, you’re taking actions and producing results that give you your lifestyle. And here’s the coolest thing that happens when you practice living up to your standards. This is the best part.

When you create standards for yourself that you believe in, that you carry out regularly, that you repeatedly come back to even after you screw up, what happens? Those standards become no-brainers. They become part of who you are. They become part of your identity.

When you set a standard of ‘I exercise first thing in the morning,’ and you repeatedly live into that, your identity shifts. You become a person who gets her workout done. When you create a standard of ‘I eat 90% of my meals from whole foods that I cook at home,’ you become a healthy person who eats at home. It becomes your identity.

So really, you can think of creating standards as yet another way to shape your identity. Your standards, when you follow them, will help you change your identity. I love this so much. This is such a cool concept.

Alright, now that we’ve talked about creating standards and living up to them, and all of the benefits, let’s spend a few minutes troubleshooting here. What if, as you’re listening to this, you can think of standards you’d love to uphold, but you’re having some trouble living them out.

Which, by the way, is entirely normal and to be expected. So, then what? Remember, I’ve said it thousands of times before, No one gets it right from the get-go. Some standards are much easier to carry out than others, no doubt. So, what do you do if you’re struggling to meet the standards you’ve set for yourself?

Let me introduce you to the concept of the minimum baseline. Okay, just as it sounds, the minimum baseline is your floor, or the least amount of an action or behavior that you will accept from yourself. As an example, say you’re working to set a standard of exercising five times a week for 30 minutes, and that’s proving to be hard for you.

Here is where you can set a minimum baseline. That can be something like, ‘I will get at least five minutes of movement in three times a week.’ Then you practice that. You hold yourself to it; five minutes. That could be a short stretch session, or a cooldown ride on your peloton, or short walk around your neighborhood. But whatever it is, you hold yourself to it.

You can even think of it this way. The standard is what you want to work up to, it’s the ideal. But it can be hard to hit your ideal right from the start. So, in addition to the standard, you also set a minimum baseline of what you will accept from yourself. It’s kind of like setting a floor and a ceiling for yourself. And then, you work to hit, at the very least, your minimum baseline with your ultimate goal of reaching your standard.

It gives you a range of behavior that is still in alignment with your goals. Okay, so here’s why this concept is helpful. When you are creating standards, remember, it’s still in progress, you’re not there yet. There are going to be missteps along the way. For many of you, especially for my perfectionist out there, if you cannot meet your goal 100%, you may say, “Well, why bother?”

So, here’s why bother. Here’s why you should bother to set a minimum baseline. When you set a minimum baseline that is just a slight stretch but still doable, and you do it, that feels good. It feels good to meet your goals. It feels good to set a goal and then do it.

And sometimes, when we’re setting goals related to habits, we tend to shoot for the moon. I’m all for aiming high, but sometimes we have such unrealistic expectations of ourselves, then we don’t meet them, and we use that as an excuse to stop the process altogether. So instead, the minimum baseline is a way to ensure yourself. As I said, it should be a slight stretch, but not super hard. You can think of it this way, most people create habits and standards based on what they can do on their best days. Think about it.

When you’ve had a smooth workday, everything goes as scheduled, you leave on time, and you already have a meal planned and prepped, it’s easy to eat in alignment with your plan. It is not as easy when you’ve had a horrible day, you’re 45 minutes late heading home, your kids need to be in two different places, you have no idea what’s in your fridge, and nothing is prepped.

I say it all the time, because it’s so true, it’s easy when it’s easy, right? When the stars align, and everything goes as planned, it’s easier to meet your standards. So, the minimum baseline, that’s there for when things aren’t so easy. That’s for the day that’s not going according to plan. Because when things are a mess, that’s when it counts.

When your day or your schedule or your life is a total mess, and you still stick to your minimum baseline, that’s it. That’s discipline. That’s adulthood. That’s holding yourself accountable. And it’s proving your own self-trust. It’s proving to yourself, ‘I can still stick to my plan. Even when all hell was breaking loose. I can still follow through even when it’s hard.’

That means something; that means a lot, actually. The more you do this, the easier it gets. When you’ve had a hard day at work, when you don’t feel well rested, when you prefer to stay in bed, when you’d rather get a burger and fries, but you don’t do any of those things because you’ve set a standard and a minimum baseline for yourself, and you believe in yourself enough to follow through, that’s when you are on fire.

That’s when you become unstoppable. That is when you create a lifestyle that works for you and gives you freedom. And that feels really, really good.

If you want help with this, let’s talk. We are well into 2024, and if you’re having trouble creating standards and living them out, I can help you. When you coach with me, you will create your standards and your minimum baseline, and then I will help you with the tools you need to carry them out. So, check out my website. Go to www.CarrieHollandMD.com/contact, tell me what standards you’d like to create, and let’s get to work.

Thank you again for hanging out with me. I’ll catch you again next week. If you like what you’ve been hearing, please review the show. I would love to get your feedback and ideas. Your suggestions have inspired episodes and will help me make the show better for you. Share this podcast with a friend, text a show link, share a screenshot, or post a link to the show on your social media. Be sure to tag me @CarrieHollandMD on either Instagram or Facebook so I can follow along and engage with you.

This is how we get the word out to other working moms who want to feel strong inside and out. If you know someone who wants to feel better or eat and move differently but she is too tired or too busy, it is time to change things up. You know making that change starts with how you think, and that is what we do here on the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. I’ll see you next week.

Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think, so you can live in the body you want, with the mind to match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.

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