It’s 6:30 in the morning on a cold and windy November morning in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I look out the window and see a lone man or woman in a black wet suit and surfboard heading out onto the beach and into the ocean to get pounded around by heavy Atlantic Ocean surf. It’s not even first light. A couple more surfers join the first. They were there yesterday morning and the morning before, too. They must be crazy to get up this early, put on heavy, tight, restrictive wet suits and go out in this cold weather to get in the seemingly freezing water for a couple of hours of getting pounded by the ice cold ocean surf. What drives them to do that when most of us don’t even want to get out of bed this early?.
But those crazy people are out there doing it right before our eyes. What motivates them?
What motivates others to go to the gym at 5:30 AM and force their bodies to do stressful things before their real day has even started. Are they looking for praise or pats on the back? Probably not. They are there for their own reasons, knowing that the benefits will come only to them, and that those benefits are real. They know that going to the gym early in the morning is the best way for them to start the day. It may be hard to get up, pull on clothes, get in the car and get started so early, but they do it anyhow. And you know what, they’ll find a whole lot of other people there, all doing the same thing. They are looking after their bodies and minds in hopes of staying healthy and fit, not to show off, but simply because they know that the benefits of doing it outweigh the negative results of not doing it.
I keep reading that we all know what to do to keep healthy, fit and filled with positive personal energy. But we don’t do it. In fact a recent Harvard Study found that of those people who were told by their doctors that unless they changed their lifestyle they would die, only one out of seven made the necessary changes.
But there is an old theory that keeps popping up on the horizon and seems to be coming up more and more lately. It’s called “Intrinsic Motivation”. What does that mean? It’s not new. It’s was first written about around 1975. In fact it’s been used by top level performance athletes for years, and it’s just now being openly discussed. It means that people do these things for their own internal reasons, whatever they might be, rather than for any external reason such as praise, glory, vanity or money (extrinsic motivation). They are simply motivated to do something because they enjoy doing it, and want the benefits. They don’t much care what others think. It’s the “flow” feeling they get, that runners call a “runner’s high”.
- It’s what motivates those surfers to don wet suits at 6:30 in the morning to go out into the cold ocean and spend their morning riding waves in the middle of Winter.
- It’s what makes me get up early in the middle of Winter and get to the gym by 5:30 every morning and work my body for 50 minutes to an hour.
- It’s what makes my wife, a school teacher who taught regularly for 37 years, continue to get up and be a substitute teacher as she has for the last 15 years since she retired, even though the school board cut her pay by 30% this school year.
- It’s why some people change their eating habits and permanently lose weight, while others yo-yo up and down and can’t seem to stay with it.
- It’s because it’s what makes you Come Alive! It puts you into a form of “Flow” state where nothing matters but the “doing” itself.
People who are intrinsically motivated are doing it for themselves, not for some external reward or what others may think of them. They love the way they look and feel. They aren’t really interested in how others look at them. Oh, they love to have people tell them that their weight loss is really noticeable. Quite naturally it makes them feel good when they hear compliments from others. But that’s not the reason they keep at it day after day.
In an article in Forbes by Jamie Wheal, best selling author of the outstanding book, Stealing Fire, he quoted billionaire Richard Branson who will be 67 years old this July, as saying:
.“When I’m fit, when I’m healthy (while pouring a fresh green smoothie), when I haven’t been drinking too much, when my body’s humming I can achieve anything, and that should go without saying, but the majority of us go through life where we don’t reach that peak.
“I wake up every morning here at 5:30. I’d never do that in Europe. I play tennis in the morning and play tennis in the evening. I don’t watch television, because you don’t need to here. I go kitesurfing when the wind’s right, I go sailing, surfing, swimming – life is the richer for living here.”
Intrinsic motivation is what helps people like me get to the gym in the morning, much the same way it help surfers drag on their wet suits at 6:30 AM in the middle of November in the Outer Banks and take the plunge into the cold surf at first light. It’s what makes you want to get up in the morning. It’s what makes you get into the Flow of life and live longer and better. It’s a Come Alive Attitude toward yourself, and life. It is reflected not in the way others see you, but in the vision you have of yourself.
So if you want the health, fitness and personal energy benefits, you have to want it for yourself, not for what others think. Even if your own doctor wants you to get fit, lose weight . . . or lose your life, chances are you will be one of the seven who don’t take action unless you have the intrinsic motivation to really want it — for yourself and for no other reason. Will you be that exception?
Thank you for reading.