Research has shown that having a strong sense of purpose can have profound, positive effects. Knowing your “why” can make you happier, improve the quality of your life, strengthen your physical and mental health, and even help you live longer.(1,2) Cultivating this drive and determination can also be a powerful force in determining your success in individual areas of your life. When you have a sense of purpose in what you’re doing, that feeling of something bigger works to drive you forward. This feeling can be extremely powerful and helps to gently push you to accomplish more than you may have thought possible.
Why it matters (in weight loss)
Doing an honest evaluation to determine your motivation for losing weight is a critical step in your weight loss journey. When it comes to weight loss—or lifestyle changes in general—knowing your why is crucial in how successful you’ll be, especially long-term.(3) It’s also important to take an honest look at where you are in terms of readiness to change. What stage you’re in can impact your why.
The 4 levels of Readiness
Stage 1: Compelled by authority to change.
Your doctor tells you to eat better to lower your cholesterol.
Stage 2: Comply to escape criticism.
It’s when everybody expects you to do it, so you fulfill their expectations. For example, your family and friends expect that you will make changes to get healthy.
Stage 3: Intellectually aware of the need for change.
You know you should change to be healthier, but you don’t feel it yet.
Stage 4: Mentally and emotionally self-motivated by change.
You know you need to change and you want to change no matter what it takes.
And while there are some common motivators, the inspiration for losing weight varies from individual to individual. Maybe you want to be able to play with your kids or grandkids. Perhaps you’ve noticed that your weight is negatively impacting your self-esteem. It could be that you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition where being overweight is a factor. Or it could simply be that you’re finally ready to get off the exhausting merry-go-round of yo-yo dieting once and for all.
Whatever your reason is, genuinely and honestly determining what it is is a necessary step if you want to succeed. And we get it; it can sometimes be painful removing those internal filters and acknowledging areas we need to work on and even need help in. The reality is, though, without a legitimate, deep-seated motivator to propel you forward and give you the energy and drive to overcome the inevitable obstacles, you are much more likely to eventually fall back into your old habits.(4)
Five ways knowing your “why” can boost your weight loss
It helps you set attainable goals.
When we don’t have a solid grasp of why we want to lose weight, we tend to set goals that are either too vague or unrealistic. This uncertainty sets us up for failure right from the beginning. However, when we understand why we’re doing what we’re doing, we can create a roadmap dotted with more realistic targets.
It helps you design an achievable plan.
Knowing why you are working toward a specific goal lets you strip away all the noise and vagueness, giving you a chance to put together a personalized plan. When you eliminate all the things that don’t apply to your goal, it lets you focus only on those that will. Instead of trying to use someone else’s plan, you can design a plan that works for you—what foods to focus on (or avoid), what kind of timeframe you’re working with, and how it will all fit into your life.
It helps you stop comparing yourself to others.
Chances are, you’ve seen the recommendations to pin photos of “healthy” looking models as motivation to lose weight or get healthier. Unfortunately, research has shown that using someone else’s body as inspiration is actually much more likely to do just the opposite and discourage you. (Every body is different after all!) When you know exactly what your motivation is, however, you are less likely to worry about comparing yourself to others and much more likely to recognize that everyone is on their own journey for their own reasons. So why bother comparing yourself or chasing unrealistic body standards?
It helps you focus on more than just the scale.
More often than not, when we go “on a diet,” we tend to use the scale as the be-all-end-all measurement of our success or failure. However, the fact is that while the scale is undoubtedly an essential tool in tracking our weight loss success, it’s only that, a single tool. Depending on your goals, there may be other more valuable tools you’ll want to have in your toolbox. For example, if your kids or grandkids inspire you, success might be measured by having more energy to play with them.
It helps point you to more helpful tools.
If your motivation for losing weight is to improve your overall health, regularly measuring blood pressure and testing things like HbA1c, hs-CRP, and thyroid hormones can be helpful. If your primary driver for losing weight is to try and alleviate sleep apnea, using tools like the OURA ring, FitBit, or the Sleep Cycle app can help you monitor changes. Suppose your main goal is to boost energy levels. In that case, tools like this simple online VO2 max calculator, a heart rate monitor chest strap, or a smartwatch can give you better insights into your progress.
What’s your why?
Understanding the importance of having a “why” for successful weight loss is one thing; knowing precisely what that why is is another. These steps can help you determine your reasons for wanting to lose weight.
- Take the time to sit by yourself with no distractions and honestly define the specific reason(s) you want to lose weight. It’s also important to write these down with old-school pen and paper – no digital screens for this part. Research shows that you are 1.4 times more likely to succeed in those goals when you physically write them down.(5)
- Keeping a weight loss journal is incredibly helpful in tracking your progress. It can also be an invaluable tool to identify triggers, patterns, and emotions to help you recognize other potential motivators for wanting to lose weight. Keeping a regular journal can also help you pinpoint routines that work—and don’t work—for you. For example, you may find that you are much more likely to commit to exercising in the morning instead of later in the day.
- Working with a coach provides indispensable support, keeps you accountable, and can motivate you to be more active in your weight loss journey.(6) Coaches can also be excellent sounding boards to help you further identify reasons for wanting to get healthier.
- Use this worksheet to make the process easier. We’ve created this worksheet to help you craft a why statement that is personal and specific to you.
Here’s an example of what it might look like working toward your why:
Why do I really want to lose weight? I want my clothes to fit.
Why is that important to me? So that I feel good and can wear my favorite shirt again.
Why is that important to me? So that I’m more confident and have more energy.
Why is that important to me? So that I feel ready to take on what life may bring and keep up with my family and friends.
Why is that important to me? So that I don’t miss out on living and to enjoy shared experiences with my loved ones.
Why is that important to me? So that I have deeper, more connected relationships with the ones I love and have a more joyful life.
Other strategies that can help strengthen your motivation and keep you focused include:
- Setting specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-based goals (SMART) to fuel an ongoing feeling of accomplishment and avoid burnout.(7)
- Celebrating your successes along the way. Never use food as a reward. Instead, focus on things that help to reinforce this positive lifestyle change, such as a red light therapy session, taking a cooking class, or treating yourself to a massage.
- Staying positive! The famous quote from Buddha fits perfectly here, “We are what we think.” Be sure to think and talk positively about your weight loss journey, the actions you’re going to take, and how you’ll overcome any obstacles that may come up along the way.
- Accepting that you’re not perfect (no one is!) and recognizing that you don’t need to be to reach your goals. Do your best, and when you falter, get up, dust yourself off and keep going.
- Being mindful when you eat can help you recognize emotional eating and be aware of the patterns that lead to it. If you are prone to emotional eating, bringing awareness can help you stop that cycle and be more successful in your weight loss journey.(8,9)
- Read your why every day. Write it on a sticky note and put it by your bed or on your bathroom mirror. Set an alarm on your phone to read it out once or twice a day. Record it as a voice memo and listen to it as soon as you wake up.
Whatever your inspiration, taking the time to honestly evaluate and know your unique “why” is crucial to successfully accomplishing your weight loss goal. Focusing on your why each day will keep you motivated, keep you on track, and help you maintain a healthy state of mind the whole time.
2 Alimujiang, A., Wiensch, A., Boss, J., Fleischer, N.L., Mondul, A.M., McLean, K., Mukherjee, B., & Pierce, C.L. (2019). Association between life purpose and mortality among US adults older than 50 years. JAMA Network Open, 2(5):e194270. 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.4270