For decades people have tried to figure out the secret to motivation. With our ever busier lives and longer and longer lists of to-do items, we long for the secret to getting motivated to turn off Grey’s Anatomy and go outside for a jog. Most often you were told to “use your willpower”. Turn off the TV, put down the Oreos, and organize the garage by using your willpower! But willpower seems to be an elusive superhero power that you either have or you don’t. Maybe you’ve wondered where the storefront was that sold the stuff so you could have the willpower of all those gym rats and Kate Moss’. Do they have a secret stash in a health food store in San Francisco? Somewhere in Rainbow Grocery on a top shelf in the back corner perhaps there is a well-worn label on a glass jar of alliaceae willpowerus. (Sorry, sold out.) So until the next crop of willpowerus arrives in local stores, how do we get motivated on our own?

Recently, TV shows have recruited volunteers for weight loss and asked them to lose a specific amount of weight in a certain time period. One of the shows, on ABC’s Primetime, (see the article here) asked the participants to lose 15 pounds in two months, or they would reveal a picture of them in a swimming suit on national television. This was a powerful motivator! Another similar show found that all the participants were able to reach their goal weight loss. Why was this such a powerful motivator? What is the secret to motivation?

There are two types of motivation – internal and external.

Internal motivation. Do you know anyone who gets up at 6 a.m. every morning to jog? Have you thought they were insane? This is internal motivation. Think of things you love to do so much that there is not much that would stop you from doing it. These actions are motivated by true internal drives. Beliefs, morals, values, and habits are the basis for these internal drives. These drives have deep seated psychological anchors and are very hard to change. You may not even be able to identify the root cause of many things you do because of internal motivation.

External motivation. Monday morning at 6 a.m. and your alarm goes off. Again. How many times have you pushed that snooze alarm and went through a list of reasons why you should stay in bed? After realizing that getting fired would significantly affect your lifestyle, you drag yourself out of bed and head off to work. This is the other side of motivation: external. This is the stuff you do because of consequences. There are both positive and negative consequences, but negative consequences tend to be bigger motivators than positive. Humans naturally will work harder to avoid pain than to receive pleasure.

Getting Motivated. So how do you move stuff from the “to-do list” to the “doing list”? You could spend years analyzing the psychology of your hidden internal motivators, but who has that kind of time or money?? You want results now! You want to lose 10 pounds yesterday! So forgo a shrink’s couch and get moving by setting up some foolproof accountability.

The threat of revealing bikini pictures on national television is a great example of an external motivator. What are other ways that you can harness the power of external motivation? The key is to set up accountability that is foolproof, which usually involves the help of another person. If we could follow through on our own, we wouldn’t need accountability in the first place! Here are some examples:

Find a Partner. When you commit to someone else, you don’t want to let them down. Find someone who is as committed as you are, or better yet, even more so. This definitely won’t work with a person that is likely to back out at the last minute. Set a specific time to meet each week or day and make it a routine.

Hire a Coach. A coach can help tailor accountability to your personality. Plus when you pay someone, it heightens your commitment level. You are more likely to put forth the effort and follow through on your promises.

Send Revealing Photos. Who would you least like to see you in your current state? Take some pictures of yourself or the situation (bikini, messy garage, etc.) and put them in a pre-addressed, stamped envelope, handing them off to a trusted friend. If you fail to follow through on your promises, instruct the friend to mail off the envelope, no ifs ands or buts!

Donate Money. Set up a donation that will go to a group you oppose if you fail to follow through on your action plan.

What things are on your to-do list? Lose weight, get organized, eat healthier, exercise more, run a marathon, get a new job, save more money, etc. What other external motivators can you think of?

Carole Freeman is a nutrition coach specializing in weight loss and craving control. Sign up for FREE coaching at www.NutritionCoachOnline.com