As a trainer, I consider it a personal failure if I’m unable to motivate a client to make important health and lifestyle changes.

Sure, there are people who just don’t care, but I can spot them from 100 metres away. I’m not talking about them.

I’m referring to the clients who really want to lose the weight. They actually do care, but it just doesn’t happen. They struggle to muster even half the motivation required to do the work, self-sabotage and eventually feel so defeated that they quit. It hurts to watch.

On the flipside, other clients get in and get the job done. Their sights are set and they just plough ahead until mission accomplished. By this point exercise and eating healthily are non-negotiable parts of their lifestyle. It’s who they’ve become.

Same methods, totally different outcomes.

I wanted to give you a simple explanation for your lack of enthusiasm around exercise.

When I started working on this article, my goal was to announce a faulty brain-wiring mechanism that scientists have just discovered, then hand over a solution that’d jump-start your motivation engine and send you running into the land of health, vitality and early mornings.

Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen.

But keep reading, because to an extent, your brain wiring does impact how motivated you feel.

Your brain and motivation

So, what separates my clients who achieve their weight loss goals from those who don’t? Is it a difference in brain chemistry?

The answer is yes … and no.

There’s a system in your brain that impacts your levels of motivation called the reward network, explains Fiona Kumfor, senior research fellow at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre.

“That involves two regions: the ventral striatum and parts of the pre-frontal cortex,” Dr Kumfor says.

“Together they’re involved in our willingness to work, our motivation to engage in behaviours, and our willingness to persist in that effort over time.

“Really importantly, it influences our decisions on what’s working for us and what’s not.”

Dopamine, a chemical messenger, is the star quarterback in this reward network — it’s released during pleasurable situations, and the ventral striatum and pre-frontal cortex have receptors that are really sensitive to it.

An increase in our dopamine levels to those areas is what gives you that sense of reward, regardless of whether the stimulus is food, sex, exercise, fat loss or winning at Mario Kart.

This dopamine boost is what encourages you to repeat the activity that got you the reward, so you get can it again.

But here’s the kicker: you don’t get that reward rush until after you engage in the behaviour.

Instant gratification

Getting someone to engage in the behaviour for long enough to value that dopamine rush in the first place is where myself and many other well-meaning health professionals get stuck.

What makes one person see getting healthy as achievable and another person see it as unsurmountable is the Nobel Prize-winning question, Dr Kumfor says, and unfortunately science isn’t quite there yet.

– Cassie White

Read more: Why Getting Motivated is Hard (and How to Do it Anyway)

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