Updated: Jun 13
You are hardwired to survive so you can thrive. Motivation to be healthy is automatically built into every human being. It is a whole-person knowing.
The challenge is we have made motivation a brain-based activity and rely on the stress states like fear and guilt for motivation. This makes it a constant struggle and keeps your physiology in the state that drains health. When you include your physical and spiritual elements in motivation, you find your Core Why.
This is your most elemental, heart/gut level reason for doing anything. It keeps you motivated by using your thrive state, the health-promoting state of your physiology. In this article, I share the simple steps to unleash this natural motivation and simplify healthy habits.
“Discovering the WHY injects passion into our work. This is not a formula for success… it’s a tool to help us achieve long-term, fulfilling success.” Simon Sinek
Simon Sinek popularized finding your Why for work. His 2009 TED talk is one of the 25 most popular TED talks of all time. Why is finding Your Why so appealing? In his TED talk, he spelled out with a mesmerizing conviction that the companies who clearly convey their Why enjoy success, and the ones who don’t never find satisfying success.
It can certainly feel like that when it comes to being healthy. You may find momentary success, but then you have to fight to keep it while taking care of other health concerns. Achieving “long term, fulfilling success with being healthy” seems to be constantly out of reach.
The fact is, each of us has the motivation to be healthy built right into our cells. Even when it does not seem like it, you have the innate drive to survive so you can thrive. You can't help it. It’s just part of being human.
The challenge is that our typical ways to get and stay motivated distance us from this innate drive to thrive. When you know what to do but struggle to get, and stay, motivated to do it, it’s time to clarify your Core Why.
Your Core Why is the most personalized, innate reason for doing anything for your health and all aspects of your well-being. Surface Whys are reasons like losing weight, preventing heart disease, and looking better. These are important to your logical brain, but that is not where motivation comes from.
Get below the surface of these Whys to find greater energy and clarity built within you. You will find barriers no longer stop you in your tracks. Instead, you will have a personalized guide for getting unstuck and staying motivated even when life gets stressful.
What is your Core Why?
Your Core Why is the bare bones, non-negotiable element of what is most important to you in life right now. While seeing the scale go down, or your cholesterol levels improve, or your activity monitor light up at your step goal gives you a good feeling, it is a brain-based sense of satisfaction. Those measures are connected in your brain to something deeper. It’s that depth that unleashes your natural motivation.
The challenge is we have a tendency to use the survive state to get us motivated. Fear is a great motivator. The risk of disease, harm or illness gets your attention, so we use it as a motivator. That ‘survive state’ tells your body and brain to use energy to fight, flee, or freeze against that threat. Less energy goes into healing, growth, and learning – or away from the health state.
True and lasting motivation comes from your whole person. It is most effective for your health when in the thrive state because that is when energy goes into healing, growth, and learning. When you add your physical and spiritual parts to the mental part of your motivation, you uncover your thrive state and unleash your natural motivation to be healthy.
The three elements of thriving that drive your motivation
Physical. Being physically safe is how you survive, so protecting your body from harm is the most primitive and primary need. That physical safety communicates to your brain and spirit that there is no threat right now to your surviving, so it’s time to thrive!
Spiritual. This is the sense of what brings you joy, what you can most about in life, and those traits that make you unique. It is this ‘you-ness’ that creates your connection to what you are passionate about in life, the people you care about, and the world at large.
Mental. Your brain is constantly taking in information from your body and your spirit. It can override them and push through pain, fatigue, and boredom but that takes a great deal of energy. When your brain regards your body and spirit as valuable guides to what to do for your health and well-being, you tap into your natural motivation to thrive.
The essential messengers about your Core Why
The body/brain/spirit connection is inseparable and instantaneous. With so much going on in each part as well as around you at any given moment, you need messengers to tell if you are in the survive or thrive state. That is where emotions come in.
Emotions are valuable messengers about what state you are in right now. If you sense you are safe, connected, and enough right now, you are in the thrive state. If you are sense you are unsafe, disconnected, or not enough right now, you are in the survive state. Since your health and well-being happen when your physiology is in the thrive state, how you feel right now is your best guide.
Often when trying to do what we know we should to be healthy, we ignore our emotions. Listening to them is seen as being soft, losing your edge, and not leading to motivation. This attitude comes from the athletic mindset. Athletes need to override what their body is telling them when they are head-on with an opponent or feeling pain as they run toward the finish line.
This works for short-term motivation to achieve external rewards, like a gold medal, but your brain can only do that for so long. Unfortunately, this mindset has cause us to use the survive state to to generate motivation for being healthy. The phrases we use, like ‘fighting’ a disease or ‘battling’ your weight, perpetuate this brain-based mindset meant for short-term motivation.
The shift to a healthy mindset about exercise means knowing each part of your whole person is hardwired to work together to thrive. By knowing your emotions are simply messengers from the conversation between your body, brain and spirit, you see them for what they are. Emotions don’t define you, they guide you back to your Core Why. This ensures you are using the thrive state for motivation by allowing your whole person to work together as designed.
Your personalized guide to lasting habits
There is no one-size-fits-all Core Why because what it means for you to be safe, connected, and enough is unique to you. There is also no set Core Why that lasts your whole life. As your body and life change, your Core Why will also change.
Most important is to know that Your Core Why is not something you know in your head, it’s something you sense with your whole person, in the present moment. Your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual elements are hardwired to communicate constantly about your sense of being safe, connected, and enough.
This is why just knowing what to do does not lead to motivation. You need to tap into what your whole person knows about whether what you do will lead to being safe, enough, and connected, right now, in this moment.
This is also aligning with the way habits form. Habits form not from doing something for a certain period of time, but by how you feel when you do them. Awareness of your sense of being safe, connected, and enough while doing anything for your health and well-being means you are more likely to feel better in your whole person from doing them. If you feel better right away, your body tells your brain this is an action to repeat and it is on track to become a habit.
But life gets complicated and can pull you away from what your whole person is telling you, plus old habits and media messages can keep you focused on surface Whys. Clarify your Core Why for a simple, personalized up-to-date way to tap into your natural motivation to thrive.
How to find your Core Why
The foundation steps for finding your Core Why are from a combination of sources.1, 2, 3 It has been refined by what I have learned from working with thousands of people wanting to get and stay motivated for healthy habits. Using these steps brings the ‘good stuff’, what matters most, to the surface and then lets you put it in a form that you can use easily when motivation starts to fade. .
Since your Core Why is a whole-person knowing, do this exercise in a space where you feel physically comfortable, spiritually inspired, and mentally focused. Get a piece of paper and pen. Before you start, take a moment to pause, feel your breath and allow your body to move in some way to release tension. Now settle into a comfortable position so you whole person is relaxed and present.
As you go through the questions, write down whatever comes to mind. Simply brainstorm so you stay open to writing down everything, even what may seem impossible. There are no right or wrong answers and there is no limit here. Most importantly, have fun! Click here to download the Core Why PDF
1. What do I want most for my well-being right now?
2. What would that make possible for you? (So that I can….)
3. What would that make possible for the people you care about? (So that they can…)
4. What would that make possible for the world at large? (So that there is more _____ in the world)
Now, look over what you wrote. Circle the word or words that jump out at you with an inner “Yes! That is what I want right now!” Trust that inner spark. It’s your spiritual element, the ultimate source of your Core Why, letting you know you are on the right track. Write that word or words again below your answers in big bold lettering.
Put this aside for a day or two. Let that word or words ‘marinade’ as you try them out. Notice what gives you a spark of energy. This lets you know your word or words are user-friendly. If you don’t feel that spark, go through the questions again. We are peeling back layers here. Sometimes it takes a while to shed the ‘surface why’ layers. Trust the process and stay curious.
When life changes and this word no longer resonates, go through these steps again and redefine your Core Why.
Enjoy keeping your Core Why on the surface and watch what happens. Notice when you see it leading you in your daily life with greater ease and confidence. Notice how it ripples out to other people.
Summary of Your Core Why for lasting motivation
Your Core Why is not just a word, it’s your word; it’s the personal meaning behind the word that only you know and feels. When you hear it, it sends you right to the heart of what is most important to you in life right now. This is what will keep you motivated even when your to-do list is long and your mental energy is short. It will guide you back to the thrive state when you are hijacked in the survive state. It’s like a beacon of light when no motivation can be found.
Your Core Why is a whole-person awareness of your sense of being safe, enough, and connected. The more you include your whole person in your motivation, the greater your ability to develop lasting habits for exercise, healthy eating, and stress reduction.
Want a shortcut to finding Your Why for exercising?
You will find more resources for finding and using your Core Why in my free Be Well Now course. Better yet, a coaching conversation gets you to that one word with greater ease and clarity. Click here for a free coaching call with me and discover the power of having your own personalized internal guide to knowing what to do and how to stay motivated. Why free? Because a key element of my Core Why for well-being is that I believe each of us is born to thrive. Life is complicated enough. Being motivated needs to be simple.
Scherer, John, Five Questions That Change Everything: Life Lessons at Work Word Keepers, 2009
Moore, Margaret, et. al, Coaching Psychology Manual 2nd edition, Wolters Kluwer, Philadelphia, 2016
Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why: how great leaders inspire everyone to take action. New York, Portfolio.