Q: Hello Erika,

[…] I use to exercise all the time when I was younger. When I realized I was gaining I would eat different and exercise more. I was good at keeping my weight reasonable. After hitting the age 38 everything did not work the same as it did. So now my motivation is not as strong. I just don’t know how to encourage myself to lose the weight anymore. YES…I want to lose weight but my motivation SUCKS!!! If you have anything you can tell me that helped you please let me know.

I’ve learned a lot about motivation and will power over the years.

This isn’t as simple as we’ve led ourselves to believe, frankly.

As we age, our responsibilities change and, because of that, our priorities do, too. You might have a mortgage or a bigger family now, so that job because extra important. This is a normal and human response to growing up.

We have to recognize, however, that just because our priorities shift doesn’t mean that the things that move closer to the bottom are completely knocked off the list. Self-care doesn’t pay the bills… but if you run yourself ragged trying to keep the bills paid because you never take care of yourself, you’re not going to enjoy the fruits of all that labor at all.

What’s more, our motivations change as we age, too. When we’re younger, we might’ve been motivated to stay in shape because we were trying to attract a partner, or we were active in a sport that required it, or maybe simply because we cared a great deal about it. Now that you’re older, you might have decided to care less about attracting a spouse, you might’ve quit your sport, or now you just DGAF. It happens.

The motivation we have to do something is directly linked to how much we are satisfied by it. And, because you connect less with your old methods of staying fit and more with the behaviors that keep you where you are, it’s hard to tip the scale in favor of something that’s no longer as satisfying.

I hope I’m making this all make sense. I’m trying to not write a thousand words in response to our girl over here.

38 might mean it’s time to start looking out for menopause, but 38 also signals—especially in America—that you likely have a desk job, and very well may have had it for a few years now. Giving your all to that kind of career—especially nowadays—often means 12, 14, in some cases 18 hour days grinding away. The immensely satisfying and gratifying action of sitting at home, vegging out in front of the TV, and enjoying your favorite foods will almost always outweigh hitting your favorite activity. Doing that for a few years guarantees your metabolism will be shot.

While it seems daunting, this isn’t the uphill battle it might seem to be.

The first thing I encourage people to do is find recipes that use fresh ingredients that they can try out in their spare time. I know, I know, spare time is a joke, but set aside a little time for yourself to learn a new recipe in a stress-and-pressure-free environment. Give yourself some time to play in the kitchen, taste things as you cook them or season them, and allow yourself to enjoy the process as a stress reliever. (And, if it doesn’t work out, tweet me—I can always help troubleshoot a recipe.) You have to find a way to learn to enjoy the process of eating better for yourself, and make it so much more enjoyable that the joy you get from cooking outweighs what you’d get from not cooking…and this process then helps it become a habit.

The same goes for your activity of choice—go activity hopping. Find one that works for you—something that brings the sweat out, but also brings you joy, as well. I find that, as we get older, we tend to become isolationists—we ain’t tryna’ be bothered, we ain’t got time, and we can’t even. It doesn’t have to be done the same way you did it before, it only has to be done the way that makes you happiest. When you find an activity that involves being in a place you enjoy, with people you enjoy, and burning a ton of calories? That will bring your motivation back.

As I’ve been trying to understand motivation on a level beyond the cutesy stuff we see in IG graphics, I realize that motivation is so oversimplified that we take for granted how important it is. We do so many things that leave us unhappy—things we do every day, like a mad long commute or a job you totally hate—that we take for granted the need to pursue our own happiness. We’ve got to change that.

Consider it a self-care practice to play in the kitchen, take a cooking class, or learn some meals that work for you. Find activities that feed your soul and fuel your fitness pursuits, and make some new friends while you’re at it. Before you know it, you’ll be getting back in shape and enjoying it, and your body will be thanking you for it!