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Reaching goals could mostly be about lifestyle changes

| Friday, July 19, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
Michael McParlane
Unity Township's Tim Hewitt during the 1,000-plus mile foot race in Alaska earlier this year.
Tim Hewitt
Unity Township's Tim Hewitt during the 1,000-plus mile foot race in Alaska earlier this year.

There are many routes to a healthier lifestyle and Josef Brandenburg insists his isn't fueled by motivation.

The Washington, D.C.-area certified fitness instructor, co-author of the international best-selling book, “Results Fitness,” finds that one of the most significant obstacles that people complain about when it comes to eating better and working out regularly is lack of motivation.

The good news about motivation, he insists: “You don't need it.”

Motivation is a feeling, Brandenburg says, and “feelings come and go, you just can't count on them.”

His mantra: “Be disciplined, not motivated.”

A “keystone habit” to develop discipline and structure in other areas of our life can be something as cliche as making our beds each day, he says.

Motivation can help people get started with something, but it is discipline that will keep them going over the long haul, he says.

Some in the Pittsburgh area health community, however, maintain that motivation is a vital component of lifestyle change and goal setting.

Glen Getz, clinical neuropsychologist at Allegheny General Hospital, marathoner and author of an article on goal setting, says, “Somebody could easily argue that you need to have motivation to be disciplined. Research suggests that motivation is complex, and by saying it doesn't matter, but discipline does, seems to overly simplify this area.”

Motivation is not merely a “feeling,” he says. Developing discipline can be viewed as the personality trait component of motivation, he says.

“The word ‘discipline' scares me,” says Judy Dodd, registered nurse and dietician in the University of Pittsburgh's School of Health and Rehab Services.

“Just the word is enough to turn some people off, especially if they are out of control (with their lifestyle),” she says. “Life is not that disciplined. We should look at how to take control, put order in our lives, by planning and setting goals that are reasonable and achievable for us, but that do not disrupt the quality of our lives.”

Her philosophy for making healthy eating decisions: “Take time to look at and really put it into your mind before you put it into your mouth.”

She enthusiastically supports an occasional piece of chocolate, though.

Complete deprivation certainly can backfire, even slowing the pace toward a goal, says Dr. Moira Davenport, a sports medicine specialist at Allegheny General Hospital and a marathoner.

“If you like cookies, buy them in a small amount. Every once in a while you need a little boost,” she says.

“A little bit” of both motivation and discipline is required, she says. “If you're not motivated, you may do something halfhearted and not reach your potential.”

Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, agrees with Brandenburg that we can control discipline.

“But sometimes it can control you and that can be just as problematic,” she says. “I have never heard of someone being too motivated, but too disciplined could lead to exercise-induced injuries, or perhaps disordered eating tendencies.”

When it comes to making food choices, she prefers what she considers the more positive term “skill power” rather than using “willpower.” “Use the skill to change the eating environment to make it conducive to success,” she says. “Have the foods around that you are comfortable with.”

It is important to remember that every person is not motivated in the same way, says Patrick Martin, exercise physiologist and supervisor of the Well Being Center of Excela Health, Greensburg.

Some people do not know how to become motivated and disciplined, he says. “It is our job as fitness trainers, health coaches, dieticians, nutritionists and others to help individuals find the intrinsic (internal) motivation and extrinsic (external) motivation that lies within each and every one of us.”

Both motivation and discipline are learned behavior through life, he says.

Teacher Tom Abbott, 58, one of the leading master division runners in Western Pennsylvania, believes it is necessary to have both motivation and discipline to be successful.

He reminds members of his cross-country team at Highlands High School, Natrona Heights, that “all types of change is hard” and that there is “power in numbers” in making changes together, with a support system. That applies to people in all walks of life and levels of fitness in making food choices, weight loss and other lifestyle target areas, he implies.

Whatever your objective, it is good to take a long-term focus and to expect some deviation.

“When deviation occurs, get back to the routine as soon as possible,” says Tim Hewitt, 58, of Unity, a Latrobe lawyer and the only person to complete Alaska's Iditarod Trail event — the human-powered walk-run of 1,000-plus miles, not the dogsled race — seven times. “Don't let yourself off the hook on your goals, but don't beat yourself up too much or you may lose your self-discipline all together and move away from your objective.”

Those who develop automatic habits find it much easier to get back on track, says Dr. Vicki March, medical director of the Lifestyle program at Magee's Center for Bariatric Surgery and co-director of UPMC BodyChangers, which helps individuals achieve weight loss goals.

It is much better to exercise “a little most of the time” than a lot only occasionally, she says.

She advocates having a back-up plan for exercise when on vacation or during hectic holidays. “Ask yourself, ‘What can I do instead?' ” so you don't fall off the wagon, she advises. It may be just taking a walk on the beach.

“You don't want to make your new lifestyle unpleasant; make it fun,” she says.

That is more than just a good idea, says Aimee Kimball, director of mental training at UPMC Sports Medicine.

“When people are trying to exercise and get healthy and stick with something and create a new lifestyle for themselves, it's really important to get involved in activities they enjoy,” she says. “Developing the right kind of habits is important as well. Figure out what is motivating you in the first place, then set your goals.”

And do put it down on paper, says Marino Giunta, personal training director at Anytime Fitness, Greensburg, who believes that “discipline comes from within.” He likes to take the view that, “A goal is not a goal unless it's written down!”

While Kat Barrett, a certified personal trainer who teaches in the BodyChangers program, is an enthusiastic advocate of developing a support system, such as a workout buddy, for accountability, she says, “In the end, you need to be your own biggest cheerleader.”

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or

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