Normally when people talk about someone (even themselves) having an ulterior motive, it is a bad thing. The description has come to generate images of people only doing something “nice” in order to get their way. It has come to represent coercion at best, and strong-arm tactics including abuse at the worst. Sort of like the old movie mobsters saying “You have a wonderful shop here. It would be unfortunate if something should happen to it ...” as a passive-aggressive attempt to get protection money.

But not all ulterior motives come complete with a knuckle-cracking “Goon” and a thinly veiled threat of property damage. No, some ulterior motives can be quite useful, such as “With more toast I can have more bacon.” The old phrase “kill two birds with one stone” comes to mind, though I am still wondering what said birds might have done to deserve this, and even where the rock came from. Still, having two goals that are complimentary enough to make it possible to combine and streamline our efforts would seem to be a good thing.

Regardless of whether the origins for these ulterior motives are good or bad (or Goon or non-Goon), each of us have them every single day of our lives. I suppose there could be some exceptions such as in the case of Mother Theresa or Mister Rogers — or even perhaps Tom Hanks because, face it — not just anyone could pull off playing Mister Rogers. But for all of us mere mortals, well, not so much. We seem to be wired that way, to make the most of every situation.

And it isn't always bad; asking someone if they would like something from the kitchen while we are already in the kitchen might save us a second trip to the kitchen, but it isn't (usually) as if we would punch them in the face if we had to go back for that second bottle of herbal beverage. Just kidding, we all know it would be a second can of pop or coffee, in my case. Nothing against herbal beverages, mind you, though sometimes I think the pop has less sugar. They really should print the ingredients in bold, large letters and the brand name in that microscopic typeface reserved for legal documents.

The point is, once we realize that we all do it anyway, and that it doesn't have to be for nefarious reasons, we gain the advantage of being able to truly use those subtext motivations for our own good. These ulterior motivations can be used to prop up or otherwise support our main goals, especially when the main goal is so broad and lacks a readily identifiable focus. No one for instance ever wakes up in the morning or reflects in the evening before bed that it would be a truly wonderful thing to be in poor health and not a single person will extoll the virtues of feeling “crappy.” No, we all want to “get in shape” or “get healthy,” but those are such broad terms that when our good friend procrastination comes by, we decide to do it later — whatever it might be.

Human beings are fairly complex creatures after all, so complex in fact that we get in our own way 7 out of 10 times (and get distracted at least twice) because we have so many things that are, or possibly could be, going on. And all of these different things outnumber the one thing we want to do with far more frequency that we would like. So, it is easy to see how a little extra motivation along the way could be beneficial. Let's take fitness for example.

We want to get fit, lose weight, etc.; but then, of course, there are bacon double cheeseburgers and chili cheese fries. The goal of health is quickly outnumbered by the infinite amount of things which, though unhealthy in more than moderate quantities, offer immediate gratification and satisfaction. And it is really hard to do the 10,000 sit-ups it might take to reach our goals with a bowl of ice cream and chocolate syrup in our hands — but that ice cream tastes good now. And as we examine the mechanics of that extremely one-sided challenge, some extra help on the side not slathered in whipped cream would be helpful.

Most people in the fitness industry use words like focus, or determination, or even “beast-mode,” which, unfortunately, doesn't involve actual shape changing. These are all well and good, and can be used to motivate us to do more and do better. But in all honesty, it is perfectly acceptable when attempting to lose weight, for instance, to remind ourselves that we have added more holes to our belt than the number it originally came with. And perhaps it may not be the best motivation, but it is also perfectly acceptable to want to get into shape simply so our shapes become more appealing. Feeling good is its own, best goal – but looking good is an excellent side benefit. Especially if that helps us reach our main goal of a healthier overall lifestyle.

At the end of the day, so to speak, we should use everything in our arsenal to achieve a healthier lifestyle. This becomes, if not actually easier, more successful when we can point our assortment of motivations in the same direction. And remember this; even if you only want to lose the “10 pounds” you have set as your goal so you will look better at a friend's wedding, those 10 pounds are still gone. As long as fad diets and unhealthy restrictions aren't involved, the goals align. When we adopt a healthier lifestyle, for whatever reason, it improves our health. And that, ultimately, improves our lives.

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