Since I was a little kid, I have had problems with motivation. As a normal kid, I had poor persistence and concentration and slight frustration problems. If I didn’t get something from the first time, I dropped it. My mother used these simple words that would kill any kind of motivation for me.
She still uses them without realizing it. And I still struggle with motivation. The words were: “You must do so and so,” and my favorite! “There are just things in the world that need to be done, you can’t do whatever you want at any given time.”
I was angry. I was frustrated. I am still. And then I said to myself: “Well, you can’t do anything you want at any given time only if you don’t want what you are doing. So, maybe there’s a way to turn this around? Like, start doing and the desire will come?” And this was the beginning of my journey towards finding motivation.
Now, there’s no better way to kill motivation in me than saying that I should or must do something. It evaporates in a brisk second, replaced with overflowing annoyance. Though I do know how to kill it so easily, I still have no idea how to restore it.
Here are, however, a few observations that I have made on my path of struggling with starting habits and dropping them, trying affirmations and to-do lists, and more:
1. Motivation is a one-time solution, a habit is a lasting one
Motivation can work if you have one or two unpleasant things to do if your main problem is impulse. Then, motivation will become that impulse – to press “call” on your phone’s screen to call an unpleasant client or force yourself out of the comfy armchair to cook some dinner. But mostly, motivation stays what it is, an impulse. You still won’t be happy calling a difficult client next time and cooking dinner when you are exhausted.
“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” – William James
2. Motivation has limits
There’s a good notion that willpower is a muscle that can be trained. More than that, willpower, like a muscle, can get tired. If you have been doing things you don’t like doing all day (or week, or month), there definitely will be a moment when your motivation won’t be enough to get things going. Remember that it is a resource and, as any resource, it needs time to restore.
3. We are hooked on the idea of getting everything without any effort
Why do people care about motivation so much? Because we want the buzz, and feeling of energy and pull towards our goals. In other words, we try to escape the hard work, as usual. If this sounds a little bit odd to you, think of when you have to form a habit. There will be lots of days when you have to go against yourself and actually make yourself do something you don’t like (the part I still struggle with the most).
Humans try to find the other way around. They try to start wanting something so much that the unpleasant nuisances of hard work won’t bother them, and they want to maintain this madness-like bliss forever.
As paradoxical as it sounds, if you are motivated, you don’t have to actually do hard work – you get to a state where the work you are doing isn’t considered as hard. The truth is, if you will manage to maintain your body in such a state 24/7, it will burn out faster than you will reach your dreamed success.
So what works? Here are a few things that worked for me:
1. Figure out what you truly want
Most of the time the lack of motivation is dictated not by laziness or natural inertia, but by the fact that the person doesn’t really know what he or she wants. If you think that you want to start a business, but actually you don’t, everything in you will procrastinate to its fullest. First of all, questioning your true desires and leaving hope, you will understand them the minute you decide to. Most of the time it takes years.
“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs
2. Improve 2% per day
All this about reconnecting with your inner self is great, but we still have to keep moving and do something, right? Then just improve 2% of something a day. For example, you’ve picked eating habits. Find out what activity is the easiest for you to start with. So easy that you were actually almost doing it, but not regularly.
For me, it’s drinking water. I would drink like a camel before a long trip to the desert without any reminders, my body is the greatest reminder. I fail, however, to drink a cup of water in the morning, which does help to wake up your body. Start with the easiest action, and your inner procrastinator won’t resist much. It won’t notice you are tricking him.
3. Form habits
And no, 21 days is not enough to form a habit. This highly depends on individual preferences and your attitude towards the habit, but the count starts from 60 days and more. Sounds discouraging, especially to our sprinter brains that hate long projects.
That’s why the previous 2% hack is so effective – improve just a tiny bit every day. It’s easy, since it doesn’t require a lot of your willpower, motivation or whatever you have there, and soon it will form into an undying and unbreakable habit of improving.
Habits beat motivation, and you know it, because everything you think you are doing “wrong,” you are doing habitually.
How have you found forming habits has helped your life? Leave your thoughts below!
Image courtesy of Twenty20.com
How to Stay Motivated to Achieve Your Goals
Time is the raw material of our lives. How we choose to spend it, shapes our life accordingly. So having the motivation to spend it on achieving goals is crucial to creating a life we want.
What is Motivation?
The Oxford dictionary defines motivation as the desire or willingness to do something – our drive to take action.
Scientifically, motivation has its roots in the dopamine pathways of our brains. When we do something that feels good, that’s dopamine kicking in. Our actions are driven by the desire for that reward (the good feeling).
Author Steven Pressfield describes motivation more practically. He says we hit a point where the pain of not doing something becomes greater than the pain of doing it. He sees motivation as crossing the threshold where it’s easier to take action than it is to be idle. Like choosing to feel awkward while making sales calls over feeling disappointed about a diminishing bank account.
However you choose to think about it, we all want to harness motivation to achieve our goals.
How to Get Motivated
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, says that most people misunderstand motivation. They think that motivation is what gets us to take action. In reality, motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Once we start a task, it’s easier to continue making progress. Like Isaac Newton’s first law: objects in motion stay in motion.
This means most of the resistance when working on your goals comes right before we start. Since motivation naturally occurs after we start, we need to focus on making starting easier.
4 Ways to Make Starting Easier
1. Schedule it
One reason people can’t get started on things is that they haven’t planned when to do it.
When things aren’t scheduled it’s easier for them to fall by the wayside. You’ll end up hoping motivation falls in your lap or hoping that you’ll muster enough willpower to get it done.
An article in the Guardian said, “If you waste resources trying to decide when or where to work, you’ll impede your capacity to do the work.”
2. Measure something
It’s easy to feel uninspired when you don’t know if you’re making progress or what you’re even working towards. That’s why you need to make your success measurable in some way. Starting is easy when you know exactly how much closer your current actions will bring you to achieving your goal.
3. Extrinsic motivation
This type of motivation is from external factors. It can be either positive or negative. Positive motivation consists of incentives like money, prizes, and grades. Negative motivation consists of deterrents like being fired, having a fight, or being fined. Extrinsic motivation doesn’t work effectively long-term, but it can work well in the short term to get you started on something.
4. Make it public
Keep yourself accountable by telling friends and family your goals, or even sharing them on social media. This makes it easier to start something because you’re pressured to not let others down.
How to Stay Motivated Long Term
When we say we want to feel motivated to do something, we don’t want to be pushed or guilted into doing a task. We want to be so attracted and drawn to the idea that we can’t resist not taking action. That’s why it’s important to build a foundation that will set you up for consistency.
These are 5 techniques that will help you do just that:
1. Stay in your goldilocks zone
The goldilocks zone is when a task is the perfect level of difficulty—not too hard and not too easy. In this zone, we reach peak motivation and focus.
For example, let’s say you’re playing a serious tennis match against a 4-year-old. On this level of difficulty, you’ll quickly become bored and not want to play. Now let’s say you’re playing a serious tennis match against Serena Williams. On this level of difficulty, you’ll quickly become demotivated because the match is too challenging.
The Goldilocks zone is in the middle of that spectrum. You want to face someone with equal skill as you. That way you have a chance to win, but you have to focus and try for it. Adjusting your workload and goals over time to stay within your Goldilocks zone keeps you engaged and motivated long-term.
2. Pursue intrinsically motivated goals
Being intrinsically motivated to achieve a goal is when you want to achieve it for what it is. There are no external factors like a reward or the risk of being fired. The drive behind your actions is coming from within.
For most intrinsic goals we pursue them because they will enrich our lives or bring us closer to fulfillment. That makes these goals extremely sustainable long-term because they directly affect our quality of life and the things we care about.
3. Use “chunking”
Chunking is the technique of breaking down a goal into smaller short-term targets. By doing this you achieve multiple successes in your pursuit of the main goal. This triggers the brain’s reward system and drives you to keep going.
Traditionally, you may set a goal that you expect to achieve in one year. That’s a long time to commit without seeing any results along the way. By chunking your goals into monthly or quarterly targets, you get the consistent positive reinforcement you need to stay motivated long-term.
For example, instead of trying to lose 50 pounds in one year, try to lose 4 pounds every month for 12 months.
4. Be flexible
We’re all victims of circumstance. Things happen along our journey that we can either adjust to or quit because of. That’s why it’s important to have leeway and flexibility when you’re pursuing a goal. If you expect everything to go perfectly, the inevitable failure can make you disengaged and desireless. When you plan for things to go wrong, you make sure you can keep up for the long haul.
5. Pursue your goals in a sustainable fashion
Don’t lose hope when you’re not an overnight success. Overnight successes are the 1%—for the most part, they don’t exist. What we see as an “overnight success” is actually countless hours of work behind the scenes finally hitting a tipping point. Pursuing goals is a story of patience, persistence, and unseen effort.
Don’t compare yourself to others. Comparison is a recipe for a drop in self-confidence and satisfaction. It also cultivates a mindset where you think you haven’t done enough. As a result, you may raise your expectations and put more pressure on yourself.
This is pointless because things worth achieving take time. So we obviously won’t compare to the things around us when starting.
Mastering motivation is a superpower. With that ability at your fingertips, you can accomplish your goals and shape a life you want to live in.
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