At one time or another, not to say all the time, we are faced with a task whose outcome promises to yield many rewards, but whose execution is, to say the least, prone to procrastination. So if the project’s payout is attractive enough, what can we do to overcome the laziness that slows us down?
Let us first agree on one basic premise: everyone’s definition of success is different, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Due to the subjective nature of success, the truly self-motivated will often redefine success over time, setting new goals based on the milestones reached and especially the checkpoints missed. If our drive to success takes us down the path of one of humanity’s most abused metaphors – a long and winding tunnel sporting a brightly lit exit – then our motivation is similar to a GPS navigation tool’s ability to retrace the most efficient route every time we take a not-so-brightly-lit exit out of the tunnel, or in this case, out of a project.
Put more simply, motivation is what allows us not to lose focus while remaining pragmatic. In that sense it will forever nurture its relationship of interdependency with one’s definition of success, whereby one is useless without the other and whereby Les Brown is right in stating that “Wanting something is not enough. You must hunger for it. Your motivation must be absolutely compelling in order to overcome the obstacles that will invariably come your way”.
At the end of the day, motivation is a straightforward chess game with one unusual twist: one faces off against oneself. As one should do ahead of every strategy game, we have identified the steps that will allow you to keep focus, retrace the most efficient route after every missed exit as well as pick and win your battles on the exciting road to victory.
Consciously realize that you can’t escape or outrun the task.
When people have undesirable work they need to complete, their minds sometimes persuade them subconsciously that if they wait just long enough, they won’t actually have to do what they’ve been dreading. It’s as though there’s a shred of hope secretly at work; if I don’t take out the trash, start this business or work on my class paper, some external event might eventually require me not to go follow through. It could start raining, so I’ll take the trash out in the morning; a competing business might implement my idea, so it might be too risky to invest time and money; and a classmate might have already written a portion of my paper, so why do double the work.
Unfortunately, these are just fantasies. Tasks or goals never get any easier with procrastination; they accumulate and become more stressful as time pressure increases. You must realize that you can’t outrun anything and should adopt a “now is the best time” mindset instead.
Always give yourself a prize for beginning the task and a prize for finishing it.
Personal favorites of mine are to promise myself a reward, such as a Chai Latte, before I start writing an article or post, and to promise myself a 15-minute break from work every hour I spend focused and committed to finishing my writing. Use whatever prizes you enjoy most, and whatever is inexpensive and mostly likely to motivate you. These promises should be guaranteed and set in stone, because if you don’t actually reward yourself when you promise yourself you will, you will be less motivated by the Prize Promise the next time you have a big task to do.
Break it down into micro-steps that are easy to do.
Let’s face it: nothing is more terrifying than having a huge task looming in front of you that will take a hundred hours to complete. An easy way to combat this is to break it down into accomplishable micro-steps. How tiny does the micro-step have to be? So insanely tiny that it would be ridiculous to your brain not to do it.
For example, resolve to spend 1 minute writing your PhD dissertation’s thesis. Promise yourself you won’t write the whole dissertation today – you’ll just write an outline, and you’ll only spend 20 minutes maximum on it. Your mind will be deceived into being productive. For most people, once you get into the rhythm of your work, you can easily spend 2 hours focused on accomplishing more than what you originally set out to do.
Make the task more pleasant in creative ways.
When someone is unmotivated, they understand the benefit of doing something but fear the emotional unpleasantness it entails. Through past conditioning, your lazy side has categorized your responsibilities as “bad”, “tedious” or “horrible”. An easy way to combat this innate categorization is to make the unpleasant task a source of genuine enjoyment with the addition of a little creativity. For example, you know you’re supposed to eat your greens. You know you’re supposed to exercise. But it’s not fun, and it’s that initial “getting up and going to the gym” that prevents you from working out.
So use Pavlovian conditioning and watch it work its magic. Try listening to your favorite music on your iPod while you go jogging, or switch to an exercise routine that you actually enjoy, such as Zumba, yoga, or swimming, instead of forcing yourself to do something you think you hate.
If you always do your homework in a cold, dark corner of the library, pick a coffee-shop that has a nice atmosphere and your favorite cookies you could look forward to. And instead of forcing yourself to stomach a bitter spinach salad every day, try making a cucumber smoothie with cucumbers, frozen pineapple chunks, and coconut milk – it will have just as many nutrients as the spinach salad, but taste leagues sweeter.
Soon enough, your friends will wonder why you’ve lost 20 pounds and your skin is glowing, and you’ll realize you’ve suddenly been eating a lot more veggies than you used to. This end result will combine positive reinforcement to encourage you to continue your good habits.
We’re starting to make some progress getting motivated. Keep reading for tips that will help you stay focused and motivated so that you can reach your goals.