What’s your motivation challenge right now?
Is it getting fit? Looking for a new job? Going back to study? Losing weight? Sticking to a budget? How are those New Years’ resolutions going?
Motivation is the key link between having goals and actually achieving them. We’ve all had experiences at both ends of the motivation spectrum and the many shades in between. This is natural – motivation is not a stable trait in anyone. It can fluctuate week to week, day to day, even hour to hour. Knowing this can help us to ride the waves, without giving too much credence to the ebbs and flows.
If you need a bit of a boost in order to get started, however, here are my top three tips for maximizing motivation:
1. Make it intrinsic.
Psychology talks about “intrinsic” vs “extrinsic” motivation. Extrinsic motivation comes from things outside of ourselves – money, other people’s expectations, all the reasons we think we “should” do or want something. Extrinsic motivation is not a powerful motivator in the long run.
What we want to uncover is intrinsic motivation, that comes from inside ourselves. This often links with how achieving a certain goal will feel, given that so much of our behavior is driven by the desire to either get or get rid of a particular feeling. We want to get fit because we want to experience the satisfaction of finishing a half marathon. We want to stick to a budget because we want the sense of independence that comes from not living paycheck-to-paycheck. We want to travel the world because we want to know we’ve really experienced what it has to offer. If extrinsic motivation comes from the head, intrinsic motivation comes from the heart.
Sometimes, extrinsic motivation can be turned to intrinsic by asking a few questions. People will often give money as an extrinsic motivating factor. But money is just paper in and of itself. It’s what the money represents that is the true source of motivation. Freedom commonly underpins the desire for more money. Money to take vacations may represent the desire for relaxation. If your main source of motivation is something outside yourself, look at it a little more deeply to see if you can locate an intrinsic source underneath.
2. Best case/Worst case scenario.
Picturing the outcome of achieving our goals (or not) can be a powerful motivator. To set the scene, reflect back on what you were doing this time last year, and five years ago. For most of us, we will notice both how much has happened, and how much has stayed the same where we haven’t made an effort to change it.
For the best case scenario, ask yourself “If I achieve my goal, how will my life be different a year (or two, or five) from now?” Build a full-color picture of this for yourself, whether that’s through writing, drawing, or creating a vision board. What will you be doing differently? How will you be feeling?
For the worst case scenario, ask yourself “If I don’t make this change and things stay the same, what’s the worst case scenario in a year (or mores) time?” Again, really flesh this out. What will it feel like to be in the same space (or worse) as you are in now? If you stay in the same job, keep eating the same way, don’t put yourself out there socially – what could the consequences be?
3. Make it easy (well, easier).
Much of the difficulty in working towards our goals is in taking the first step repeatedly – taking action every single day. Willpower is a finite resource throughout our day – the more choices we have to make, and obstacles we have to overcome, the lower our chance of following through successfully.
To set yourself up for a greater likelihood of success, arrange your environment to support your goal. Don’t keep tempting foods in the house, and plan meals for the week to remove the daily decision about what to have for dinner. Buy enough sets of workout clothes that dirty gym gear isn’t an excuse not to go. Keep the art materials out in the living room instead of packed away in a box. Reduce the effort required to take that first step. Sleep in your running shorts if it makes it easier to get out of the door in the morning!
Make it easier on yourself by also deciding that it’s not a choice whether to work on your goal. The question shouldn’t be “Shall I work on my goal today?” It’s not about whether you want to. One of my favorite (if somewhat masochistic) quotes is “You don’t have to want to, you just have to do it.” This gets me through those ebbs in motivation. Waiting until we feel highly motivated may mean that we never get it done.
Motivation is personal, changeable, and sometimes unpredictable. There are steps we can take to strengthen it, and strategies we can use when it dips. If you have been unsuccessful in achieving goals in the past, it doesn’t make you an “unmotivated person”, it just means that the method you used at the time didn’t work for you. Learn from these experiences as to what can trip you up or get in the way, make a new plan to try again, and use these three tips to get going.
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Author: Averil Linn
Averil's mission is to make mental wellbeing something we talk about as easily as physical health. She writes from a decade's experience in psychology & behavior change at her site This Short Life.