We’ve all been there: you have clear goals, you know exactly what you need to do to reach them, and yet you find yourself doing more procrastinating than goal reaching.
Despite our best intentions, lack of motivation happens to everyone. Even when it’s something you really want, it can still be hard to maintain the motivation required to get it, especially if there is a lot of time and work involved. But the good news is, there are things you can do to help build and maintain motivation.
What is motivation?
First let’s start with what motivation is – or more accurately what it isn’t. Many people confuse willpower with motivation, but they are two entirely different beasts. According to the American Psychological Association, willpower is “the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals”. In other words, it is the control we exert over ourselves to do the things necessary to reach our goals or to restrain ourselves from doing things that will interfere with reaching our goals.
On the other hand, motivation is the thing that drives us to action. It can be intrinsic, meaning it comes from within, or extrinsic, which means you do it for some type of external reward. When you are intrinsically motivated, you do the thing because you want to. You find it rewarding. That could be because it’s simply something you find enjoyable or it may be that the outcome is gratifying. Doing something purely for external reward – or to avoid consequences – means you’re doing the thing in order to get the reward (the carrot) or escape punishment (the stick).
What affects motivation?
But motivation is affected by many things regardless of what drives it. According to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, motivation comes from “neurochemical networks that develop over time, as a result of the experiences we have”. This means that your childhood experiences and caregiver relationships can directly influence the development of your motivation.
Your circumstances can also affect your motivation. For instance, if you have to work two jobs just to pay the bills, you are less likely to have less time or energy to devote to other goals than someone who doesn’t have to work as much. The rewards you receive can also impact your motivation, particularly if it isn’t as rewarding as you expected.
So now that you understand what motivation is, the big question is what can you do to sustain it?
10 Tips to Stay Motivated
- Figure out what you really want. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it is surprising how many people do things either for other people or because they think it’s what they should be doing. Dig deep. Find your passions. Make a list of things that interest or excite you. Write down what is most important to you across all aspects of your life, from health to finances, relationships and happiness. Nothing is too big or too small for this list, so really just go to town and write it all down.
- Determine your priorities. No one has a limitless supply of motivation or willpower, so if you narrow your focus to one or two goals at a time you will have a much greater chance of success than trying to achieve a whole bunch of goals at once.
- Make goals – and more importantly – plans. Simple is better when it comes to goal setting. There’s a good reason you’ve heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals over and over – they work. When your goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based, you have the framework you need to build your plan. The system you develop to execute your goals will likely be more involved as you’ll need to develop short-term goals, to-do lists, and perhaps even work on routine and habit building in order to meet your final goal.
- Do things that support your goals. Don’t confuse this with the things you need to do to reach your goals – these are additional ways you can support your progress towards your objectives. These are things like taking care of yourself. If you prioritize good nutrition and sleep, you’ll be more energized and focused throughout the day to work on your goals. Other things that may help include meditation and mindfulness; consuming content that helps motivate you or teaches you skills that will assist in your endeavors; and undertaking hobbies or other activities that help build your self-confidence.
- Work on your outlook. If you’re constantly putting yourself down, telling yourself you’re not good enough or it’s too hard, guess what? You’ll convince yourself it is so. Recognize negative thoughts when they happen and immediately ask yourself, is it true? Asking that one simple question is often enough to stop the thoughts in their tracks. And if you still struggle with feelings of self-doubt, seek out some outside affirmation from friends or family or spend some time doing something you already know you are good.
- Create good habits. When your goals require consistent, dedicated effort, it is easier to accomplish them when you build habits that help you achieve them. Let’s say your goal is to run a marathon. In order to meet your goal, you will need to keep a consistent training schedule. How are you going to maintain it? Through good habits. These are simple things like laying out your workout gear the night before or packing your gym bag so that you are ready to head straight out the door in the morning; meal prepping on a Sunday to ensure your nutrition is on point; or keeping water by your bedside to ensure you stay hydrated. Small habits have the ability to build big outcomes.
- Take a time out. You are not a machine, and thinking that you can maintain a high-level of intensity for anything – even if it’s something you really want – is only setting yourself up for failure. Feeling tired? Take a nap or go to bed early. Not able to motivate yourself today? Take a day off. Better still, don’t wait until you’re motivation wanes. Instead, schedule regular time outs for yourself to relax and rejuvenate, so that you can come back to your goals with single-minded focus and drive.
- Don’t accept failure. Yes, you will experience failure, but you don’t need to let it define you. When you fail in some way (and you will), get back up the next day and start again. Learn from your mistakes, but don’t let them stop you from achieving your goals.
- Reward yourself. No matter how intrinsic your motivation is, there will most likely be times when it isn’t enough to keep you going. This is where a carrot (extrinsic motivation) can be highly motivating. It doesn’t have to be expensive or anything extravagant, but it should be something that will motivate you to put in the hard work. Going back to the marathon example, maybe you treat yourself to a massage if you make all of your training sessions each month. Or if you’ve been working long days on a business venture, a weekend away might be an extra motivator to hit your launch date. Maybe it’s just dessert or a night in with a good book. Figure out what helps motivate you and build a reward system.
- Celebrate milestones. While it’s tempting to keep working away until you’ve reached your goal, it’s hard to sustain your motivation over the long term if you’re always looking forward. Recognizing your progress and celebrating key milestones will help you track how far you’ve come towards your goal and acknowledge each step forward.