We’ve all been there. We start out with the best of intentions to proceed toward a chosen goal and then, somewhere along the line, we lose steam. Our motivation seems to falter or we become overwhelmed by the perceived enormity of our task.
But what if there was a way to kick-start your motivation and keep it going so that you can follow through to the completion of your goal?
There is. And it starts with clearing up some misunderstandings about motivation and how it works.
Motivation is a mindset–an attitude–that when activated, pushes aside our normal tendencies toward apathy and inertia and gets us moving toward a goal.
Motivation is a great mind tool. We all enjoy it when we have it. But because we misunderstand how it works, we too often sit around waiting for it to appear, and when it doesn’t, we wonder why we’ve been unable to find it.
The truth of the matter is, however, that motivation is not like a mosquito. It’s not going to land on you, no matter how long you wait. You must initiate it and create it by an act of will. Then, once the pump has been primed, so to speak, the motivation you seek will begin to flow.
Here are some steps to help you kick-start your motivation and keep it flowing:
Step 1: Start with the Right Attitude.
When seeking to stir up motivation, an attitude that incorporates mindfulness is important. Mindfulness is a fancy way of saying pay attention. It’s about really knowing what you’re doing when you’re doing it, so that you can make an informed decision about either continuing with your actions or changing them. Mindfulness takes into account not only your behaviors but also the thoughts and attitudes behind your behaviors.
You see, many of our actions are based on habits that have become so ingrained that we don’t really notice them any longer. Much of the time our mind’s habit-making function serves us well.
Consider driving your car. You really wouldn’t want to have to consciously think through every motion (now turn the wheel to the right…now let up on the gas…) would you? But the very same mental function that puts repetitive tasks onto auto-pilot sometimes habituates experiences that don’t serve us as well. Then we must work against the “mindlessness” of habit, using the mental tool of will power.
For example, willing ourselves to exercise in opposition to our desire to do so is what the tennis-shoe-making folks have in mind when they encourage us to “just do it!”
Will trumps emotion. Will power is powered by intent, the act of deciding in a very determined way. Once you make a definite decision, then you are more likely to muster up the will to follow through. So, first make a conscious, definite choice and intend to follow through. Then act on your commitment, whether you “feel” like it or not, and you will likely find the motivation you’ve been looking for. This is because motivation follows action. It does not precede it.
Step 2: Set a Realistic Goal and then Break your Goal Down into Smaller Steps Until You Get to an Action That You are Willing to Take
Let’s face it. You’re never going to “just do it” if “it” seems impossible. That’s why you must consider carefully when setting your initial goal. Let’s say you plan to take your doctor’s advice and lose some weight. Before challenging yourself to drop fifty pounds in three months, think about whether you can realistically do this–whether it is realistic foryou. Consider your current lifestyle and habits and set a goal that is reasonable for you. It is more motivating to set a smaller goal and achieve it than to set an unrealistic goal and fall short.
Sometimes, when looking ahead at a larger, long-term goal, it can seem daunting, and you feel so overwhelmed at the idea of all the work that is required that you feel like giving up even before you start. In such instances, step back from the big picture and set your sights on the step immediately ahead. Then break that step down even further, if necessary, until you get to an action that you are willing to take.
That is the key!
If you break a goal down far enough, you can surely find some part of it that you are willing to do. Then you will be off and running (jogging? walking?) in the general direction of your goal. By taking the first step, you will have set into motion the momentum that can then propel you forward to the next step.
Step 3: Use the Energy Generated from Small Successes as Stepping-Stones to Further Successes
Success breeds more success. The interim progress you make toward a long-term goal is truest measure of your potential to reach your long-term goal. With the right attitude and a focus on your interim progress, you can set up a success cycle that re-energizes itself and continually feeds your motivation. Each small step, once taken, gives you a boost to help you get to the next step. The momentum generated provides the fuel you need to keep going. And as this momentum grows, so does your motivation.
Step 4: Stay Focused on What You Want, Not on What You Don’tWant.
Often, when considering long-term lifestyle changes, we think about all the things we’ll have to give up. No more being a couch-potato. No more daily chocolate binges. No more dinners of popcorn and ice cream. No more…fun!
Fortunately, it does not have to be this way. You won’t have to give up your favorite foods or completely give up lounging around to reach a weight loss goal. You won’t have to drastically change your lifestyle to reach any chosen goal. You just have to be more mindful of how you incorporate your previously self-defeating habits them into your life.
If you have a deprivation mindset (focusing on “can’t haves”) you will not be able to sustain the positive habit changes that are necessary to keep moving toward your goal. The process would simply feel too punitive. But by realizing that you do not have to completely give up your cherished habits, but instead better monitor exactly how and how much you use them, you can create a more mindful, disciplined lifestyle. You can balance your desire to stay in your current comfort-zone with your desire to make changes and reach a greater goal.
So instead of focusing on what you don’t want, focus on what you do want and move toward that goal. It is always more motivating to imagine ourselves moving toward a positive experience than moving away from a negative one. Our brains are hard-wired to both seek pleasure and avoid pain. But pursuing pleasure is more fun and more motivating.
Using positive self-talk is one way to keep your focus on what you do want, and therefore to keep moving in the direction of your goal. Positive self-talk simply means making encouraging, vs. discouraging, statements to yourself in your head.
For example, whenever you make a choice that supports your goal for a healthier lifestyle, congratulate yourself (“Good choice!”) Even if your choice did not reinforce your intent, use positive, encouraging self-talk anyway, to motivate, rather than punish yourself. (“I didn’t exercise the full thirty minutes that I intended to today, but I did exercise for twenty minutes and that is good. Next time I’ll try for twenty-five minutes.”)
By always using positive, vs. negative self-talk, you will feel motivated, rather than disappointed in yourself, and will be more likely to stick with your goal.
About the author
Rita Milios, LCSW, “The Mind Mentor,” combines the science of neuro-biology, traditional psychotherapy techniques, and spiritual growth techniques gleaned from ancient wisdom traditions to help people re-program old, entrenched, self-defeating habits and attitudes and successfully treat anxiety, depression, addictions (substances, people, things), eating issues, relationship issues, trauma, life transition issues and grief. Using interactive guided imagery, dreamwork, intuitive problem-solving techniques, mindfulness meditation and other holistic techniques, along with cognitive-behavioral, humanistic and psycho-education therapies, Rita facilitates a dialogue between the client’s outer (conscious) mind and inner (subconscious) mind, helping them access their own inner wisdom to get “unstuck” and attain the clarity and wisdom they need to reach their goals and move forward on their personal journey. Rita also trains clients in self-help, empowerment and spiritual growth techniques so that they can continue to learn and grow long after therapy ends.
As “Mind Mentor” to individuals, groups, corporations and associations, Rita delivers workshops and trainings to clinical professionals, businesses and the public on topics including psycho-neurobiology, stress reduction, self-help modalities, spiritual growth and intuition/creativity. Her most recent presentation was on the topic of bereavement at the 2014 NASW FL Social Work Conference. Rita’s 30+ published books include Tools for Transformation, Instant Inspiration and Discovering Positive Thinking. She has also published more than 100 articles for print and web and audio/video tapes on mind/body wellness, personal transformation and creative thinking.