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How to get motivated

What is motivation?

Motivation is defined as “the reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way.”

Often the reason we want to get motivated is because we want to avoid something else. For example, we become motivated to lose weight to avoid health issues, we become motivated to read more to avoid mental stagnation, or we become motivated to tidy up to avoid dealing with a bigger mess further down the line.

Getting started can be hard because it is a conflict between putting in the effort to do something new or putting in no effort to do nothing and stay the same. Our brains are always looking for the simplest thing to do to preserve our survival and mortality. We can find it hard to become motivated to go running, for example, because our brain triggers an automatic thinking response and tells us we’ll be tired, out of breath and our body will ache in the morning. Getting over the automatic thoughts is more than half the battle.

It is also hard to stay motivated because the expectation of immediate results stops us coming back. For example, we can buy a piano, have one lesson, but because we can’t play like a concert pianist immediately, we don’t feel motivated to come back. This is irrational thinking because you wouldn’t plant a seed and come back the next day looking to see where your tree is.

We need to push through a threshold and find the moment where we become more motivated to do something than not to do something. An example is decorating, we can talk about doing it for months, but not do it until the wall starts to fall down.

Now there is more motivation to do it than not to do it.

What isn’t motivation?

Motivation is not the decision to start something new.

It is the moment the new behaviour or action starts. This is because you are actually doing it rather than just thinking about doing it.  

What stops us being motivated?

  • Our own reasons or excuses. It is far too easy to lie to yourself by saying you’ll just do it tomorrow or next week.
  • The physical barriers in the way. For example, putting a shelf up but having to climb over everything in the shed to reach your DIY equipment.
  • Spending too much time, effort and energy to get started and make a big deal of it. For example, we decide to go for a run but spend fifteen minutes playing with our phone trying to get the GPS to work and then lose motivation to just run. We either end up thinking it is hassle and not worth the effort. 

What if we removed these barriers and made starting the activity as easy as possible? For example, going for a run by leaving our kit by our bed before we go to sleep, putting our trainers by the door, and just using a normal stopwatch instead of a phone with GPS.

How can we be more motivated?

If you want to achieve anything, or you want someone else to achieve something, then you want them to feel successful early on so they keep wanting to carry on. We do this with children all the time. If they keep falling off when learning to ride a bike it is hard to be motivated to get back on. But if we make them feel successful early on then they are much more likely to want to keep going.

Exactly the same thing applies for your own motivation when starting something new.

Should we wait to feel motivated?

No.

If you spend your day waiting for a slot to come up in your daily timetable where you hope you’ll feel motivated to do something new then it will probably (definitely) never happen. When we don’t do the thing we have talked about doing, we end up making excuses to justify why we didn’t do it.

“I didn’t go running because my GPS wouldn’t work.”

“I didn’t read any of my book because I was too tired.”

We need to schedule motivation

You have taken the first step by deciding you want to do something new. Now you need to decide when you will do the activity. Do this by putting it in the diary and scheduling it. Then decide the date, time, duration and location of the activity.

Ideally, get someone else to do it with you so you can both hold each other to account. When you do this you become less likely to back out.

An example would be:

“I will exercise for 20 minutes at 7am tomorrow morning in the living room with my friend on FaceTime.”

Scheduled motivation becomes habit (and even ritual)

When men’s marathon world record holder, Eliud Kipchoge, is training he moves to a house in Eldoret, Kenya, where he has no phone, internet, television or any other distractions. He gets up at the same time, eats the same breakfast, warms up in the same way – and has no choice of activity other than to run. He made this habit, before building it into a ritual.

When you create a ritual to remove friction between you and the activity, it becomes a lot easier. An example is if you want to go running to leave our kit by our bed before we go to sleep and put our trainers by the door. When we wake up, we can put our kit straight on, perform the same warm up in the kitchen, and put our already prepared trainers on and get going.

The power of a ritual is they remove the energy to decide when, where and how something should be done or started

Make motivation stick so you keep coming back for more

  • Use a routine or ritual to help you get started.
  • Keep the routine the same every time. Even if you don’t feel fully motivated, the routine helps you get into it and keep going because it reminds your mind and body about what is coming next. For example, warm up in the same way, to the same music, every time.
  • Make the routine or ritual physical and requiring some kind of action makes it easier to start because you’ll be more energised and engaged. For example, when I started working from home, it was difficult to find the motivation to get started. I made my ritual, to get dressed, go for a walk around the block as if I was commuting to work, arriving back home and going straight up to my office and getting started without any distractions. I did this until it became a ritual and automatic.

The Stretch Zone

The new activity has to be just outside your comfort zone and in the stretch zone. The stretch zone is only just outside your comfort zone. Any further and it falls into the panic zone. This will make you lose motivation because something is too hard or too overwhelming. Any new activity we start and want to continue relies on our feelings of early success. To increase the chances of this happening, the activity needs to be challenging and achievable.

Remember, more than anything, the feeling of being successful is the biggest single factor pulling you back to keep going.  

Thinking Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, says the automatic thinking system tells us to stay put and do nothing because it is easier. The slow thinking system requires deliberate effort to overpower the automatic system. Don’t negotiate with yourself. When you hear the automatic thoughts of “don’t do it” and “it’ll be easier to stay put” – recognise they are normal thoughts but you can overpower them.

Visualise how you will feel afterwards

No one ever regrets doing something good after they’ve done it. Joe Wicks always says he sometimes doesn’t feel like working out but he always remembers how good he feels after working out and this motivates to start or keep going.

When you don’t feel like doing the new activity but know you’ll feel better after you have done it, it puts you in a choice position where you can ‘win in the moment’. You can say to yourself: “If I [insert activity] now then later I will feel [insert positive emotion].”