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How to Stay Motivated Even Though You Can't See Yourself Moving Forward
Have you ever tried reaching a goal that was labor and time intensive such as, losing a substantial amount of weight, finishing an educational program, or training for a marathon? If so, you understand the struggle of chasing a long-term goal.Have you ever tried reaching a goal that was labor and time intensive such as, losing a substantial amount of weight, finishing an educational program, or training for a marathon? If so, you understand the struggle of chasing a long-term goal.
As humans, we are hardwired to seek and engage in activities that provide us instant gratification.
We operate on what psychologists call the ‘pleasure principle’.1 The pleasure principle is the primary force that compels human beings to seek immediate satisfaction of their needs, wants, and urges. Pursuing long-term goals is particularly difficult because it provides no immediate reward. It places us in a posture of waiting. When gratification is significantly delayed–which is directly opposed to human nature–motivation wanes and effort decreases. In order to win, you must work hard, sacrifice and more importantly–wait.
Understanding and coping with the inevitable motivational slump that accompanies most substantial achievements is critical to sticking with the process and achieving your goals. According to the University of Scranton, a whopping 92% of people do not fulfill their New Year’s Resolution.2 There are a variety of reasons we don’t stick with the quest to reach our goals but the common thread underlying why we quit is simply the lack of motivation. Staying motivated is the key to keep you on the path to accomplishing your goal–especially when your progress slows or stalls.
Pursuing a long-term goal is a counter-intuitive endeavor that is directly opposed to our human instincts.
Instead of fighting this process head-on, it’s better to adjust the process to flow in tandem with our urges and natural inclinations. How, you ask?
It’s actually pretty easy. Below are three simple ways that can help keep you motivated and engaged while pursuing your long-term goals:
1. Always celebrate small wins, no matter how small they are.
Celebrating small wins helps you create your own system of instant gratification. Your brain needs to win. And it needs to win often. The book, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work3 proves how powerful celebrating small victories can be. Authors, Theresa Amabile and Steve Kramer of the Harvard Business Review conducted a study of 238 employees from seven different companies. The study measured the impact that acknowledging small victories has on long-term and sustained success.
These researchers made a significant discovery. They found that tracking and recognizing efforts of small, daily achievements enhanced workers motivation, increased positive emotions and favorable perceptions of the organization, of their work, and their colleagues. Psychologists have found that any accomplishment–no matter how small–activates the reward circuitry of our brains. When this pathway is opened, key chemicals are released giving us a feeling of achievement and pride.
2. Track your progress, and review every milestone.
Keeping track of your progress is beneficial for several reasons. First, it allows you to see your progress overtime. Second, it allows you to accurately pinpoint what works and what doesn’t. Logging your journey also counters bad habits, slip ups and lack of motivation. Frequent feedback increases your chances of hitting a specific goal and helps keep you on track and adjust when necessary.
Experts suggest that you find a way to formally track your progress and to set and celebrate small benchmarks. Using free apps such as Coach Me,4 is an excellent way to track your habits and celebrate change. You may also want to conduct a weekly review5 to assess where you are and celebrate all of the small wins of the week. Tracking your progress is also a great way to find and mitigate triggers and hindrances that impede your progress.
3. Stop punishing yourself for slip ups and small failures.
We all fail, backslide and lose ground when trying to achieve something great. It is a part of the process. Instead of fixating on your failures, learn from them and hone in on your successes. Learn to forgive yourself, pick yourself up and keep moving forward. So, you ate three donuts for breakfast, woke up late and missed your gym session or failed a test. That one incident does not determine your success–regroup and keep it moving.
Sustaining your mental fortitude and tenacity during a long and arduous process is difficult. Celebrating and leveraging all the things you do well and all of the successes along the way is the key to your success.
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