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A 2-Step Approach to Self-Motivation: Track Small Wins and Reward Yourself

A 2-Step Approach to Self-Motivation: Track Small Wins and Reward Yourself

Franz Kafka, Andy Warhol, Charles Darwin and Kurt Cobain. What did all these people have in common? They were all avid diarists. They were all keeping track daily of the events in their lives.

To be honest with you, I had no idea that a journal was such a common denominator among highly successful and influential characters. Famous 20th-century author Anaïs Nin once wrote:

“This diary is my kief, hashish, and opium pipe. This is my drug and my vice. Instead of writing a novel, I lie back with this book and a pen, and dream, and indulge in refractions and defractions.. I must relive my life in the dream.”

Well, although I love Anais’ poetic reflection on the importance of a diary, I wouldn’t take it that far.

The reason a diary is so important, and so many significant figures tend to evangelize this importance, is because it actually works as a tool to help you monitor your progress on a daily basis.

Progress monitoring is an incredibly valuable habit when it comes to your personal and professional development and consequently your self-motivation levels. Without awareness and control over your progress, you tend to lose contact with your achievements and this is probably the strongest motivational inhibitor one can experience.

Breaking big challenges down into chunks isn’t original advice, of course.

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Our constant pursuit of achievements that will place us in a position of value in the eyes of others somehow disorients us from the idea of the achievement itself. Since our early childhood, our acts were incentivized by the reward we would receive from our parents. These results could be tangible or intangible in a sense that they could be manifested in the form of an appraisal or a present.

Whatever we did, we did it because we wanted to experience a degree of praise and admiration from our caretakers – a praise which would eventually give us strength and motivation to keep doing what we were doing.

The degree to which this praise and admiration was received, obviously, varies from individual to individual. The fact, however, is that the need for it was always there and will always be. Our ability to recognize its importance, however, incrementally affects our performance in our everyday endeavors.

Having big goals and aspirations is of huge importance because it gives you a vision, but monitoring your progress and celebrating small goals and victories is what will eventually materialize this vision. With all the pressures and distractions in our lives, it is all too easy to have our smaller achievements go unnoticed, even by ourselves. I have personally managed to make this idea a huge aspect of my overall emotional satisfaction and intrinsic motivation levels. More specifically I have created a small 2-step system that helps me stay motivated and engaged with my work on a daily basis and also helps me respect my progress even if it isn’t as big as I was expecting.

The 2-step system goes as follows:

1st Step – Create a task list and write in your diary every day

The first step consists of two parts, which are actually equally important.

The first part is to have a task list ready for the day where you will list all your work-related tasks. The task list needs to be well specified and it cannot exceed five tasks because you won’t be able to manage them efficiently.

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I will give you an example of what a well-specified task list looks like by taking a random daily task list from my schedule:

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    The tasks here are quite random, but also quite usual for my daily life because they are all related to my main activity, which is blogging. Additionally, they are listed by level of importance, which suggests that I am not allowed to move to the next task if I haven’t completed the previous one. This rule helps me become more disciplined and focused.

    Most of the time, I manage to complete all the tasks and that gives me extreme pleasure and fulfillment. But even if I don’t and let’s say I didn’t manage to complete two or three of the least important tasks, I can easily move them to the task list for the next day without feeling bad because I managed to complete the most important ones.

    The feeling I experience whenever I manage to strike out the completed tasks is priceless. It fills me with a sense of immense pleasure and enjoyment to know that I managed to finish hard work and that is needed more than anything after a stressful day.

    The second part is the journal part.

    A journal for me is probably one of the most effective and impactful ways of individualistic expression. The words that you write down reflect your emotional state throughout the day and help you release your anger and pain or elevate your happiness and excitement. By logging your daily experiences and achievements, you create a sense of purpose within yourself. Even if you didn’t accomplish anything important during your day, the way you express it in your journal will reframe your whole reality.

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    Never assume that your life is boring. You are the hero of your own story and everything you do, even if you consider it simple or mundane, should be expressed through appreciation and grandeur. This is probably the most powerful mind hack I have ever learned.

    2nd Step – Reward yourself on a monthly basis

    Now, understanding and being aware of your progress is good and all but there is also something very important when it comes to lasting motivation that we shouldn’t ignore – the power of rewards.

    Rewards or “treats” may sound like a self-indulgent, frivolous strategy, but it’s not. Because forming good habits can be draining, treats can play an important role. When we give ourselves treats, we feel energized, cared for, and contented, which boosts our self-command and self-command helps us maintain our healthy habits. Studies show that people who got a little treat, in the form of receiving a surprise gift or watching a funny video, gained in self-control. It’s a secret of adulthood:

    If I give more to myself, I can ask more from myself. Self-regard isn’t selfish.

    When we don’t get any treats, we begin to feel burned-out, depleted, and resentful.

    Like I said before, it brings us back to our childhood when we were usually expecting gifts from our parents. Whether we got those gifts or not doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the need was always there and will always be. However, you can’t still expect your parents to reward you, but now you are the one who can reward yourself.

    The best timeframe to reward yourself is on a monthly basis because if you do it more often the crave won’t be that strong and also you can’t invest money on something that has value and you can appreciate more.

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    The nature of the present is up to you. Be it something that you enjoy immensely, like a dinner in an expensive restaurant or tickets for football game, or a subscription service where you can attach the following message:

    2

      Even if you don’t reach all the milestones or don’t work as hard as you expected to, the reward will keep you in a state of constant mental arousal, helping you to keep on going. And this is probably what matters the most.

      In closing

      To sum up, I wrote this piece mainly to help you understand that your life will constantly be an attempt to balance between your inner child and your adult self.

      Both characters are equally powerful and equally important to your emotional and social wellbeing.

      Neglecting one of them or failing to understand its place in your life will only cause confusion and regret.

      Don’t suppress your inner child. It was a huge part of your life and it will always be. Back then it was your caretakers who were responsible for it. Now it’s you and only you.

      Featured photo credit: Will van Wingerden via unsplash.com

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      Last Updated on August 16, 2018

      The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

      The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

      No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

      Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

      Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

      A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

      Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

      In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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      The power of habit

      A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

      For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

      This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

      The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

      That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

      Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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      The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

      Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

      But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

      The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

      The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

      A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

      For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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      But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

      If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

      For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

      These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

      For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

      How to make a reminder works for you

      Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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      Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

      Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

      My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

      Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

      I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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