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Nail New Year’s Resolutions By Understanding Motivation

Nail New Year’s Resolutions By Understanding Motivation

It’s resolution o’clock. Many of you are either setting New Year’s resolutions, thinking about them or already have the ball rolling. Whether you’re trying to break a habit, form a new habit, create a new routine or anything else, you’re going to have to deal with the M word: motivation.

Looking back on my intentions at the start of 2016, I see a real mixed bag—plenty of goals fulfilled, but plenty others left by the wayside. I launched my website, but fell short on my language-learning goals. I learned how to measure my progress with projects, but the projects themselves had mixed results.

One reason for my mixed results was simply that my priorities changed as the year progressed. Things that had felt incredibly important at the start of the year kind of faded in significance, meaning that certain goals were simply dropped.

But this wasn’t the only reason for my mixed results. In addition to changing my priorities, I also failed to properly motivate myself.

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This year, I’m feeling far better prepared. By taking the time to understand motivation fully, I’ve figured out how to structure my goals to maximise my motivation.

Motivation 101

In his book Drive, Dan Pink identifies three key sources of motivation:

  1. Our desire to survive (‘animal’ desires)
  2. External rewards (extrinsic motivation)
  3. The enjoyment, satisfaction and challenge inherent in a task (intrinsic motivation)

We mostly end up focusing on number two—extrinsic motivation. We spend a lot of time doing things in order to earn rewards—a bonus, complements, admiration or praise.

The key to maximising motivation seems to be to maintain a balance between number two and number three (intrinsic motivation). Although it might feel like the enjoyment of a task is insufficient to keep you going, it actually forms a vital part of maintaining motivation in the long term. If you’re going to stick with a resolution for a whole year, long-term motivation is key.

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The logic behind maintaining a balance of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation can be broken down into two key reasons:

Ego depletion

It can be tempting to simply provide yourself with a steady chain of external rewards, creating a new reward whenever the current reward is earned. The problem, however, is that forcing yourself to do something purely for a reward takes willpower—you have to constantly remind yourself that it’s really worth it. ego depletion theory suggests that we only have a limited pool of mental resources to power our willpower—eventually they get used up. However powerful the reward, you might run out of willpower.

Although questions have recently been raised about ego depletion theory, it kind of just makes sense intuitively. Constantly forcing yourself to do something purely for a future reward is tiring. The more tired you get, the harder it gets. Eventually you might give up. It’s as simple as that.

Achieving flow

When Hungarian Psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi introduced the concept of flow, he began to explain a phenomenon that many people had experienced. It’s the feeling of being totally absorbed in any activity so much so that you feel “strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of [your] abilities.”

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Flow can be achieved during any activity, as long as it’s neither too simple nor too demanding. You must constantly be aiming for goals that are achievable but challenging, with immediate feedback on your performance. You could be playing a sport, attempting a puzzle, solving a problem at work or reading a book.

The power of flow is that in contrast to the tiring, willpower-sapping effects of forcing yourself to chase a reward, flow is rewarding in itself. It is the purest form of intrinsic motivation and can actually create a sense of increasing your energy reserves. You’re not forcing yourself to complete the task—you’re doing it because you enjoy it.

To put it simply, flow can provide the long-term source of motivation that is vital for resolutions. If you can identify tasks, projects or goals that can lead to flow, you can make the whole process of motivating yourself a LOT easier.

The solution

Ultimately, the key to maximising motivation is to achieve a balance between extrinsic motivation (rewards) and intrinsic motivation (enjoyment or challenge). When setting resolutions, this can be achieved through the following simple steps:

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  1. For each resolution, consider whether you can utilise flow for achieving your goal. You’ll need to create the following two conditions:
    1. A level of difficulty that is neither too hard nor too easy, constantly challenging you without feeling impossible
    2. Immediate feedback on your efforts (either electronically, from someone else or through your own assessment)
  2. If you can utilise flow, structure your efforts for achieving the resolution purely around intrinsic motivation—make achieving flow the goal and results should come
  3. Regularly (either weekly or monthly) reflect on your progress and levels of motivation
  4. Only use external rewards as your backup when either the resolution doesn’t lend itself to intrinsic motivation or intrinsic motivation doesn’t seem to be working

By moving the focus from external reward to your own personal enjoyment, you can create an unlimited source of motivation for your resolutions. By creating a personal challenge with regular feedback, you can create a state of flow that can turn in to a long-term source of motivation.

Most importantly, using intrinsic motivation is fun! Why force yourself into a structure that requires willpower when fun can help you stick with your resolutions?

More by this author

Robert Crews

Freelance Writer

Nail New Year’s Resolutions By Understanding Motivation

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Last Updated on August 7, 2018

10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On

10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On

Failure occurs everyday, in school, jobs, housework, and within families. It is unavoidable, irritating and causes pessimism.

While the thought of flinging your hands in the air and walking away is all too appealing, take a second to connect with the people who have been there and survived.

Here are 10 famous failures to success stories around the world that will inspire you to keep going and achieve greatness:

1. J.K. Rowling

J.K.-Rowling

    During a Harvard commencement speech, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling outlined the importance and value of failure.[1]

    Why? Simply because she was once a failure too.

    A few short years after her graduation from college, her worst nightmares were realized. In her words,

    “I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

    Coming out of this failure stronger and more determined was the key to her success.

    2. Steve Jobs

    steve-jobs-31

      The now revolutionary Apple started off with two men in a garage. Years later we all know it as a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees.

      Yet, almost unbelievably, Steve Jobs was fired from the very company he began.

      The dismissal made him realize that his passion for his work exceeded the disappointment of failure. Further ventures such as NeXT and Pixar eventually led Jobs back to the CEO position at AppleJobs said in 2005:

      “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.”

      Lost your job today? Keep kicking and you could be just like this guy!

      3. Bill Gates
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        Bill Gates was a Harvard dropout. He co-owned a business called Traf-O-Data, which was a true failure.[2]

        However, skill and a passion for computer programming turned this failure into the pioneer of famous software company Microsoft, and the then 31-year-old into the world’s youngest self-made billionaire.

        In his own words:

        “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.”

        This isn’t to say that dropping out of Harvard will make you into a billionaire, but maybe that shiny degree isn’t worth as much as the drive and passion to succeed.

        4. Albert Einstein
        0

          The word ‘Einstein’ is associated with intelligence and synonymous with genius. Yet it is a famous fact that the pioneer of the theory of general relativity, Albert Einstein himself, could not speak fluently until the age of nine. His rebellious nature led to expulsion from school, and he was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School.

          His earlier setbacks did not stop him from winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921. After all, he believed that:

          “Success is failure in progress.”

          To this day, his research has influenced various aspects of life including culture, religion, art, and even late night TV.

          Just because you haven’t achieved anything great yet, doesn’t mean you can’t be an Einstein yourself.

          5. Abraham Lincoln

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            Failing in business in 1831, suffering a nervous breakdown in 1836, defeated in his run for president in 1856, Abraham Lincoln was no stranger to rejection and failure. Rather than taking these signs as a motivation for surrender, he refused to stop trying his best.

            In this great man’s words:

            “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”

            Lincoln was elected in 1861 as the 16th President of the United States of America.

            The amount of rejection you receive is not a defining factor. Success is still within your reach.

            6. Michael Jordan

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              “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

              This quote by retired basketball legend Michael Jordan in a Nike advertisement speaks for itself.

              It would be an easy misconception that Jordan’s basketball skills revolve around natural talent. In fact, in his earlier years,  basketball coaches had trouble looking past the fact that Jordan didn’t reach the minimum height. It was years of effort, practice, and failure that made the star we know today.

              7. Steven Spielberg

              217307-steven-spielberg

                Regarded as one of the most influential filmmakers of all time, Steven Spielberg is a familiar household name. It is surprising to realize therefore that the genius behind Jaws and E.T. had poor grades in high school, getting him rejected from the University of Southern California three times.

                While he was in college, he caught the eye of executives at Universal, who signed him as a television director in 1969. This meant that he would not finish his college degree for another 33 years.

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                Perseverance and acceptance of failure is the key to success, after all.

                “Even though I get older, what I do never gets old, and that’s what I think keeps me hungry.”

                Bad grades in high school aside, there is no questioning the genius involved.

                To date, Spielberg has directed 51 films and has been awarded three Oscars.

                8. Walt Disney

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                  Mickey Mouse creator Walt Disney dropped out of school at a young age in a failed attempt at joining the army.[3] One of his earlier ventures, Laugh-o-Gram Studios, went bankrupt due to his lack of ability to run a successful business. He was once fired from a Missouri newspaper for “not being creative enough.”

                  Yet today, The genius behind Disney studios is responsible for generations of childhood memories and dreams. From Snow White to Frozen, Disney will continue to entertain the world for generations to come.

                  The logic behind this is simple:

                  “We don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious… and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”

                  9. Vincent Van Gogh
                  vincent_van_gogh

                    During his lifetime, Vincent Van Gogh suffered mental illness, failed relationships, and committed suicide at the age of 37.

                    He only ever sold one painting in his life, pinning him a failure as an artist. However that did not put a damper on his enthusiasm and passion for art.

                    He would never know that years and years after his death he would become known as a key figure in the world of post-impressionism, and ultimately, one of the greatest artist that ever lived.

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                    He would never know that he became a hot topic in art classes and his image was going to be used in TV, books and other forms of popular culture.

                    In the words of this great, but tragic man:

                    “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

                    10. Stephen King

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                      As a paranoid, troubled child, tormented by nightmares and raised in poverty, it is no surprise that Stephen King grew up to the title: “Master of Horror”.[4]

                      An addiction to drugs and alcohol were his mechanisms to cope with the unhappiness he felt with his life. The frustration he felt towards multiple rejections by publishers in combination with illicit substances caused him to mentally contemplate violence towards his own children.

                      These intense emotions were those that he focused onto his writing. And that’s why he said:

                      “We make up horros to help us cope with the real ones.”

                      Writing became his new coping mechanism, and this is how the master author we know today grew to success.

                      Fail more often in order to succeed

                      Like Albert Einstein said, failure really is just success in progress. If you’d rather not to fail, you will probably never succeed.

                      Success comes from moments of frustrations when you’ll be most uncomfortable with. But after you’ve gone through all those bitter times, you’ll become stronger and you’ll get closer to success.

                      Don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, start failing, and start failing often; that’s how you will succeed.

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                      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

                      Reference

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