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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 December 10, 2019

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

Here’s the truth: your effectiveness at life is not what it could be. You’re missing out.

Each day passes by and you have nothing to prove that it even happened. Did you achieve something? Go on a date? Have an emotional breakthrough? Who knows?

But what you do know is that you don’t want to make the same mistakes that you’ve made in the past.

Our lives are full of hidden gems of knowledge and insight, and the most recent events in our lives contain the most useful gems of all. Do you know why? It’s simple, those hidden lessons are the most up to date, meaning they have the largest impact on what we’re doing right now.

But the question is, how do you get those lessons? There’s a simple way to do it, and it doesn’t involve time machines:

Journal writing.

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Improved mental clarity, the ability to see our lives in the big picture, as well as serving as a piece of evidence cataloguing every success we’ve ever had; we are provided all of the above and more by doing some journal writing.

Journal writing is a useful and flexible tool to help shed light on achieving your goals.

Here’s 5 smart reasons why you should do journal writing:

1. Journals Help You Have a Better Connection with Your Values, Emotions, and Goals

By journaling about what you believe in, why you believe it, how you feel, and what your goals are, you understand your relationships with these things better. This is because you must sort through the mental clutter and provide details on why you do what you do and feel what you feel.

Consider this:

Perhaps you’ve spent the last year or so working at a job you don’t like. It would be easy to just suck it up and keep working with your head down, going on as if it’s supposed to be normal to not like your job. Nobody else is complaining, so why should you, right?

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But a little journal writing will set things straight for you. You don’t like your job. You feel like it’s robbing you of happiness and satisfaction, and you don’t see yourself better there in the future.

The other workers? Maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t care. But you do, you know and care enough to do something about it. And you’re capable of fixing this problem because your journal writing allows you to finally be honest with yourself about it.

2. Journals Improve Mental Clarity and Help Improve Your Focus

If there’s one thing journal writing is good for, it’s clearing the mental clutter.

How does it work? Simply, whenever you have a problem and write about it in a journal, you transfer the problem from your head to the paper. This empties the mind, allowing allocation of precious resources to problem-solving rather than problem-storing.

Let’s say you’ve been juggling several tasks at work. You’ve got data entry, testing, e-mails, problems with the boss, and so on—enough to overwhelm you—but as you start journal writing, things become clearer and easier to understand: Data entry can actually wait till Thursday; Bill kindly offered earlier to do my testing; For e-mails, I can check them now; the boss is just upset because Becky called in sick, etc.

You become better able to focus and reason your tasks out, and this is an indispensable and useful skill to have.

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3. Journals Improve Insight and Understanding

As a positive consequence of improving your mental clarity, you become more open to insights you may have missed before. As you write your notes out, you’re essentially having a dialogue with yourself. This draws out insights that you would have missed otherwise; it’s almost as if two people are working together to better understand each other. This kind of insight is only available to the person who has taken the time to connect with and understand themselves in the form of writing.

Once you’ve gotten a few entries written down, new insights can be gleaned from reading over them. What themes do you see in your life? Do you keep switching goals halfway through? Are you constantly dating the same type of people who aren’t good for you? Have you slowly but surely pushed people out of your life for fear of being hurt?

All of these questions can be answered by simply self-reflecting, but you can only discover the answers if you’ve captured them in writing. These questions are going to be tough to answer without a journal of your actions and experiences.

4. Journals Track Your Overall Development

Life happens, and it can happen fast. Sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and look around at what’s happening to us at each moment. We don’t get to see the step-by-step progress that we’re making in our own lives. So what happens? One day it’s the future, and you have no idea how you’ve gotten there.

Journal writing allows you to see how you’ve changed over time, so you can see where you did things right, and you can see where you took a misstep and fell.

The great thing about journals is that you’ll know what that misstep was, and you can make sure it doesn’t happen again—all because you made sure to log it, allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes.

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5. Journals Facilitate Personal Growth

The best thing about journal writing is that no matter what you end up writing about, it’s hard to not grow from it. You can’t just look at a past entry in which you acted shamefully and say “that was dumb, anyway!” No, we say “I will never make a dumb choice like that again!”

It’s impossible not to grow when it comes to journal writing. That’s what makes journal writing such a powerful tool, whether it’s about achieving goals, becoming a better person, or just general personal-development. No matter what you use it for, you’ll eventually see yourself growing as a person.

Kickstart Journaling

How can journaling best be of use to you? To vent your emotions? To help achieve your goals? To help clear your mind? What do you think makes journaling such a useful life skill?

Know the answer? Then it’s about time you reap the benefits of journal writing and start putting pen to paper.

Here’s what you can do to start journaling:

Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com

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