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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 February 13, 2019

10 Things Happy People Do Differently

10 Things Happy People Do Differently

Think being happy is something that happens as a result of luck, circumstance, having money, etc.? Think again.

Happiness is a mindset. And if you’re looking to improve your ability to find happiness, then check out these 10 things happy people do differently.

Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions. -Dalai Lama

1. Happy people find balance in their lives.

Folks who are happy have this in common: they’re content with what they have, and don’t waste a whole lot of time worrying and stressing over things they don’t. Unhappy people do the opposite: they spend too much time thinking about what they don’t have. Happy people lead balanced lives. This means they make time for all the things that are important to them, whether it’s family, friends, career, health, religion, etc.

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2. Happy people abide by the golden rule.

You know that saying you heard when you were a kid, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” Well, happy people truly embody this principle. They treat others with respect. They’re sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of other people. They’re compassionate. And they get treated this way (most of the time) in return.

3. Happy people don’t sweat the small stuff.

One of the biggest things happy people do differently compared to unhappy people is they let stuff go. Bad things happen to good people sometimes. Happy people realize this, are able to take things in stride, and move on. Unhappy people tend to dwell on minor inconveniences and issues, which can perpetuate feelings of sadness, guilt, resentment, greed, and anger.

4. Happy people take responsibility for their actions.

Happy people aren’t perfect, and they’re well aware of that. When they screw up, they admit it. They recognize their faults and work to improve on them. Unhappy people tend to blame others and always find an excuse why things aren’t going their way. Happy people, on the other hand, live by the mantra:

“There are two types of people in the world: those that do and those that make excuses why they don’t.”

5. Happy people surround themselves with other happy people.

happiness surrounding

    One defining characteristic of happy people is they tend to hang out with other happy people. Misery loves company, and unhappy people gravitate toward others who share their negative sentiments. If you’re struggling with a bout of sadness, depression, worry, or anger, spend more time with your happiest friends or family members. Chances are, you’ll find that their positive attitude rubs off on you.

    6. Happy people are honest with themselves and others.

    People who are happy often exhibit the virtues of honesty and trustworthiness. They would rather give you candid feedback, even when the truth hurts, and they expect the same in return. Happy people respect people who give them an honest opinion.

    7. Happy people show signs of happiness.

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    smile

      This one may sound obvious but it’s a key differentiator between happy and unhappy people. Think about your happiest friends. Chances are, the mental image you form is of them smiling, laughing, and appearing genuinely happy. On the flip side, those who aren’t happy tend to look the part. Their posture may be slouched and you may perceive a lack of confidence.

      8. Happy people are passionate.

      Another thing happy people have in common is their ability to find their passions in life and pursue those passions to the fullest. Happy people have found what they’re looking for, and they spend their time doing what they love.

      9. Happy people see challenges as opportunities.

      Folks who are happy accept challenges and use them as opportunities to learn and grow. They turn negatives into positives and make the best out of seemingly bad situations. They don’t dwell on things that are out of their control; rather, they seek solutions and creative ways of overcoming obstacles.

      10. Happy people live in the present.

      While unhappy people tend to dwell on the past and worry about the future, happy people live in the moment. They are grateful for “the now” and focus their efforts on living life to the fullest in the present. Their philosophy is:

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      There’s a reason it’s called “the present.” Because life is a gift.

      So if you’d like to bring a little more happiness into your life, think about the 10 principles above and how you can use them to make yourself better.

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