How many times have you started a new habit, with a goal in mind, determined to make it happen, and then gave it all up after just a few days? You began something very excitedly about your goal, but the pain of failing to have enough discipline was greater and sufficient to put you off the whole idea.
So how can you keep yourself more motivated, even if you think you’re not a disciplined person?
If you want to stay motivated to achieve your goals, you need to feel the pain of not achieving them.
Sounds confusing? It’s actually quite simple. Pain is the strongest indicator that our behavior needs readjustment and our brains are wired to be highly reactive to it. When trying to escape pain, the brain triggers psychological processes that aim to change the situation and avoid the source of pain, activating creative and decision-making processes. So instead of adopting a “carrot and stick” approach, and having your eyes on the price only, it’s important to evaluate also the impact of the potential losses you’ll experience by not achieving what you’re aiming for. The pain of those potential losses will be a powerful motivator to keep you going in the pursuit of your goal. Even more so than the desire you have to achieve that goal will.
Loss aversion, and the idea that “losses loom greater than gains”, explains why the pain of losing is psychologically about twice as powerful than the pleasure of gaining.
The concept of loss aversion, introduced by Kahneman and Tversky in 1979, explains why, for example, if you lose 10 dollars, you feel twice as upset than you are when you gain 10 dollars. And it’s is also why sometimes penalty frames can be more effective than rewarding frames when motivating people.
And while pain plays a role in motivational states, motivational states also influence the perception of pain.
The pain you might feel on your morning jog will be totally neglected if you’re running to escape from an assailant. In a similar way, the pain of waking up early to go to the gym will be greater if you’re only thinking about having a nice beach body. But if you remind yourself that not being fit is costing you health, self-confidence, and stamina, you’ll likely be less upset and ruled by the discomfort you feel getting out of bed.
As we’ve seen, even if you should have your actions be motivated by what inspires you, and not fear, when working on self-motivation it’s not only beneficial to keep an eye on what you’d like to achieve but also on what you’ll be losing. So if you want to strengthen your motivation, ask yourself questions that will help your brain to perceive the status quo as a loss, more than focusing solely on future gains.
For example, ask yourself:
What do I stand to lose if I don’t reach my goal?
What is the path I’m on costing me every single day?
What will my future look like if I don’t change?
Be clear on what not going after your goals will cost you and let that evaluation inspire you to take action.
So next time you’re setting a goal or need a little help to stay on track, remember that your goals are made of two parts, those things that you want, and those that you don’t want, bearing in mind that to not want something is, in fact, a more powerful motivation than it is to want.
And when pain presents itself in your game, remember that has a function for you: to get ahead.