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How to Motivate Yourself

How to Motivate Yourself
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    Bruno Mars

    is not alone when he wakes up singing,

    “Oh, today I don’t feel like doing anything. I just want to lay in my bed.”

    That’s just human nature, and some days it’s harder than others to entice ourselves to get to the gym or drag on our running shoes like crack fictional investigator Kinsey Millhone, who runs if only to be able to eat Quarter Pounders whenever she feels like it.

    But the one who wins the ongoing battle of wills within us is ultimately the one that signals success or failure. And those who can overcome that internal naysayer more often than not stand a better chance of seeing successful results, no matter the mission.

    I want it. I really, really want it.

    Consider Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”. The holiday tale about a boy on a mission starring Peter Billingsley has now become a cult classic on TBS, in part from its marathon run on the cable network every Christmas Eve, but also because of its heartwarming message about Christmas dreams that do come true.

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    And when it comes to motivation, few can match the determination and focus of Ralphie, who wanted nothing more for Christmas than a Red Ryder BB gun, despite myriad warnings about the gun’s safety. He wrote classroom essays about it, sat on a department store Santa’s lap to ask for it and placed ads for the gun strategically throughout the house for it his mom and dad to see in time for Christmas.

    Ralphie was motivated to invest so much effort into enticing his parents to buy him that gun because he was motivated by desire, and in the big picture could imagine himself with his Red Ryder, chasing burglars away as he starred in his own Wild West show, circa 1940.

    For Ralphie, the gun itself was an external, or extrinsic motivation, but the process of acquiring it was intrinsic motivation (or internal) as the fantasies of owning it gave him so much pleasure that writing essays seemed as if it was no work at all, even for a boy who viewed homework as an elaborate plot to steal his young joy.

    And through his efforts, Ralphie ultimately merged the two main sources of motivation that drive virtually everything we do.

    The same holds true for an Olympic hopeful, who strives to be the best he or she can be in hopes of earning a bronze, silver, or gold medal, but in working toward the goal sees intrinsic rewards in the lean, mean fighting machine that he or she has become.

    Most goals are reached by using both forms of motivation.

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    Intrinsic motivation: For the simple love of it

    Those projects we tackle where we look up at the clock, hours after we’ve started, and have no idea where the time has gone because we were so involved – that feeling is intrinsic motivation, and wouldn’t the world work better if all of us felt that way about everything we do?

    Imagine saying, every day, I don’t go to work, I go play. When looking at new challenges, seeing them in that light is a great way to make them happen.

    Seeing a challenge as a chance to become a better person is an excellent motivator, whether it’s a gourmet cooking class, a math problem or mastering a new dance move to look killer on the dance floor. The satisfaction of success is an internal motivator, and is in itself the reward.

    Extrinsic motivation: From the outside

    For Olympic athletes, the idea of a gold medal at the end of a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice is the driving force behind the action. The idea that he or she is the best in the world, and has the endorsements – and bling in the form of medals to show for it – is the reward that comes at the end of a hard-won battle.

    To motivate through workouts, we often have to envision those rewards coming to fruition to make it happen, to find the strength to get moving.

    What’s in a reward?

    But how do rewards in general motivate? Not so well, it turns out. Studies have shown that although we all love it, it turns out that money is not the best reward. A teenage girl who is offered $10 for every pound she loses might be more inclined to see being able to fit in a great prom dress, or land her dream date, as a better motivator than the money.

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    Once money enters into the picture, the task takes on the illusion of work, and that is seen less favorably. One classic study asked lawyers to help low-income people with their legal needs, some being offered a very low wage for their services, others being asked to perform the services for free. Turns out, the offer of money transformed the task from good deed to work, and made that control group less likely to agree. The motivation wasn’t money, it seems, but the good feelings that came from within for doing something nice.

    Threats of punishment also don’t work as motivation, it seems. Instead of making people more inclined to work harder, the looming threat of some form of punishment usually backfires. Nerves caused by the thought of failure usually lead to more slipups and mistakes rather than less. Fear is only a great motivator on a show like “Fear Factor,” and there, it’s the money that’s the true motivator.

    So what is the best motivator? That depends on the task at hand.

    How to get (and stay) motivated

    To get you on the right track, consider the following tips:

    1. Have a goal in mind.  Whether you want to fit into the same size clothes as you did at your high school graduation or you want to be able to run with your kids, pets, or grandkids at the park, the goal is the thing to keep in mind to help secure positive results.
    2. See and track improvements. Getting on the scale every Monday to measure pounds lost or realizing that running a mile suddenly turned into two miles without much extra effort can provide the impetus needed for getting over hurdles of discouragement, sure to come no matter the goal.
    3. Take a break. If you’ve been working really intensely, you’ll be likely to be even more invested in the coming days if you take a day to recover from a hard workout or take an afternoon to replenish energy stores with a coffee break if you’ve been writing day and night trying to reach a big deadline.
    4. Focus on how seeing the goal to fruition will make you a better person. The knowledge that comes from making good food choices or learning which forms of exercise offer the best health benefits makes you a better person. Knowledge is money.
    5. Reward yourself. Many people find that by setting up rewards as part of a process – new earrings for 10 pounds lost or new bike gear after taking on that steep climb without stopping – will help make the road to success just that. A real success.

    The more motivation…the merrier

    Everyone tends to have a dominant type of motivation.

    For some folks, they could care less about attention, accolades, and what other people think. They are motivated intrinsically. They simply want what it is they want for their own reasons. People like this don’t need to be carrot-and-sticked in order to achieve a goal.

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    On the other hand, you have those of us who are all about the rewards, attention, and bling. We are extrinsically motivated. We want what we want because of how it will make us look in the eyes of others. We have a strong desire to be able to show off our awards, jewelry, or body. We like be the envy of others, or at least receiving the praise of others.

    So, does it matter whether you’re more intrinsically or extrinsically motivated? Does being more motivated one way limit your success and results?

    No, not at all.

    What matters is for you to know whether you’re more motivated from within, or if you derive more of your motivation from external factors.

    You then take that knowledge and put it on steroids. Boost your most dominant motivator until there’s little room left to improve it. But, don’t stop there. After you’re done playing to your strength or dominant type of motivation, spice up your weaker area. Think of how you can double your less dominant type of motivation. Why? Because the more motivation you have and can cultivate, the more success you’ll experience. And that’s the whole purpose of motivation – to help you more easily and swiftly achieve your goal.

    Whether your desire is to lose 20 pounds, sculpt gorgeous abs, or increase your income by 100% within the next 6 months – motivation will make it happen for you. Increase your motivation and you increase your results.

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    (Photo credit: Man Running with Focus via Shutterstock)

    More by this author

    Justin Miller

    Healthy Lifestyle Architect, a Fitness and Nutrition Coach

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

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

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    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.”[1]

    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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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    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 6 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.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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