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How to Motivate Yourself

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How to Motivate Yourself


    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)

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    Justin Miller

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    Last Updated on October 21, 2021

    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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    How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

    Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

    Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

    The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

    Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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    Program Your Own Algorithms

    Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

    Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

    By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

    How to Form a Ritual

    I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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    Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

    1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
    2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
    3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
    4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

    Ways to Use a Ritual

    Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

    1. Waking Up

    Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

    2. Web Usage

    How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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    3. Reading

    How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

    4. Friendliness

    Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

    5. Working

    One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

    6. Going to the gym

    If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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    7. Exercise

    Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

    8. Sleeping

    Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

    8. Weekly Reviews

    The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

    Final Thoughts

    We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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    Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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