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This Is Why Motivation Only Is Not Enough For New Year’s Resolutions

This Is Why Motivation Only Is Not Enough For New Year’s Resolutions

As 2013 winds down, a lot of people are getting ready for the new year by setting their New Year’s Resolutions. Finally, they are going to make the decision to lose weight, stop smoking, go back to school, save money, travel, spend more time with family, and be happier.

Yes, on January 1, 2014, millions and millions of people will suddenly find the motivation that has been eluding them the other 364 days of the year.

And…this year is going to be different! Or will it?

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Motivation won’t be the difference maker.

Every now and then I get asked if I do “motivational speaking.” I always cringe a little when this happens. Motivation is not what I want to inspire within people.

Motivation is a temporary emotion that comes and goes. We have an experience that provokes something within us that fires us up. It’s an awesome explosion that will quickly fade unless one major decision is made.

That decision is commitment and commitment will be the difference maker.

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I don’t know about you, but I can get excited about a lot of things. I’ve set a lot of goals in my days and every single one of them started because I felt motivated. However, the only goals I’ve followed through on and achieved are the ones I committed to.

Motivation might be the spark that ignites the explosion, but only commitment will keep the fire burning!

Commitment is a choice.

It’s true; commitment is a choice to be made. It doesn’t just happen.

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I always shake my head when I hear people say, “I have no motivation,” or, “I need to find some motivation,” like it’s some wonder drug that is going to dramatically change their lives. The problem is they haven’t made the choice to commit to whatever it is they can’t find “motivation” to do. When you make a commitment, it’s amazing how motivation is much more accessible.

Don’t half ass it! If you are going to set goals, don’t rely on motivation. Commit to your results!

The process of commitment.

I can only speak for myself, but it tends to be easier to make a commitment when things are meaningful to me and really align well with who I am and who I want to be, versus trying to commit to every explosion of excitement ignited by external influences. The challenge is knowing—I mean really knowing—what is meaningful to you. Not what society says should be important, not what your family or friends say should be important, but what you determine to be truly meaningful. Now, I’m not telling you to disregard what your family and friends say, but you have to make the final call and when you do it has to be true to you.

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Whether you have a hard time articulating what’s meaningful to you, or you just need to do some reassessing, there are some great exercises out there that can help you figure this out. For me it was reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People 13 years ago. I can honestly say it changed my life. No exaggeration.

What is meaningful to you?

I’ve put together a set of worksheets I use with my clients. In them I challenge their thinking by asking them some important questions:

  • On a scale of 1–10, how would you rate your happiness in seven key areas of your life?
  • What don’t you want in your life?
  • What do you want in your life?
  • How do you want to be remembered?
  • What is your Personal Success Statement?

At the end of the day, you have to decide what type of person you need to commit to being to reach your goals in 2014. Do you want to be like the masses and talk a big game only to fizzle? Or do you want to be one of the few that sets a goal, makes the commitment, and achieves success?

It’s your choice!

How committed will you in 2014?

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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