“I know what I need to do. I just have to do it. I’m working on it. If only I had more motivation, it would be so much easier.
I’m really frustrated at my lack of motivation. I don’t know why I can’t muster up the willpower to just do what I need to do.”
Does this sound familiar to you?
You just know what you have to do. You’ve read enough articles and books, watched enough YouTube videos, applied for enough ‘free trials’ on Facebook, spoken to enough people.
Many people, maybe even you, end up paying for motivation, only to be disappointed because you soon realize throwing money at a problem doesn’t always solve it.
Case in point: people invest in personal training thinking it’ll be the motivational kick they need. Or the 14-day detox. Or the unlimited boot camps. Or the gym membership.
In the beginning, it’s working. Then, results slow down. Then, results stop. As this happens, motivation drops concomitantly. You try it again. Yet the next time, the results aren’t as drastic and long-lasting. You lose motivation even faster.
The problem with motivation
We talk a lot about motivation, and we do it because it’s so easy to talk about it. One way to pique someone’s interest is to say:
“Top Ten Ways to Motivate Yourself”
Unfortunately, we intuitively know relying on motivation doesn’t work yet we try to convince ourselves otherwise.
“It’ll be different this time. I have a new tool, a new mindset. It’s a new year. This year, I’ll finally get that revenge body to show my jerk of a boyfriend that he’ll regret breaking up with me.”
Time and time again, in study after study, motivation is shown to be a really poor way to achieve something worthwhile.
Motivation isn’t reliable. It changes day to day, mood by mood. It can be affected by various factors: work, weather, people.
As such, you can’t depend on keeping your motivation levels high extrinsically.
In fact, many of us achieve goals because we’ve already decided we wanted to achieve them. If this sounds confusing and contradictory, it’s probably because it is. If you look at most of your successful behavior changes, they happened because deep down, you already committed to a new you, even before you sought out ‘methods’.
In reality, the chances of us forcefully changing ourselves is pretty darn low. You’d think money would be a strong incentive, yet more recent research shows the ‘carrot and the stick’ model fails long-term. In the short term and for endeavors with low risk, money can be a great reward. Fantasy Football is a great example – $100 buy-in, compete with friends using a sport that connects you with them, and then a $500 reward. Pretty easy, low risk, and fun.
However, extrinsic motivators like money, fame, social status, and bragging rights don’t help us make the lasting changes we desperately think we want for the big things that really matter, like health, love, and work.
The biological reason is that: we have strong and natural mechanisms in place to resist change, even if the change is desirable or will help us.
There are generally three things that can affect how likely we are to stick to something:
- Our ability to do it (ability)
- What prompts us to do it (trigger)
- What drives us to do it (motivation)
This is considered the Behavioral Change Model coined by Stanford University researcher, BJ Fogg. He’s also the author of Tiny Habits, a book on habit change.
It’s no surprise we’re motivated to do things that are both easy and enjoyable. When things are enjoyable, we can more likely to ‘endure’ the discomfort of the challenge. When it’s fun and easy, then, well, let’s Netflix and chill, bro.
Sports are prime examples. The learning curve for sports is steep. Some are steeper than others. If we make a fool of ourselves playing table tennis yet it’s fun as all-get out, we’re likely to stick with it (unless, of course, people point their fingers at you and laugh at how ridiculous you look).
Not surprisingly, if we don’t find something fun, we’re less likely to do it, even if it is easy to do. An example would be a professional running back retiring much earlier than the average. He made avoiding tackles and scoring look like child’s play.
(If you’re interested, look up Barry Sanders, considered one of the best professional running backs of all time, highlights on YouTube).
If you want a habit to stick, it should be triggered easily.
Ideally, the trigger should be consistent, and the desired habit should be somewhere in your normal schedule where it’s being triggered.
An obvious example: your alarm goes off, you wake up (or you hit snooze – but you eventually wake up, hopefully).
Or, it’s 10 PM, you brush your teeth.
I think as human beings, we’re naturally inclined to take the easy road, despite our early lives being difficult as hell and paved with torture and torment. Part of taking things ‘easy’ is associating our actions with something that’s already routine and familiar. The problem is that the ‘easy’ things are the first things routinized, and this starts happening from birth.
The key is to build easy things upon easy things. If you already find a particular habit ‘easy’ to execute, such as going to work, then see if you can add a small action immediately after the trigger.
Motivation the way society conventionally defines it is different from the motivation the way therapists and coaches define it.
While many people would probably define motivation as our ability to get things done, health professionals probably see motivation as the desire to get things done. The logical question, then is this:
If you’re ‘motivated’ to get in shape but don’t take any actions to do it, are you truly motivated?
The ability get in shape is most likely there. You just need to get in the car, go to the gym, hop on the bike, and pedal away for 15 minutes.
The desire may be what’s missing. The driving force between driving to the gym.
Behind any action, habit, or behavior, there is a desire. And that desire is born out of compromise. In other words, the ‘pleasure’ of performing an action outweighs of ‘pain’ of engaging in it. I believe that’s the way the universe works. Nothing goes unnoticed. You do one thing, another thing happens.
Bringing the three together
If any of the three factors above are below a certain threshold (only you know what threshold is), the chances of you successfully achieving habit formation and behavioral change goes down drastically.
The action can be easy as pie and the timing can be perfect, but nothing will change if there’s no desire. The same is true for the other combinations.
And of course, even with the three factors present, you must have the means and resources to let them play out.
If you love table tennis, yet the center where you can play is 30 miles away and you have a car, no amount of motivation will help you.
If you’ve tried to optimize all three yet are having no luck, it just might be time to put it to rest.
With the three factors present, there is one resounding theme that will bring them together: simplicity.
The simpler the actions, the easier it’ll be to execute. The simpler it is, the less ‘challenging’ it’ll be to learn. The simpler it is, the easier it’ll be to fit it into your schedule and find appropriate triggers. The simpler it is, the less ‘motivated’ you need to be in order to do it because you won’t have to emotionally rationalize and justify when you should do it – you just do.
With all things considered, getting fit is relatively easy, especially if you compare it to running a business or raising a child (which are universally considered a couple of the most difficult responsibilities to undertake in life).
Fitness is not rocket science, humans were designed to be healthy, you feel better when you’re healthy, and it doesn’t actually require as much energy, time, and money as many people think.
People just don’t do it because there are many other things that are more interesting, fun, and easy (unless you have a serious medical condition that prevents you from doing exercising).
On the other hand, getting fit is a big, hairy, audacious goal. It doesn’t happen overnight, and even if you’re following a plan written by the best coach in the world, it’s still more difficult than most other activities. You need to re-orient your life to match its demands.
Imagine how difficult it is to alter your life if you’re 50 pounds overweight, spending the time after work on the couch eating potato chips and ice cream, watching Netflix, smoking, and drinking alcohol.
How can you make change happen?
Rather than thinking about ‘getting fit’, think about the smallest possible action you can take right now that’s a bit more than what you’re currently doing. It could be:
- Walking 5 minutes per day as soon as you get home
- Stopping social media 15 minutes earlier before bed
- Getting to bed 15 minutes earlier
- Doing 5 push-ups during your lunch break
- Drinking 16 more ounces of water as soon as you wake up
- Putting gym clothes in the car
- Finding a gym on your way home
- Getting up for 3 minutes and stretching for every 50 minutes of work
I hope this massive article on motivation was helpful. It’s not easy talking about motivation because it’s a topic with varying viewpoints built on individual success. What one person did to become successful may not work for someone else, even if the situations are very similar.
That’s the puzzling thing about life – there’s just so much chaos to be put in order.
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