Staying motivated is key. It gets us going and keeps us going, even when we can’t see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Motivation is that inner sense of “keep going”….. even when we would really like (some days) to pull the covers up over our heads and just stay put!
It takes effort to get from where we are to where we want to be, and many obstacles crop up on our path to success. The truth is that staying motivated is exponentially harder than simply getting fired up, especially when the goal is unclear, distant or difficult to achieve. Additionally, life throws in many surprises that can set us back and make us question our motivation, and ultimately our goals. Do I really have to push myself so much? Is it all worth my time? Do I want it enough to keep going? When doubt creeps in, it’s easy to lose the initial excitement, burn out and give up on the goal.
The reason some people quit pursuing their goals while others successfully reach theirs is the difference in the motivation that drives them. The “right” – or sustainable – motivation comes from the inside out, is supported by well-defined priorities and goals, and provides a strong emotional connection to the desired outcome. Different studies have shown that in the long run, intrinsic motivation is more sustainable than extrinsic; it doesn’t mean that external rewards do not work, we just value our intrinsic drivers more.
Motivation drivers can be classified into a number of categories, but when we talk about sustainable motivation self-interest and concern for others are the ones that are worth mentioning the most, as they relate to “selfish” and “selfless” motivation. Individually both drivers have advantages and downsides, but when they work in synergy the most sustainable motivation and the highest level of performance are possible. For instance, you are most likely to get the promotion you want when not only do you care to improve your standing in the company, but also you want to please your parents or your spouse, or make sure your kids can go to a good school, etc.
Before we jump into some practical strategies for keeping motivation strong on the way to your goals, one thing needs to be mentioned: Just as the house built on a weak foundation will not stand for long, motivation based on unclear goals or a poorly defined desired outcome will flag in no time.
Set your goals according to what your priorities are and have a plan that will help you follow through. Know the answers to your “why”s: Why this is a good or right goal to have, why you need to achieve it, why achieving it is important or desirable for you or those you care for, and so on. Once you set a strong foundation, you can use the following tips to help you sustain your motivation until you succeed.
1. Put it in writing. Identify what you want and put it in writing. Be as clear and specific as possible – include both quantitative (measureable) and qualitative (feeling or experiential) aspects. Once you write it down, keep it somewhere in sight. We make plans and make promises to ourselves to follow through, but if it’s just in our minds we tend to forget both plans and promises as soon as life gets busy. Putting things in writing holds you accountable to your goals; it also serves as a reminder of all the progress that you made.
2. Minimize distractions. When you are disorganized, you cannot make much progress with anything, because your attention is divided between so many things. Procrastination can become a problem because you waste your energy on matters that don’t really matter. Nothing is more distracting and demotivating than a cluttered mind. If you find yourself running in circles, hit “pause” and take a moment to think back to your priorities. When you know your priorities, it is very easy to trim off all the time-eaters and energy-zappers that keep you from moving forward.
3. Be aware of the potential pitfalls. Ask yourself what obstacles you might encounter while making progress towards your goals. It is important to be aware of all potential stumbling blocks, because you can then decide how to deal with these obstacles, and when you actually run into them you will be able to eliminate them without losing your motivation. After you note down your potential obstacles, the next step is to categorize them into three groups:
Don’t waste your energy on things you cannot fight; instead, focus on what can be done and keep moving forward.
4. Embrace positivity. Practice positive self-talk and do things that make you happy, because when you are happy you feel more energized and motivated. Of course, unexpected and undesirable things can happen and they can negatively affect your attitude and resolve. Remember, negative self-talk and excessive self-criticism will only exacerbate matters and will further weaken your motivation. Positive self-talk, on the other hand, will help you bounce back faster to your usual self, and continue to move forward as if nothing happened.
5. Reward yourself. Everyone likes rewards – they make us feel happy, valued and recognized. Rewards don’t need to be big to have that positive effect on us; sometimes even a scheduled break can serve as a reward. Little rewards here and there for whatever progress that you have made will give your motivation a good boost and allow you to maintain a positive outlook throughout your journey. Occasional rewards provide that instant gratification that we all crave.