Have you ever gotten excited about your New Year’s resolutions only to have them fizzle out mere weeks after? This is a common enough story and we’ve all been there. When the “fresh start effect” fades away, your determination falters and the first bump on the road often signals the end of the journey.
So, what can we do to keep our motivation high for the longer run? Here are 4 great ways to stay motivated.
Listen to your heart
If you want to feel motivated in the long term, choose a goal with your heart. When an objective comes from your heart, it will be easier to stick with it through tough times. You will make sacrifices more readily when it is clear what you are making them for.
Dig inside yourself and get in touch with the vision that you have behind your goal. If your objective is to eat healthy or exercise, what is your underlying vision? Maybe a vision of yourself in good health, fit, slim and happy.
Whatever that vision is, take a moment to visualize the person you aspire to build. It will help you see meaning in everything you do.
For example, why would you put your sneakers on and go for a run instead of watching a TV series? The sofa might be more tempting than the effort. However, if you go back to your vision, the choice will come effortlessly.
Go after goals which are genuinely yours and you will find plenty of motivation to make them happen.
Align your habits with your long-term goals
One day, I checked my own goals and tried to determine what the difference was between those that I achieved easily and those I seemed to struggled with. And I found a clear pattern.
I have a few long-term goals, like maintaining a certain weight or getting a new degree before I reach 40. I realized that I do well with the first one, less so with the second one.
Why do I seem to have a two-speed motivation?
I’m not less motivated in getting a new degree. The problem is that I have nowhere to start from. My weight goal, on the other hand, is linked to short-term goals or habits, such as eating 5 servings of fruits or vegetables per day, eating fish twice a week and exercising at least four times a week. These daily and weekly habits help me reach my long-term objective.
I haven’t set any corresponding habit for my degree goal. And I’m not going to achieve it just by looking at it…
The secret of success lies in the things we do regularly, like our daily and weekly habits. These habits must be aligned with the vision we have.
Having a vision is not enough. It must be translated into small daily steps. If we only have a vision or a long-term goal, we will feel overwhelmed by the mission and we won’t know where to start from.
Sometimes, it’s the other way round and we struggle to ingrain new habits. In that case, the long-term goal may be missing. For example, it’s much easier to find the motivation to go for a run when you have registered for a race or when you aim at getting your beach body back in time for the summer season!
The alignment between habits and a long-term vision works both ways. Having habits that are aligned to a long-term objective gives us the motivation to reach the end goal and sustain good habits.
When you struggle with one of your goals, check whether it’s a habit or a long-term goal. If it’s a habit, make sure that you have a corresponding vision. Why do you want to ingrain this habit?
If it’s a long-term goal that you struggle with, try and set up a daily or weekly habit that will help you get there.
We all know that we are more motivated to do something when there is a reward at stake. The pleasure induced by a reward reinforces the activity which helped get the reward. This is called extrinsic motivation. It can be helpful to kick-start the process when intrinsic motivation is a bit low.
A simple way to introduce rewards is to plan/get/offer the rewards yourself. You need to set the bar properly. You need to do a decent effort to get it.
It can’t be too difficult or you may end up feeling discouraged. It can’t be too easy or you’ll get the reward without the need for motivation.
You also need to define a goal or reward system that makes sense. Eating junk food for a week if you manage to lose three kilos is probably not the best choice! Ideally, the reward and the effort should be somehow aligned. This will help create a virtuous circle.
Buying a smaller dress when you lose a few kilos and getting a massage after a few weeks of physical training are good examples. These rewards will help you build milestones on your path to a better you. They’ll become the symbols of your positive behavior change.
Reassess your goals over time
We can also keep motivated to reach our goals by changing goals!
Goals must be alive and reassessed regularly. It’s important to realize that because monotony is a big motivation killer.
When we set a new goal, we generally improve quite rapidly at the beginning. If you start exercising two or three times a week, you’ll be able to notice progress session after session. Then, it’ll get harder to improve and the progression curve gets less steep. This can be a little demotivating.
We can introduce excitement by having a few stable goals combined with some temporary ones. I want to lose weight, wake up early, exercise and read regularly. These are my core goals which I’m keeping for the long run. In addition to these core goals, I’ll try other things, such as journaling for a month, then learning chess, or cooking, etc.
You may sometimes adjust your goals down. If one of my goals is to play the guitar for 2 hours a week while I barely manage to play more than 30 minutes for a few weeks in a row, I may lose my motivation to eventually hit the target. In such a case, I may be well inspired to target 1 hour instead.
When the target is a little higher than what we are already doing, it pushes us to take a small step and fill the gap. When the target is too high, it becomes counter-productive. Why would I do an extra step if I stay so far anyway?
You can also give up on a goal when you don’t feel like pursuing it anymore or when you have already ingrained the habit and don’t need to monitor it any longer. Our aspirations evolve over time.
When a goal doesn’t make you dream anymore, it’s often better to let it go than drag it along painfully. You shouldn’t feel guilty about giving up goals as it’s natural. But, that doesn’t mean we should stop as soon as the first difficulty arises. It’s a matter of balance.
Take a break
It is also a good idea to take breaks at times, hit the pause button and do something else. It can be very beneficial. Even professional athletes take a break between two seasons in order to recover physically and mentally. They get back to training all pumped up for the new season.
Do the same when you feel tired. It will help you get refreshed and hungry.
Don’t forget to set a date for your come back though!
Once a month or every other month, try and take an “appointment with yourself” and review your goals. Assess what works well, update your goals and refine your strategies. These are some of the best ways to stay motivated and reignite your desire to go ahead.
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