Have you ever thought to yourself, “If I want it bad enough, I should be able to achieve it!”…only no matter how much you want that promotion or that new car or that happy relationship, it doesn’t happen?
That’s exactly what happened to my client Jason. Jason had been trying to establish an exercise routine for over 15 year. Like many of us, though, he had an on-again-off-again relationship with working out. Every year, he would buy a new gym membership, a new trainer or a new diet program that he was sure would transform his life. But he always fell off the wagon (or, in this case, off the treadmill).
He couldn’t figure out why. “I want this sooooo bad! Why can’t I just make myself get to the gym? Why do I continually sabotage myself like this? What’s wrong with me?” These are the thoughts and judgements that were swarming his head when we first met.
Sound familiar? I’m sure it does! We all struggle to get motivated from time to time.
But here’s the thing. Jason’s inability to get to the gym wasn’t about self-sabotage, or about any default in his personality. It was because he was relying solely on willpower to make things happen. He figured that, as long as he wanted to exercise badly enough, he’d be able to stick to a workout schedule. But willpower doesn’t work that way.
In fact, research has found that rather than functioning as an endless supply of motivation, willpower is like a muscle: it will fatigue. Not only that, but when life gets tough, we simply don’t have the emotional energy to “will” ourselves into doing things we find difficult or don’t enjoy. This is why after a bad breakup, for instance, you’re unable to “will” yourself into sticking to a healthy diet. Or, why you constantly end up skipping that weekly 7PM yoga class after a long, stressful day at work. Because willpower is finite and you may have to use a lot of willpower just to get through a busy day, it can run out just when you need it as motivation to complete your goals.
So if willpower can’t help you achieve your goals, what can? Authentic motivation!
What Is Motivation Really and How Can It Help Me Reach My Goals?
In my experience, there are five things that increase motivation so much, you can knock your dreams out of the park. These things include: pleasure, social validation, autonomy, mastery and purpose:
- Pleasure is simply when we naturally enjoy doing something and are therefore easily drawn to it. Think of the last time you smiled – and I mean really smiled, not just smile-for-the-photo grinned. What were you doing? Gardening? Watching reruns of Oprah? You gravitate to doing those kinds of activities without even thinking about them or adding them to your to-do list because they honestly just make you happy!
- Social validation means our desire to be liked and fit in with others. So, for instance, you put in too much overtime because you want people to like you at work, or you drink too much on Friday night because you want to fit in at the party.
- A desire for autonomy means that we want to call our own shots and direct our own lives. Think about all the times you’ve flirted with the idea of working from home, starting your own business or freelancing. Whether you took the leap or not, those ideas stem from your desire for autonomy. (Learn more about the empowering, actionable steps you can take to gain real freedom in your life here).
- Mastery refers to our innate urge to get better at things. Have you ever gotten an adrenaline “high” from giving a sales pitch that you know was 1000X better than the pitches you gave earlier that year? You were probably motivated by a desire for mastery!
- Finally, purpose, the feeling or intention of having an an impact on the world. Whether you’re improving the user-friendliness of an important app, educating people about climate change, or taking adventure sports to a new level, a sense of purpose can come from anywhere. It’s really all about knowing what changes, causes or innovations you want to contribute to, and intentionally taking action towards that goal.
Which of these motivating factors resonate the most with you? If you’re still not sure, let’s think through a few questions to help you figure out what really motivates you and how to overcome low motivation.
How to Identify Your Highest Motivators
To learn what motivating factors would be the most effective tools for you, begin by reflecting on five questions:
- Think about at least three times when you’ve been highly motivated, and consequently worked really hard to get something done. What kept you going?
- Think about at least three times when you’ve felt the most demoralized and didn’t do something you were “supposed” to do or would have liked to do. What was missing?
- What are the kinds of activities or experiences in which you lose yourself completely? Where the mental chatter stops and you’re fully present, enjoying the moment?
- What kind of things do you want people to say about you when you are not around? On a scale of 1-10, how important to you is it that they have this kind of opinion of you?
- What do you stand for no matter what? (Even if everyone else disagrees with you.)
Once you’ve thought about those questions, scan your answers for insights into the ways these five categories play a role in your life. Rank these motivators from one to five so you know that top one or two motivating factors fuel that inner fire.
How to Apply Your Unique Motivational Factors to Your Goals
Now that you know what motivates you, use this newfound knowledge to map out how to achieve your goals.
So, if you want to establish a mindfulness practice, you’ll write a motivational statement connecting this goal with your top motivating factors. For instance:
- Mastery: my goal is to be able to meditate for a full hour without a single distracted thought. That’s a badass meditation milestone. I’m going to be the most badass of meditators!
- Autonomy: I’m going to use meditation to work with my own thoughts, gaining the freedom to do whatever I need to in life without having to pay a therapist every week.
- Social Validation: I’m going to meditate so that I can show my friends and family that I’m a mindful person. Plus, I can post cute meditative yoga posts on Instagram. #instahealth
Whatever motivators work for you, tap into them so that your goals are really linked to what truly increases motivation for you.
Don’t Forget To Consider How Your Motivational Factors Conflict with Your Goals
It’s equally important to consider ways your motivators could interfere with your goals. For instance, let’s say you set the goal of having smoothies for breakfast every morning. However, you are motivated by social acceptance and your family only eats waffles. Guess what? You’re probably not going to have that smoothie because it competes with your motivation.
If any of your key motivators conflict with your goal, you have to intentionally find a way to avoid that conflict of interest.
In the case of Jason, the client I mentioned earlier who struggled with regular exercise, we discovered that he is really motivated by social validation. We aligned this with his goal by having him publish his fitness goals and results on Facebook. However, Jason also realized that he is really driven by autonomy, so he hated doing workouts others told him he “had” to do. How did we deal with that conflict of motivation? We developed a Jason-style workout routine that is fun and personalized. Now, Jason has been to the gym every single day for the last six months!
The Bottom Line of Increasing Motivation and Achieving Your Goals
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that wanting to achieve a certain goal is enough to actually achieve it. However, as Jason’s story and countless others’ (including, very likely, your own!) show, willpower is a unreliable and limited source of energy. Instead, look inside yourself and learn what really motivates you, and apply that knowledge to your goals.
Luckily, you don’t have to do this alone. If you’re staring at your computer screen right now thinking, “But I’m still not even sure what motivates me” or “I have no motivation to do anything these days…including figuring out what motivates me!”, take a deep breath and know I’m here to help. You can book a one-on-one breakthrough session with me that will guide you through the process of identifying your highest motivators and using them to kick ass at achieving your goals. Together, we’ll deliberately uncover what lights your inner fire and map the specific tools and and action steps to apply these motivators for moving forward with what really matters to you. Learn more here.
Once you understand what truly motivates you, having to rely on “willpower” and feeling frustrated about constantly trying and failing to reach your goal will be a thing of the past. The best part? You can get started by simply asking yourself a few questions and personalizing your goals to what already motivates you every day.
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