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Ah, motivation: it is indeed a conundrum.
It sure can be a difficult thing to capture and maintain.
What motivates us, and what helps us keep that feeling?
I have wondered about what drives motivation—the before and after parts of any sort of success. It’s easy to get excited about a new idea or plan and get it started if we are genuinely enthusiastic and ready.
Think about how it feels when we start a new diet or exercise program, or the burst of energy we exude when we want to get organized. We desire the end result, but holding onto that excitement, that motivation to get there, is quite another task.
How do we maintain motivation to see things to completion? And when we finish, how do we stay motivated to keep the glorious result of our efforts?
It’s about action, before and after.
The “before” part of the action is easy. We see something and we want it.
For example, when we see an image of a physically fit person, we may think, “Oh, I want to look like that!” The desire to change is there. In any given day, we may have numerous little mini-inspirations, such as, “From now on, I’m going to be on time,” or “I’m going to clean my house twice a week without fail,” or “I will exercise every day.”
It’s always easy to make declarations. Sometimes, motivation simply comes from extreme desire, or having an “achievable” dream. When we believe in our heart that a goal is reachable, we can set action in motion to fuel that goal. But, the goal in mind must really matter. We will never take action to achieve anything if it doesn’t really matter to us.
The “after” part, staying motivated, comes from expectation.
With weight loss and fitness (for example), preserving motivation comes from remembering, and constantly reminding ourselves how life used to be before we changed. Keeping the weight off is more important than any sort of discomfort or fleeting annoyance we feel when we can’t have what we want (that extra slice, for example). If we expect to keep weight off, we can’t lay on the couch every day. Action will always be required, even if it feels mundane.
How do we get in our own way?
We procrastinate and we lie.
Change isn’t easy because we must lose something in order to change. We can’t stay in the same comfort zone and expect our goals to magically manifest.
But the good news is there is always less to lose than we think. Think about bad habits.
Someone who is trying to quit smoking has to get over the fact that she won’t have her five-minute cigarette break every hour or so—making part of the process of quitting an emotional withdrawal, not just a physical one. Healthy change is never fun so we put it off, and we lie by coming up with reasons why we can’t possibly do it. We say things like “next year” or “tomorrow” or “when my job becomes less hectic” or “it’s just too hard for me.”
Motivation has a lot to do with visualizing what it will feel like when we are finished, while we make necessary changes. We can’t hope for motivation, we must act, even if it’s minimal. Continued motivation is often powered by results.
Do something small first.
Small changes make way for bigger ones.
Before we tackle a big change, we should try something small.
Maybe we want to use less sugar in our coffee—one teaspoon instead of two. Maybe we can do that for three weeks. After three weeks, we may not crave the second teaspoon.
Maybe we want to count to 10 before yelling at our kids. Maybe we want to get the laundry done on Sunday mornings. Our ability to take action to tackle bigger changes becomes more possible and probable when we tally up some smaller successes.
Remember too that disappointment is inevitable. We will experience failure. But failure is an opportunity to tweak our actions. What we do with disappointment could be the difference between ourselves and our goals.
Some of us quit because we are not seeing results. We detest the struggle that is often required to advance. If there is no straight or immediate way to become successful in our pursuit, the quest to change does not even begin for many of us.
It’s good to remember that fortune favors the brave, and action alone will clear the path along the way.
I use the phrase “get over it” in much of my writing. In my experience, I have had to say to myself, “I don’t like it, I’m not comfortable, I don’t want to do it, but I’m going to do it anyway,” and in those moments, when I’ve taken action, despite my feelings, I end up feeling happy that I did, and motivated by my positive choices in the face of negative feelings.
Decide what matters and that you matter.
Attention and effort are part of the motivation equation. We must be willing to take time away from other parts of our lives in order to give our goal the attention and the effort it needs.
With running, I find that I am always so very satisfied when the run is completed. I am not that excited during the first mile, but by mile three or four, I begin to feel truly motivated. My motivation to keep running comes after I run, not before.
Not every day is a good one. We will have our human moments—moments when we want to throw in the towel. During these times, it’s important to breathe, get over it, and simply begin again. Slow and steady is what we are after. Nothing worth having or doing comes in one fell swoop or without obstacles.
Motivation is about deciding what really matters to us, and that we are worth it. We matter enough to make changes. It’s about living our life to its fullest potential, and loving ourselves enough to do the work so that we can enjoy the wondrous life that is ours in the process.
It’s about letting go of “hope” and clinging to action. Action, not hope, is what makes the difference.
When you look at it this way, capturing and maintaining the motivation is a puzzle solved.
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