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How to stay motivated toward your goals? This may come as a surprise to many, but people are always motivated. Yes, every second of every day! The key then becomes getting motivated to do the right thing. It is hard to argue that someone sitting on a couch eating potato chips is not motivated to do just that, nothing much to many of us, and definitely nothing that will positively affect his/her health, but it is still motivation.
Once we accept this, the key then becomes how to become motivated to do things that are good for us. Let us explore the topic a bit and see if we figure out how it all works….
What drives Motivation?
Motivation is driven by feelings. To be more specific, motivation is driven by our desire to acquire, perpetuate or get rid of a specific feeling. A perceived lack of motivation to do something is no more than a redirection of this motivation towards something else, searching for some sort of gratification. There is a tendency to be motivated to pursue those objectives with the smallest gap between the action and the gratification. The wider this gap is, the greater the chance that the individual will become distracted and shift his/her motivation to do something different, usually something with more immediate gratification (like eating those delicious potato chips.)
Sigmund Freud once said: “We behave to either get pleasure or avoid pain”. It cannot be stated any clearer than that. The body is the main creator and driver of motivation; we are hungry, we want to eat, we are tired, we want to sleep, and so on. These drivers are constant, and tend to develop the human animal into a seeker of short-term gratification. In other words, into an animal that is easily distracted if the action-gratification gap is at all wide.
Short Term Gratification and Discipline
Everyone knows someone who sleeps past the assigned wakeup call, eats anything he/she wants at any time, or drinks more than he/she should. Yes, everyone knows someone (or many people) who lives in what can be called the “short term gratification comfort zone”. It is often thought that these people are “unmotivated”, but this is incorrect. They are motivated, they are just motivated in a way that may have been of use for the caveman (when it was all about minute-by-minute survival,) but in a way that does not work in today’s more complex and strategic thinking world.
It is at this point where discipline comes in. Discipline can substitute instant gratification as a behavior driver. Another way of looking at it is discipline is what allows someone to maintain a desired behavior for as long as the action-gratification gap requires. The problem is that all too often instant gratification trumps discipline, that maintaining discipline to reach across the gap is way too difficult. What can be done then to accomplish long-term objectives where the gap between action and gratification appear to be too long?
Rewards and Routines
Someone once said that all we needed was a “correct behavior switch”, but sadly such a device is not available to us. In the absence of the miracle switch, we can focus on doing two basic things:
1. Create short-term rewards (interim or stepped gratification.)
2. Incorporate the desired behaviors into a routine to reduce the dependency on discipline.
A “cheat meal” at the end of a hard week of dieting is an example of a short-term reward. The dieter can push through the week thinking of the delicious Sunday morning pancakes. In a way, short-term rewards are accepted or planned deviations from the desired behavior. But Monday, everything is back to normal and we are pushing through to the next enjoyable “cheat meal”. To others the process may be even more constant: “if I do this, I will reward myself by doing this.” Soon, the objective is realized, and later process later evaluated as having been “extremely disciplined”.
Everyone has the ability to create routines. Getting up at 6 a.m. to workout requires a lot of discipline to start with, but becomes easier as it develops into a routine. Converting the positive actions into routines thus becomes a key step towards maintaining discipline until the ultimate objective is reached.
All the planning to develop a solid program and all the tricks to build and maintain discipline will not keep a person away from experiencing the feeling of “competing wants.” The desire for short-term gratification that does not fit in the program is ever-present. The temptations to cheat will always be strong. A person needs to perform frequent motivation checks to stay on track.
A technique for a person to perform a motivation check is for that person to visualize the final goal, to imagine himself/herself there, to visualize how others are seeing the “new him/her”. A person should look at how far they have gone, and use that as confirmation that he/she is following the correct path. A second step is to do the reverse, to visualize how he/she will feel not “getting there”, to imagine how others will react and respond to the failure. How will the person feel tomorrow after failing today and having to start all over again tomorrow? These positive and negative visualizations are very strong motivational drivers.
And if all fails….discipline. Discipline is the last card to be kept in everyone’s back pocket. One should not overuse discipline, but should always be aware that it is there….in case it is needed.