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How to Make Motivation Stick

Tracking your habits, being consistent and having a strong self-belief are the building blocks of motivation.

I was talking to my Mom today and she mentioned that it’s already February, “It’s crazy how quickly time passes by”.

As I thought about January, I was reflecting on the things I did or said I would do. With the energy and buzz of the New Year having passed, some of us may also be thinking about the resolutions we’ve set (…or maybe we’re trying to forget we set any at all).

I’ve definitely set resolutions in the past and found myself not following through with them, so I looked into it. It turns out that 35% of those that set resolutions break them by the end of January. And only 23% of them actually see their goals to completion. So, don’t beat yourself up if you’re disappointed in yourself, it’s normal behaviour. It also doesn’t mean you should quit, it’s only February, so this can be an opportunity to re-align, set new goals, and keep going.

But motivation is a tricky topic. How do you keep yourself going when the “honeymoon” phase of goal setting fades away? On a coaching call recently, an interesting question was raised by a coachee about drive, “Where does it come from? Is it a byproduct of working towards a purpose? Or is it something you have?”

Let’s start with this: if you work towards a goal that isn’t important to you, motivation won’t work. It will start to feel heavy and difficult over time. You need to clearly understand and define your purpose before you start on the journey of achieving it. While your goal has to matter to you, having a purpose may not be enough to make you work towards it every day (otherwise 77% of people wouldn’t quit their resolutions). 

So how do we stay committed?

This is where the process of goal setting becomes important. While the goal has to matter, it’s the process of getting to the goal that determines your success. It can lead to incremental changes in your behaviour which makes your goals a reality. Since many of us have weight loss goals, let’s use the goal of losing 20 pounds by June, as an example. What do you have to do to get there?

Here are some tools I’ve used that may be helpful to you:

1. Track your habits

First, ask yourself, what changes do I need to make in my daily routine in order to actually lose weight? Think about the groceries you need to buy, or how far away the gym is from your home. If the weather is cold, think about what you can do daily to make sure this is not an obstacle. You can throw your gym bag in the car so you can go there after work, or pack a snack to give you energy so you don’t have to buy fast food. You can also tell your coworkers you need to leave at 5 so they can also be mindful of your time. Schedule “gym” in your calendar → once it’s set, you’re less likely to avoid it. 

It’s helpful to look at how you can optimize your life in order to achieve your goal. When we set goals, we often don’t complete a holistic look at our lives to assess feasibility. How can you lose weight, if you eat the same thing, go to bed late, and work late? It doesn’t work. 

When you realize what it is you have to do everyday in order to achieve your goal, write it down. Use an app (there are many of them) to track your habits. As my coach tells me, “if you miss a day, it’s okay, if you miss 2, it’s a habit.” As you track your progress, it will make sense very quickly why you didn’t achieve your goal. 

2. Be consistent: show up when you don’t want to 

There are days when you’re not going to want to go to the gym. Obviously. These are the hard days.

As a friend of mine told me: “Your ability to go from good to great depends on your ability to overcome inertia.”

Being consistent is more important than being intense at the gym because you start to cultivate the mindset of showing up. This is why the first step of habit tracking is so important. It will help you see results as you continue to show up. Then a week or two later, you notice you’re a pound lighter. CELEBRATE THAT! When you’re not motivated to go to the gym anymore, don’t focus on the 20 pounds you want to lose since that’s far away, but focus on how far you’ve come. Losing a pound is better than eating chips at home, so use that reward as motivation to keep you going. Be proud of yourself → that emotion alone will remind you it’s important to keep showing up. 

And when you’re really stuck, focus on the emotion you want to feel when you actually accomplish your goal (losing 20 pounds). You’ll be proud, accomplished, healthier, faster, etc; focus on those emotions to drive your habits.  

3. Believe in yourself 

There are endless stories of people that have undergone transformation. They weren’t born with a unique willpower that you don’t have: Superman isn’t real. Even ‘The Rock’ was scrawny when he was younger. Oprah wasn’t taken seriously when she first started out. It was also thought that no one could run a 4 minute mile, until Roger Bannister did it. These people just tried everyday and believed they could. It doesn’t matter whether or not you actually hit your goal, if you don’t believe you can, your thoughts won’t allow you to get there.

So how can we control our thoughts?

There are many tools, like journaling, gratitude and meditation that you can use. One of the biggest methods that I’ve noticed many of us struggle with, is positive self-talk.

Believing in yourself often equates to being kind to yourself. It means forgiving yourself so you could do better next time.

Tell yourself: It’s okay if you mess up or if you skipped a day at the gym. It’s okay if you have a donut or two today. It’s okay that I just watched Netflix. Positive reinforcement is a proven way to keep yourself motivated. It helps you be a little less tough on yourself. 

Remember that it takes, on average, 18 days to 254 days to create a new habit. And it’s not an all or nothing process. If you mess up once, it doesn’t mean you failed; get back up because that’s part of the process of creating habits. Check out James Clear’s article on the topic.

Motivation is the product of working hard every day. When you show up to work, you become good at what you do after a while. When a basketball player practices everyday, they can have a shot at being in the NBA. When you cook everyday, you start tweaking recipes and creating healthier meals. But if you don’t put in the work, not only do you not get to the results, but you start believing that you can’t achieve your goal and so you lose motivation.

To answer my coachee’s question: having drive is not something you wake up and have; it’s something you do everyday. 

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