In this second instalment on persistence with difficult things that take a long time, we look at some more ways to help you get motivated to stay motivated.
Let’s assume you have a clear and inspiring goal, and a plan on how to get there. All good, right? Not so fast. Both of those things are necessary, but not quite sufficient. With those things in place, the key factor becomes how you get yourself to actually work the plan, consistently, even when you really don’t want to.
Here are some other options that work:
- Shift your sense of yourself. Research shows that one of the most powerful forces that determine what we actually do is who we think we are. Think you are an athlete? You’ll work out more. Think you are a writer? You’ll tend to produce more written work. Notice I didn’t say ‘you want to be an athlete’, or ‘you’d like to be a writer’. For this to have traction, you need to already know it in your bones. Like, “That’s me. It’s how I am. What I do. Even in a gale. A pandemic. I’m the guy – or gal – who does the thing”. Affirmations are your friend here. They are not woo-woo. They are a structured – and well-researched – approach to changing our self-talk, which – over time – allows us to consciously influence our sense of who we are and what is normal for us, so we can perform at a different level.
- Keep your eye on the prize. Affirmations again. There isn’t space here to get into the detail of why they work, but even if you doubt the science of transforming your self-image, if you are willing to do them daily at the very minimum they remind you consistently of what you said you wanted. We know that we move towards – and become like – what we focus on. Repeating what you want, over and over, is a wicked-effective focusing tool.
- Let the bulls run, some of the time. This is slightly more controversial, but really works for some people: sometimes you want to take the pressure out of the system by doing exactly what you want, for a planned amount of time. So-called ‘cheat days’ and rest days can take you off track for a bit, to renew your interest in getting back on. A day of eating badly can remind you why you want to eat well. If you are over-tired or injured, sometimes the really difficult thing is to rest, and allow your body to repair and recharge. For both of these, it is useful to have plan so the bulls don’t run wild across the plains forever. Know when you start, know when you stop, and let others know too so they can keep an eye out that the roundup actually happens as planned.
- Get a coach. This one lives in the same family as ‘community’ and ‘buddy’ from the first instalment, but with the advantage of expert guidance around the classic pitfalls on the path you’ve chosen. There is someone to be accountable to, who can help shorten the learning curve dramatically. It costs more than a buddy, but this is a great short-term option to get yourself well-launched on a new path.
- Construct habit ‘strings’. The easiest way I’ve found to add a new habit into my life is to hook it onto an old – rock-solid – habit I already have. Example: I have a habit of waking up. Can’t seem to break it. So when I wanted to increase the amount of water I was drinking in the morning, making that the second thing I did after waking made it easy to remember. (The first thing was, of course, a related biological process.) When I wanted to start meditating, it was easy to tack it on to the drinking. Affirmations? A nice fit after a bit of quiet time. Light stretching? Exercise of man and dog? You get the picture. At a certain point, that ‘wake up’ string of habits has me well-and-truly launched into a successful day, long before I’ve had to engage my brain – or any motivation at all. It’s just one habit leading to the next one, and the next….
- Change your environment. The easiest way to describe this is probably in the domain of diet and exercise. If you don’t have your binge foods in the house, then you are much less likely to eat them. If you do have some exercise bands, or a pull up bar somewhere in the house where you consistently see them, you’ll be more likely to get a bit of exercise. Make things visible. Or invisible. A well-designed environment will beat trying to motivate yourself to do/not do things every time. You know those biscuits you love so much at 4pm? Much harder to eat them if you can’t lay your hands on them easily.
Some of these will work better for you than others. We’re all different, and the reason we fail to persist is different for each of us.
Many of the examples above are about fitness (as that was the January resolution that most will have already abandoned…) but this is not about losing weight or getting fit. The above strategies will work for any difficult change or long-term learning project you are undertaking. Not all of them will work for you personally, but – like a key in a lock – some of them will open the door to more motivation, persistence – and results.