I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation this year. Over New Year’s I had a great conversation with friends about our goals for the year, but it ended up with us all musing on the question – how in the world do you get yourself to do things that you know are good for you but you really don’t want to do? It’s a tough one.
I’m always on the lookout for a good motivation because I am always so pleased to see how much I can accomplish when I get motivated! But almost always, my motivation only lasts for a few days or few weeks at the utmost. I was happy to read James Clear’s perspective on the subject – he says that instead of motivation or inspiration we should work on building a schedule. It takes the feeling out of trying to get stuff done.
It’s not just about getting stuff done, either. For me, it’s often about being motivated to choose the more nutritious option over empty calories, or being consistent with chores and not cut corners, or try to reject my most common money excuse (“it’s only $2 dollars!”). So I’ll try this strategy or that app or even hide the jelly beans from myself or try to be interested in gamifying my life (which sounds really cool, but seems tiring…). Nothing really sticks and that gets disappointing, but then I realized a few things about the way I try to motivate myself:
- It’s okay if my motivation starts from a sad place – I started flossing every day because a friend shamed me into it. I mean, this friend would never ever actually shame me. But she made a statement about how sometimes you just have to do things you don’t like, and my heart shamed me for not flossing. Now I floss every day and have for years. I also started to clean up every single crumb in the kitchen when a mouse moved in over Christmas. That was a sad surprise to come home to but you better believe I now religiously clean up every piece of food and put everything away pronto. For a while, I thought maybe these are bad ways to start good habits, but the end result sure has been fantastic for me. Maybe a little shame, guilt, fear, or disgust is not the worst thing ever.
2. It’s okay if my motivations change – I’ve gone through many iterations of motivation aids, like sticker charts, point systems, prizes, etc. Through all that, the only constant is that whatever motivation I choose will not last long (usually a couple weeks at the outside). This gets back to Clear’s argument about setting up schedules rather than motivations, but I also think for myself I need to be okay with just changing up my motivations. I should embrace a motivation while I have it, and be ready to change it up when I am motivated by something else. For example, this week I’m in the mood to go to the lunch buffet at the Thai restaurant so I used that to motivate myself to not eat sugar for three days. And it worked! But there’s no way that will work next week...but that's okay.
3. It’s okay to manipulate myself – Often, my brain is like a tiny baby goat that can’t stop freaking out. So sometimes, like the above Thai restaurant bribe, it’s okay to do everything I can to trick, cajole, manipulate, and otherwise mislead myself into making positive and life-giving choices. Sometimes I feel bad about this and think that I should be able to just make good decisions like a rational person. But seriously, no one can be rational all the time. So bribes it is!
4. And, in the end, sometimes the best motivation is a stern talking-to – In my heartiest of hearts, I know that “not having a motivation” or “not caring” or “not feeling like it” are really just excuses I use to sabotage myself and my goals. If nothing else works, then I often have to give myself a talking-to. This article (one of my favorites of all time) calls it “parenting yourself.”
Have you ever given yourself a stern talking-to? It’s kind of the best. The trick is you have to do it out loud and you have to be perfectly serious. You have to say the words so that you can hear them and you have to sound concerned. It also helps to shake your finger at yourself. Most of my talking-tos involve tasks or chores that I do not enjoy but have to be done in the adult world.
So, while I obviously can’t tell you how to “be motivated,” I still want to encourage you to try. Identifying a few different strategies for motivation helped me feel less disappointed in my previous failed attempts. It may not look pretty – but I’ll get there in the end!