The Myth of Motivation
Have you fallen into the motivation trap? The motivation trap, as stated by Dr Russ Harris states that we wait to feel motivated before we take any action. While you’re waiting on motivation, it’s waiting on you to take action. How many conversations have you been part of where someone is bemoaning their lack of motivation and wishfully waiting for it to return?
Whilst motivation may get you started on identifying a goal, did you know that action is what is needed as your motivation wanes? Think of those days that you really don’t want to exercise or are you might say ‘you’ve no motivation to work out’. Once you start you have a great workout. We often classify this as getting our motivation back but in fact it’s the action that moved you forward, and momentum kept you going.
How many times have you said I’ll do it later, I’ll have more time next week, I need to do more planning before I start or even I need to do more research (after months of research) before you start? Procrastination anyone?
You could stay at home for the next year waiting for motivation to strike but you just have to start. You will not be motivated all the time, but see what happens to your ‘motivation’ when you start acting in ways that are consistent with your values.
If you don’t know what your values are use this link to my free core values exercise.
We often talk about if only I had motivation or I wish I was as motivated as someone else. Maybe you are jealous of that person who seems to be motivated every day to jump out of bed to exercise. I know I have been. Have you ever thought that maybe motivation is not what gets them out of bed each morning to exercise but habit?
The Power of Habits
Habits, by definition are behaviours that we perform automatically, with little or no thought. It could be your cup of coffee first thing in the morning or brushing your teeth before bed.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all creatures of habit. Our days are filled with habits we have in place for years, from brushing your teeth, to preparing your coffee, to reaching for the packet of biscuits (or cookies for those of you in the US) when you sit down to watch TV in the evening.
What we often don’t realise is that there is serious, and often unharnessed, power in habits. Habits tend to be repeated every day and the accumulation of these habits have a huge effect on our lives. It is therefore critical to understand what habits are, how you form them, which ones you have & want and how to harness habits to set you up for success, in any area of your life.
The Impact of Habits
What you do every single day determines who you are.
I am a firm believer that the majority of us massively underestimate the impacts our habits are having, positive & negative, on our lives. We are even less aware of the impact when we are introducing new habits. We don’t notice small changes as the impact is difficult to see in the short term. However, thesesmall changes repeated day after day will have considerable impact, over time.
Imagine your goal is to lose weight. Youcurrently eat one chocolate (or if you’re like me maybe more than one) bar a day every day, of 200 calories. Now if you stop eating that chocolate bar tomorrow you are not going to see an impact on the weighing scales immediately. To lose 1lb of fat you would need to reduce your intake or burn an additional 3500 calories. It would take you 17.5 days to lose 1lb of fat by eliminating just this one chocolate bar. It seems like very slow progress right? However, over the course of 1 year this one small change to your diet would lead to 20lbs of weight loss (assuming everything else remained the same). This is where consistency is key. Positive change requires patience, and staying the path even when you don’t see immediate results.
What small change could you implement tomorrow that would have significant impact over the next 365 days?
The problem is that you want to see immediate impact so you give up and go back to eating the chocolate bar every day because you didn’t have the patience to wait to see the results. Imagine the results you could have had if you stayed the course.
The key to making big changes in your life is that you make small changes that build momentum in the right direction. Implementing small changes that you repeat daily, will create habits which in turn will lead to big results.
It sounds so simple right? We all know it is anything but!
How do habits work?
All habits proceed through four stages in the same order;
- Response or Action
You wake up in the morning (cue), you want coffee (craving), you turn on the coffee maker (response / action), and you are rewarded with a lovely cup of coffee.
How to build positive habits to set yourself up for success.
The first step is to understand what habits we are trying to create. This will be driven by your goals or the person you want to be. Remember, who you are is a consolidation of all your habits.
We have a tendency to set very vague goals, such as I want to be healthier, or I want to exercise more. While these are very well intentioned goals what exactly do they mean and how will you know you have achieved it? Be specific with the goals you set.
Once you have identified the goals you want to achieve you must identify what habits are needed to achieve the goal. Even the best intentioned goals need to have actioned associated with them and the more specific the action the more likely you are to follow through.
So if you say you are going to exercise more, then what exactly does this mean to you? How many times a week is realistic, how many minutes for each of these times, what exercise do you enjoy and are more likely to repeat? There is absolutely no point is saying you are going to run for 30 minutes 4 times a week if you hate running. If you love to dance would it be realistic to say you will join a dance class twice a week?
Once you have the ‘thing’ identified now is the time to actually commit. On a Sunday evening or Monday morning you need to be scheduling your actions. I’m sure when you look at your calendar you will notice a number of work or family commitments. You see these as non negotiable. Of course you will attend these events. Why do we not have the same non negotiable around activities that are just for us? You’ve signed up to the dance class. Why is this not just as important as any other event in your calendar?
If you understand your why, and it is meaningful this activity should be non negotiable.
The Goldilocks Principle
No I am not going to recommend you go back and read this childhood classic, but the lessons learnt in this book can be applied to your goal setting and habit building. The principle is that we work best on things that are not too simple or too complex. As scientists have been studying motivation for decades one of their consistent findings is that to stay motivated we need to work on tasks of ‘just manageable difficulty’
You can apply this is most areas of your life. If you want to get fitter it means finding a workout that challenges you but isn’t so out of your skillset that you can’t keep up. If your goal is to progress your career this is about applying for projects or jobs that push you outside your comfort zone, but allow you to showcase the skills you do have.
Manipulation your cues
As the cue is the first step in the process to trigger your habit this is where you need to create an environment of success. How can you manipulate your cues to your benefit?
You need to make the cues for positive habits much more prominent than those for negative habits. If you are trying to build a habit of eating more fruit, then you need to put the fruit in a place of prominence. Where are you most likely to see and be reminded of eating fruit? Let’s be honest, it’s not the bottom drawer in your fridge. If you are working from home it could be in your office, or if you are out working all day it should be packed in your bag for ease of access.
Simple changes to your environment can make a big difference. If you want to exercise first thing in the morning, then get your clothes & shoes ready to go the night before. I find it really hard on cold winter mornings to get out of bed to go running. I come up with every excuse imaginable. To reduce the friction I started setting the heat timer to come on 30 minutes before I had to get out of bed, and I would put my running clothes on the radiator the night. This way I could jump straight out of bed and into warm clothes. This alone took away one of the excuses or obstacles I was trying to overcome. I know clients who go to bed wearing their workout clothes to take away one step of their morning routine!
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clears talks about an engineering student in Ireland who knew he should exercise more but got little enjoyment from working out. However, he enjoy watching Netflix. So he hacked an exercise bike, connecting it to his laptop and wrote code that would only allow Netflix to run if he was cycling at a certain speed. By linking exercise to a behaviour that he was naturally drawn to he transformed an activity he disliked into a pleasurable one.
So how could you find ways to utilise this to your benefit. If you love to listen to podcasts then you do this while taking a walk or a run.
If you want to add meditation to your day and you already have a routine where you brush your teeth every morning, could you now stack meditation with this. You never forget to brush your teeth so now your trigger to meditate is when you brush your teeth.
If the first thing you do everyday is put on the coffee maker, and you want to start a habit of taking your vitamins, you could leave a glass of water and your vitamins beside the coffee making. This will ensure you do this while waiting for the coffee to brew.
Make it easy and convenient. Reduce friction for habits that are serving you well. This continues the theme of creating the successful environment.
If you want to read a book everynight but find that by the time you get to bed you are already too exhausted. Where could you place your book so that you are reminded before you get into bed already exhausted? You could place the book on the chair you sit in each evening after dinner? At this point in the evening you are likely to have more energy to read than you will by the time you go to bed.
The Two Minute Rule…overcoming procrastination
Sir Isaac Newton taught us a long time ago, objects at rest tend to stay at rest and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. This is as true for people as it is for inanimate objects.
In David Allens best selling book, Getting Things Done, he first introduced the concept of the Two Minute Rule. Many productivity experts continue to promote this approach.
The concept has two parts;
- If the task takes less than 2 minutes just do it now. How many times have you said I’ll do the laundry later, or clear out the dishwasher tomorrow? What’s stopping you just doing it now?
- Your bigger goals are going to take more than 2 minutes to achieve, however every goal can be started in 2 minutes.
The idea being once you start a task it is much easier to continue. The difficulty is often in starting. Is this something that resonates with you? Remember that presentation you were dreading preparing or that email you putting off? Once you started you were surprised at how easy the task was and how quickly you completed it. At the end you wondered why you let yourself procrastinate for so long. Often this is because we anticipate the activity will actually be harder than it truly is.
What could you do or start right now with the two minute rule?
Make Habits Satisfying:
We all know the difference between immediate and delayed gratification but do you know how your desire for instant gratification is impacting your life? The world we live in has progressively moved towards instant gratification. Amazon Prime was only created 15 years ago! This is a prime (pun intended) example of a company using reducing friction to it’s benefit. 20 years ago you might have started placing an order online but the process was tiresome so half way through you gave up. Many retailers today have reduced the friction to make this much simply and less time consuming. One click shopping at it’s best.
As part of evolution our brains are built for instant gratification. But unfortunately instant gratification can often take you away from the path that leads to achieving your goals. You are training for a race but want to stay in bed longer this morning and skip your workout. In the moment you have instant gratification. You get to snuggle back into your warm bed and go back to sleep for another hour. However, this is not helping you your race preparation, which was your goal.
So how do we make habits satisfying? Like the Irish Engineering student in James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, you have to find a way to get pleasure from your habits. This is why it is so important to find goals and habits that work for you. There is no point in setting a goal to run a 10k if you hate running, just like there would be no point me setting a goal to train as a Yoga instructor when I don’t enjoy it. If your goals are truly important to you then you will find a way to get satisfaction. This does not mean that every time you complete the habit you have some amazing experience, but it does mean that the overall benefits you gain far outweighs any negatives.
Celebrate all the successes
You don’t need to wait to achieve the big goal before you celebrate. Celebrate all the key milestones and successes along the path to your bigger goal. If you want to run 5k in 30 minutes, celebrate the first time you are able to run 5k without stopping, and every single time you improve your time!
Hold yourself accountable
Nobody knows better than you what new habits are going to help you achieve your goals. However, we all know that make choices that are not in our best interest. We know going for that workout will be beneficial and take us one step closer to our goal, but we remain on the couch scrolling social media or watching Netflix. We’re all guilty of this on occasion.
In the moment question who you want to be and why? Then just go and be her. Now is the time to hold yourself accountable for taking the actions you committed to.
If you are struggling to hold yourself accountable do you have a friend or family member who has a similar goal to you, or wants to create a similar habit. Could you work together to hold each other accountable? This approach works for the majority of people but often for different reasons. For some of you this works because of your competitive natures. You ego hates the idea of telling someone you didn’t complete a task. For others you have identified that you are great at being accountable to others. We all know if you agree to meet a friend at the gym, rather than planning to go alone, you are much more likely to succeed. Use this technique to manipulate your environment and mindset to guarantee success.
Be Kind to yourself
Be Kind to yourself as you start building habits. We all tend to have this all or nothing approach to life. You start off great when you are building a new habit like exercise but the first day you don’t complete the task you see this as failure, and make a decision to give up.
You will hit bumps in the road, and there will be times that the new habit doesn’t happen. Be self aware enough to recognise when this happens and to get curious about why. Then move on. Get straight back on track at the next opportunity. That could be the next minute, hour, day or week.
One of the keys to building consistent habits is tracking. The practise of monitoring the small things you do every single day helps you progress towards your goals. We often underestimate the power of small changes / new habits over the course of a year. Remember, habits are so important because they are ultimately responsible for any change we make in our lives.
Personally, I have used the way of life app for years to track the habits I want to maintain and the new ones I want to implement.
Recap with a simple summary
- The key to success is small, consistent, sustainable action.
- Don’t focus on the goal, focus on the habits needed to achieve the goal.
- Use habit tracking
- It’s all about being 1% better every day
To make it simple, as James Clear would say
- Make it obvious
- Create an environment that sets you up for success
- Make it attractive
- Make it pleasurable
- Connect it to another pleasurable activity
- Make it easy
- Remove friction for habits you want to create
- Create friction for habits you want to break
- Make it satisfying (your brain needs an incentive, no matter how small)