Being human, we don’t like stepping outside our comfort zone, and we dislike putting a large amount of effort into tasks, so we rely on motivation to drive us forward. We do this because accomplishing tasks seems easier when we have this inspirational force to help us along. Motivation enhances our confidence, focuses our attention, and makes the process seem effortless. And when things seem easy, we feel invincible.
The power of motivation can be attributed to chemical processes occurring in our brains in conjunction with biological, emotional, social, and cognitive forces. The outcome of this blend is a sense of pleasure and reward associated with a task, which gives us reason to pursue and accomplish it. (Science!)
We connect motivation with this fantastic feeling, and we expect this feeling to kick in the next time we’re faced with the same task. Unfortunately, motivation is a fickle thing. As we continue to do a task, the enthusiasm and desire cultivated by motivation tends to dissipate, leaving ourselves—devoid of that initial pleasure—to carry on alone.
The adage holds true that we are our own worst enemy. Without the support of motivation, we often allow doubt to set in. We begin to question our actions and motives. We ask ourselves why we’re bothering with a task, which is the most dangerous question of all. We can always find a way out when we should really be finding the way forward.
We may think we just need to kickstart the flow of enthusiasm, but breaking this monotonous cycle of seeking and wanting is less about chasing motivation and more about developing solid habits. Take blog writing as an example: If I were to wait for motivation to strike, these blogs would never be written. (And I hate to admit it, but I waited for motivation before writing this one).
Many people mention they want to take their education, athletic performance, or career to the next level, yet they wait for the right moment—for motivation—before acting. If you ask elite athletes or entrepreneurs, it wasn’t motivation that got them to where they are. It was their habits.
A habit is an ingrained behavior (accomplished voluntary or nearly involuntary), and it is the building block of success stories. You’ve probably seen clickbait that mentions famous CEO of company Y followed habit X or even clickbait that lists X number of habits you need to follow to be successful. But a word of caution: Many of these articles suggest habits that may be useful or appealing, but those habits may not apply to your goals or future plans. In addition, many of these articles fail to say how to implement the suggestions. So how do you create a new habit?
Let’s say you want to wake up earlier. Here’s how you can broach the topic:
Step 1: Ask yourself why you want to create the habit. Before you even consider making a habit, you need to have buy-in. Waking up is miserable, so you need to have a reason for creating the habit. Waking up early may mean having enough time in the day for educational pursuits, for the gym, or for projects that will lead to an ultimate goal. If the habit doesn’t have a purpose, it will be much more difficult to pursue and establish.
Step 2: Identify your barriers. Consider what obstacles are preventing you from developing a habit. Maybe it’s hitting the snooze button, or maybe it’s feeding negative thoughts (e.g., “I’m not good enough” or “I could never do that”). You have to identify the problem—i.e., the barrier—before you can find the answer.
Step 3: Replace the barriers. Once you know what’s preventing you from locking in the habit, you can find ways to circumvent and/or resolve the problem. Let’s use “feeding negative thoughts” from Step 2 (because I don’t know anyone who has a mind full of happy thoughts at 5am). Yes, waking up early sucks, but you can replace negativity by reorienting those thoughts toward the goal. For instance, remind yourself that you’re waking up early for extra gym time or to study for that promotion. Focus on the value of the habit and visualize the outcome—the benefits—that follow once the habit is in place.
Step 4: Stay the course. Continue with the new habit for a minimum of 28 days since this is how long it typically takes to form a new habit. (Yes, that means waking up early 28 days in a row.) Bye weekend snooze fests.
Step 5: Appreciate the process. While the first few days of beginning a new habit may seem painless, the initial enthusiasm may begin to wane. It’s easy to lose interest, considering we are a society conditioned for instant gratification, but don’t allow this feeling to derail you. When you feel like quitting, focus on what you’ve accomplished so far. Focus on those days where you did wake up early and what you managed to accomplish during that time. The reward for your patience and persistence will be immense.
Motivation can be inspirational and encouraging, but it’s rarely enough. You can wait for motivation to strike—you can be like everyone else and wait for the stars to align—or you can do something now.
Consider your goals and the habits required to accomplish them, get out of your comfort zone, and take your future into your hands. If you feel lost or overwhelmed, remember that there is help. You can easily reach out and set up a free appointment with me at EmotionalMentalPerformance.com or at calendly.com/empcoaching.