Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Motivation...Simple ways to stay motivated and reach our goals






  • What is motivation?
  • How do we get motivated?
  • How do we stay motivated?

It dawned on me that for very obvious reasons I do not have this Motivation thing squared down to a T. Then again, who does?
Following what appear to be several weeks of hiatus (let's be real, I may have to count in years instead), I found myself caught up with the usual assortment of mundane distractions, unnecessary drama and other duties. In the end, every single interruption was shamelessly used, by me, as an excuse NOT to perform or stay on track with my goals. I believe that we all have been there at some point or another in our life, whereby we start something good for ourselves only to see our motivation level somehow wither along the way, sometimes much sooner than expected, only to repeat the same cycle over and over.

Like many other times before, I now find myself with the grueling task of having to pick up where I left off, and perhaps having to work “double hard” on undoing some of the usual self-destructive behaviors I have historically relied upon as escape and coping devices. Though the list of such sneaky bad habits is endless, weight gain, unfinished projects and the overall feeling of an unaccomplished life do come to mind.

Somewhere along the line, there was an attempt at doing things right as I did join my local gym and managed to go everyday on week one, 5 days on week two but not at all afterwards! So, and in light of yet another major fail on my part, I have decided to spend some time learning about Motivation: what motivates us, how do we find motivation, keep it and sometimes pass it on and inspire others.
I am hoping My Great Challenge readers will find this article interesting as I have come up with one equation as well as a series of rules to define and lead to success.
MOTIVATION


What is motivation?
Here is a simple definition from Wikipedia (serious research was involved here!):


“Motivation is a term that refers to a process that elicits, controls, and sustains certain behaviors. Motivation is a group of phenomena which affect the nature of an individual's behavior, the strength of the behavior, and the persistence of the behavior”.
Elicit=Create.  Control=Abstain from. Sustain=Maintain.

In my case, I am looking for the motivation to start taking better care of my health and finally see projects through their completion, control those behaviors that have proven over and over to be counterproductive and at times self-destructive and of course, sustain the effort by maintaining an optimal health level and picking projects I can actually complete along the way! For others, it could be anything from quitting smoking to leaving a dead-end job in search of a better one, or the motivation to be a better parent, cleaner house, spending more time with loved ones, saving for retirement etc. No matter your goal, I find the following principles propelling motivation to be equally effective.
EXCUSES:
Obviously Motivation comes from a force leading us to behave a particular way, hoping to obtain a specific result. We can be motivated to either do good or bad things to ourselves and others.
There is also the motivation to do nothing; We call it the status quo but  “not to decide is to decide”, so the next time you choose to put something on hold as a way of avoiding making a decision altogether, know that you are actually deciding in favor of the Status Quo. Unfortunately too many of us choose this option not to change at all, waking up years later wondering what happened to our lives.
I find these Status Quo decisions to be the most costly on all fronts, whether they cost us our health (not taking care of ourselves), our spirit (not paying attention to essential emotional needs such as love and being loved) or financially (procrastinating on repairs, better employment, credit card debt etc.) The force behind such decision to do nothing is usually wrapped around a veil of universal excuses in the like of “I am too old for this”, “It’s too late”, “this is not for me”, “I don’t have the time”, “I don’t have the money”, “I’m not smart enough”, “People will laugh”, “It’s just too hard”,  “I may lose everything”, "I have other priorities", “I can’t…”  Ad nauseam.
I find it amazing how creative I can be in finding just the right excuse/distraction not to do something  I need to do and if you spend some time listening to your own inner dialogues, you too will find a catalog of excuses you tend to use on an ongoing basis, my most reliable excuse to not follow through with some of my goals is
“I know I can totally nail this!  I can get to it later.  I work best under pressure”.

It’s just plain foolish over-confidence on my part! I have used this excuse since my college days and just like the slot machine, all it took was one win to get me hooked: in this case, one final paper written the night prior to its submission, later returned to me with a big red A+ marked on the top! That final paper sealed the deal for me and I have since learned or rather convinced myself that I indeed, work best under pressure!  The truth is that I don’t even know what it would be like to NOT work under pressure and the result of such excuse is always the same: beating myself up for having procrastinated for so long and suffering dire consequences as a result. It appears that, in the end, my over confidence always leads me to feel shame and embarrassment. So, here is Rule #1: NO MORE EXCUSES!

Motivation as a dynamic force:

Motivation, unlike status quo, is a dynamic force: it changes over time and by virtue of being dynamic,  also varies in intensity, sometimes from one day to the other. The force I mention above can also be characterized as either coming from within (Intrinsic) or from outside of ourselves (Extrinsic).
The best example I can provide to illustrate this point is that of the dreaded diet. Why do we go on diets? Though there is an obvious health concern (the doctor says so), sometimes we are just more concerned with aesthetics (looking good) and society’ standards (looking acceptable).



 
Let’s just say that my best friend Kate is getting married 5 weeks from now. I have known about the wedding for over a year but chose “status quo” instead and procrastinated losing the 25 lbs that I wanted to lose before her wedding. Feeling the pressure of the impending main event, I now have 5 weeks to lose the 25 lbs. It is of course a tall order, but in my peanut sized brain, I really believe that I can knock off those 25 lbs in 5 weeks! So sure enough I start on this drastic diet whereby I pretty much starve myself and while I manage to sustain day 1 through 3, guess what happens on the fourth day? I quit! “Who’s Kate anyway?” I say, “I’ll just show up as is, after all it is HER wedding, no one will look at me!” And on and on I go with the excuses.  Further, since I have made a “feel good” decision (that of no longer suffering through self-imposed starvation) I congratulate myself with a large bowl of Blue Bunny Red Velvet Cake Ice Cream and celebrate my newly found freedom from diet slavery! Five weeks later I show up at Kate’s wedding with an additional 3 lbs. I now have 28 to lose!  Repeat cycle. Sounds familiar?
The issue here is that I was only motivated to lose weight because of a force outside of myself (Kate’s wedding) and not because I wanted to lose weight for my health and personal well-being. I did not want to lose weight more than I had wanted anything else in my life. And here lies one of the basic principles of motivation.  Rule #2: YOU HAVE TO WANT TO CHANGE MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE YOU HAVE EVER WANTED.
In order to be successful in achieving our goals, we must tap into what is called INTRINSIC MOTIVATION, or motivation from within ourselves, not just from outside of ourselves. We have to want to change and not only understand but also accept that WE MUST change. This is the only thinking and belief that will lead you (and me) to success, be it saving money: “I must cut spending and save money” or exercise:  “I must go to the gym and get back in shape”.
Though it all makes sense, I have found that when one is severely depressed or suffers from low self-esteem, finding reasons from within ourselves to make positive changes can become a bit of a challenge.
Therefore, a healthy mix of both types of motivation (Intrinsic and Extrinsic) can help us sustain our journey towards achievement. Sometimes, it is perfectly okay to move from an external to an internal source of motivation (hence the reason  why some highly motivated folks find it necessary and inspiring to create vision boards ). Again, using the example of the weight loss, one could say “I want to lose weight because I need to have my health under control and feel good about myself(Intrinsic Motivation). I also want to be there for my kids and my spouse (Extrinsic Motivation)”. 1 out of 2 is not good enough, you need both! Rule #3: FIND BOTH INTRINSIC AND EXTRINSIC REASONS TO CHANGE. 

Be Specific:
While anyone can set goals for themselves (they say that “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions”), if your goal is just too vague such as “I need to save money”, adding specifics to your goals will make them more achievable.
I also find that the language (and attitude) we use when setting goals can also lead to self-sabotage. If I say to myself “I need to…” It is a guarantee that I will find reasons that I actually “do not need to”. Instead, If I identify my goal as an INTENTION  rather than a direction (I need vs. I will) I have added one more dynamic to the equation:


Intrinsic/Extrinsic Motivation + Intention


Here are a few examples of specific intentions:
Instead of this goal
Choose this specific intention
I need to save money
I will put $100 aside every week into a savings account I cannot withdraw from.
I need to cut spending
I will only shop for xyz once per month and always ask this series of question: Do I really want it? Can I wait? Do I really need it? Can I get it for cheaper? Etc.
I need to lose 25 28 lbs.
I will lose no more than 2.5 lbs. per week up to the 28 lbs. I want to lose, no matter how long it takes.
I need to go to the gym
I will go to the gym on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday no matter the weather.


Goals should also follow the SMART principle: Specific, Measurable, Achievable and Timely (November 1981 issue of Management Review by George T. Doran). For more on SMART goals, I recommend you read Attitude is Everything, by Jeff Keller:


Get it here!

A budget for instance is not about simply saying “I need to stay within the budget”. It is about accounting for every single dollar you anticipate earning before you even spend the first one! Dave Ramsey did a great job teaching us about budgeting and I strongly recommend you either read or listen to his Total Money Makeover.



Must Read


(Both books and many more are available in my
Amazon Store).
In addition to an amount, your goal should also specify a timeframe and remain within reason. For instance, if your spending habits are out of control and bills stacked ceiling high, a goal of saving 33% of your income on a monthly basis may be measurable, specific and timely, it is just not achievable.!
The idea here is that instead of a draconian “I need to”; you  would replace the “order” or cruel and severe obligation (no one likes those) with a more positive intention complete with specific instructions as to how to achieve it. Rule #4: LIVE YOUR LIFE THROUGH ACHIEVABLE AND SPECIFIC INTENTIONS, NOT CRUEL AND SEVERE OBLIGATIONS YOU WILL GROW TO RESENT AND QUICKLY ABANDON. 
Now that you have both an internal and an external reason to change and have agreed that you want to change more than anything else you have ever wanted and have specific intentions as to how to change, there remains an important, if not the most important element of the equation: sustaining the effort!
How to stay motivated?

Intrinsic/Extrinsic Motivation

+ Intention

+ Discipline

=

SUCCESS

“The ability to motivate oneself in spite of a negative emotional state” is called discipline and “qualities associated with self-discipline include Willpower, Hard Work, and Persistence” (Wikipedia).
Here is my husband’s very own definition of discipline (he should know, he spent 4 years in the Navy and is by far the most disciplined individual I have even met):
“Discipline is the art of doing something you do not like, over and over, with perfection” 
And THAT is solely an intrinsic force!
A trainer can beat you into the ground to get you to lose weight and go to the gym, but once he or she is gone and out of the picture, can you keep doing it on your own? Going back to money matters, how many folks do you know have claimed bankruptcy because of their overspending and excessive habits?  Did they eventually get back on their feet only to find themselves in more debt 5 years later?Over the years I must have lost hundreds of pounds through various diets. I have not once managed to keep the weight off for more than one year. Why? I lacked discipline! Plain and simple.
Having done a bit of research on the subject, I found some valuable hints and tips on how to develop and practice self-discipline and surprise! It all comes down to “wax on/wax off”!
I found that one will not, nor can he or she manage a huge project or endeavor without having practiced, to a minimum, the basic skills needed to accomplish that goal.

For example, you may decide you are going to save $200 per month but if you can’t figure out a way to even save the first $20, how will you ever manage $200?
The same principle applies to eating and dieting: you may have this grand goal of losing 30 Lbs but if you can’t start by changing your grocery list, the content of your pantry and making better choices when dining out, you will continue to live in perpetual disappointment over yo-yo dieting.
Discipline is not something you are born with, it is something you acquire OVER TIME. It takes practice and it takes all the other elements highlighted above: Willpower, Hard Work and Persistence.

I need to stress HARD WORK because that is usually the one stopping many from starting anything worth the effort: "it will be hard!" As Dave Ramsey often says “change does not have to be complicated, but it will be hard work”. That is a fact, so let’s get over this: diets suck, exercising takes forever, saving money means you no longer buy non essential items and finding another job means you and your resume will be rejected plenty of times and yes, it will hurt! So there, now get moving! Rule #5: EXPECT TO SASCRIFE, TO BE BURT, AND ABOVE ALL EXPECT A FEW SETBACKS ALONG THE WAY.

How to practice self-discipline?

Rule #6: START SMALL, AND PERHAPS IN OTHER AREAS OF YOUR LIFE.
By making "small" steps that are easily achievable, you will begin to build self-esteem and create routines in your life as well as an environment where small successes can begin to contribute to bigger ones (similarly a river needs contributaries to grow). Once your life is surrounded by these small and readily noticeable achievements, making an effort towards another and bigger goal becomes easier because you have progressively eliminated all the other distractions (procrastinations) and negative influences surrounding you.

Here is an idea:

1. List 10 things you have procrastinated doing around the house this past year (it does not have to cost you anything e.g. de-clutter the kitchen drawers, file tax documents in filing cabinet, clean the dryer vent, garage sale etc.)

2. Check ALL 10 items off, one per day, one day at a time. (No excuse. Just do it!)

3. Pay attention to how you feel after 10 days!

You may ask how can de-cluttering a kitchen drawer or purging a closet be related to achieving your ultimate goals? Very simply, these small achievements prepare you for success. If you have never run in your life you would not think of registering for the New York City Marathon as your first attempt at running, instead you would probably start with walking, then running small distances to first build endurance.By the same token, if emotional hoarding (being burdened by specific recurring thoughts and feelings) has become an issue in your life, perhaps you need to tackle your physical clutter first.
During my last closet purge I found that I was hanging on to a lot of unnecessary stuff, most of which was no longer relevant in my current life. By getting rid of that clutter I was able to create valuable space around me which had a positive side effect: that of allowing me to breathe better (literally) as well as to see clearer around me. That in itself is helping me find the time and mental space to write this article as well as other things.  It is all related, just like learning Karate by first learning to take the wax off your car!
Other ways to practice self-discipline:

  1. Schedule your work day and home duties with precision. This means you also have to schedule relaxation and iddle time. Facebook and other social networks are time suckers, schedule a limited amount of time and shut the PC off when time is up.
  2. Schedule small tasks for specific times during the day (e.g. wipe counter top at bed time).
  3. Find and designate "Psychological Nudges" (have someone check on you, be accountable to a group or a specific person for specific tasks).


Learn from your mistakes – Those who forget are doomed to repeat.
Expect that establishing self-discipline and routine will take time and we should learn to anticipate and accept mistakes and small setbacks.  More importantly, spending the time to analyze where we fell short will provide opportunities to anticipate and act accordingly in the future. For instance, when confronted with a diet setback, learn to look at the situation and find the trigger(s) that led to the setback. 
Here is a common scenario: You are watching your food intake (fancy way to say “diet”) and a management meeting at work leaves a conference room with tons of leftovers in the likes of bagels, pastries, cookies etc. FREE! It would be so easy to just walk in, take a plate and load up on the favorites.
Think!

1. Are you really hungry? (Is hunger the trigger? If so, always have healthy snacks at work, munch on that instead)
2. Are you just bored? (If you snack out of boredom, how about cleaning your desk instead?)
3. What happened the last time you helped yourself to freebies in the conference room? If guilt overcame you afterwards, learn from it and keep it moving! Guilt is no longer an option chose willpower and pride instead.

Here is the equation again:


Intrinsic/Extrinsic Motivation

+ Intention

 + Discipline

=

SUCCESS


And here are the rules:


Rule #1: NO MORE EXCUSES!

Rule #2: YOU HAVE TO WANT TO CHANGE MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE YOU HAVE EVER WANTED.

Rule #3: FIND BOTH INTRINSIC AND EXTRINSIC REASONS TO CHANGE.

Rule #4: LIVE YOUR LIFE THROUGH ACHIEVABLE SPECIFIC INTENTIONS NOT CRUEL AND SEVERE OBLIGATIONS YOU WILL GROW TO RESENT AND THEREFORE QUICKLY ABANDON.
Rule #5: EXPECT TO SASCRIFE, TO BE BURT, AND ABOVE ALL EXPECT A FEW SETBACKS ALONG THE WAY.

Rule #6: START SMALL AND PERHAPS START IN OTHER AREAS OF YOUR LIFE.


How to stay motivated?

Diets get boring, so does exercise. Home chores, well, they just get to become routine and no one really likes to feel like a robot.

Quick change:
One way to stay motivated is to keep the process dynamic by re-evaluating progress on a regular basis and making changes and adjustments as needed. Just like fashion and food, there are fads and there are trends. Why? They basically mirror our capacity to change as well as our need for change. Though Self-Discipline requires you continue to do the same thing over and over, you may not have to do it the same way each time. Some folks would listen to music while cleaning, others start eating breakfast at dinner time, why not? Ultimately, you know yourself better than anyone else, listen to your own tune and if you find yourself getting bored, it’s time for a change since boredom is a motivation sapper!
Share:
Another way to stay motivated is to share your success and failures with others. You can blog, post, write, text, sing it, whatever medium you want to use. Just share with others. That also counts as a Psychological Nudge since many well-wishers will want to know what’s next for you and how well you are doing. In this case, make yourself accountable to your audience, your fan club, your family!

*******************************************************************
I hope you found this tidbit on motivation, “motivating” (pun intended). I know I needed to revisit some of these concepts myself and hopefully will get on the right path and stick to it. Standby for more and as always, feedback and comments are greatly appreciated.
S.





















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I welcome your feedback and comments. If you have a question or a specific request, do not hesitate, I am here to help! Thanks, S.

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