Sometimes it’s easy to start something new, to make big plans, to talk up all the goals you have for your life—exercising more, eating healthier, finding a better job, being a nicer person, spending more time relaxing, etc. The hard part is in seeing them through-in staying motivated to accomplish those goals. Motivation is well researched and is linked to a neurotransmitter called dopamine. But instead of going into all that neurochemical stuff, I want to focus on 5 things you can do to increase motivation. And trust me they all are based on the relationship of dopamine and motivation.
1. Set yourself up for early success.To stay motivated we all need quick wins and up front positive experiences where we are successful. So when first starting out, choose activities or tasks you’re certain you can do successfully. This means taking baby steps. For example, if new to exercise, start with a fifteen-minute walk or weights you can lift comfortably for ten reps. This is doable and when you accomplish this you feel a sense of self efficacy. Don’t try and walk five times a day for 30 minutes. You are setting the bar too high out of the gate. When you fail to do it, then you feel bad and that feeling bad sinks your motivation.
2. Be SMART and set incremental goals. First your goals should be specific, measureable, achievable, reasonable and timely. When you are SMART about your goals you establish the quick wins you need and you ensure a way to get feedback about your progress. No matter how you choose to measure your progress, charts, visual reminders, tracking programs, the feedback can lead to ongoing positive reinforcement. Break it down so that you have shorter term goals that guide you to longer term goals, stepping stones that set you up to experience frequent positive feedback as you progress. You will get positive reinforcement every time you complete a step and meet a challenge. And that makes us feel good and keeps us going.
3. Check your attitude-Think rationally and positively. Internal negative messages, many which become automatic, can act as obstacles to motivation and goal setting. This includes feelings of inadequacy “I just can’t do this” or emotional reasoning where you interpret your feelings as fact “I feel like a loser, so I must be a loser”. Or what I call “Center of the Universe” when you think everyone’s reactions are about you when there’s no evidence for this assumption “Those other people are looking at me and obviously think I am a loser”. Combat negative thoughts with positive ones. Write down your negative self talk and find a positive statement to counteract each one. Get reality based and ask yourself about the evidence for and against what you are thinking. We are harder on ourselves than we are on others, so consider what you would tell a friend in the same situation. You will find those words are almost always more positive and encouraging
4. Just Do It. Sometimes we just need to gut it out, stick with it and dig deep and be diligent. We just need to make the effort. The cure for low motivation may simply be old-school determination and perseverance, sticking with doing things even when we don’t want to. I almost never want to do my five mile run, but I drag myself up and do it. And I feel great afterward.
5. Find positive models and supporters .Work with mentors, coaches and trainers. Not only are they skilled in giving appropriate encouragement, they also serve as successful models of the behaviors and goals we are trying to achieve. You can even choose trusted friends to fill this role. Just be sure the feedback is realistic and focused on the progress you’re making instead of comparing you to others. You can also get a buddy that motivates you and you are also motivating them. Your buddy should be working on similar goals. You can set up a time with that buddy every week to do activities together, or just check in.
If you employ most or all of these keys to motivation, you will ensure your success.