How to Stay Motivated

How to stay motivated

Why is it 92% of us who make New Year’s resolutions abandon them before January is even over?

A new year means a new beginning. We reflect on how much (or little) we accomplished the last year and promise ourselves this year will be better/different. This year we’ll lose the weight, finish our degree, get a better job, travel more, etc. Our enthusiasm and optimism is running high – we are motivated with a capital M. But sometime before February 1 we start running out of steam, we are stressed, tired and end up falling into our same old habits and routines.

How to Stay Motivated

How do we keep up our enthusiasm for our goals in the “real” world?

  1. Come up with a compelling “why”. What is the reason for wanting this goal? To feel better, make more money, find a sense of purpose, be more fulfilled? It should be personal (i.e. something you feel strongly about achieving, not something your parents/significant other/boss/friends think you should do).
  2. Make it positive. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – make your “why” positive. You will be focusing on it a lot and it’s hard to stay motivated if your constantly pounding away at the negative. For instance, if your goal is to lose weight (even the word “lose” has a negative connotation), focus on the positive benefits such as better health, feel better, have more energy (your compelling “why”) instead of “I don’t want to be fat”. With the latter, fat becomes your focus and you’ll end up with more of it, not less! Examine your goal, if achieving it makes you feel like you have to deprive yourself, you need to either find another goal or get a different perspective on the situation.
  3. Envision the end result. Create a vision for life after you’ve reached your goal. Imagine what you’ll look like, how you’ll feel (joy, pride, confidence, peace, etc). The key is to make your vision as vivid as possible to tap into strong, positive emotions. I make it a habit to think about my goals right before I fall asleep because our minds are in a receptive state. Another way to keep your vision front and center is to create a vision board or post pictures on your bathroom mirror or fridge. The pictures you choose should evoke a positive emotion.
  4. Break your goal into small steps. Maybe your goal is to lose 50 pounds. That’s a pretty daunting goal – it can feel out of reach when you’re just getting started. Break your goal down. Commit to losing two pounds this week. Feels much more doable.
  5. Find a buddy. Find a friend who is working on goals (they don’t have to be the same goals) and check in with each other. First, having someone support you, cheer you on, bounce ideas off of and bitch to is helpful. Secondly, if you’re like me, I tend to find it harder to break a promise or disappoint someone else so I tend to step up my game.
  6. Celebrate the wins. Don’t wait until you’ve achieved your goal, celebrate all the small little wins along the way. Find ways to celebrate that won’t throw you off track or sabotage your progress (such as treating yourself to a donut when you’ve lost 2 pounds). It could be something simple like hitting the neighborhood park, watching an episode of your current Netflix obsession, indulging in a hot bath with candles and music, any little treat you wouldn’t normally do.
  7. Learn from the losses. There will be times when things don’t work out so well, maybe you backslide. Forgive yourself, learn from it and move on. Maybe it’s a sign you need to take a different approach. Maybe you’re pushing yourself too hard and need some downtime. But don’t use it as an excuse to give up. One slip doesn’t mean failure. It means you’re human.

 

Quit Depending on Willpower

Willpower is ineffective in achieving goalsThe American Psychological Association does an annual survey called Stress in America. The most cited reason for not being able to follow through on changes (such as losing weight) is willpower.

What is Willpower?

Willpower is self-control. The ability to delay gratification, a strong determination, or restraint. Willpower is a tool our conscious mind uses to help us control our lives. It carries a negative connotation – deprivation. It is an ineffective way to achieve goals.

Why Willpower is Ineffective

To illustrate why, I’ll share with you what I learned in my neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) training.

Willpower is an ineffective tool to changeThink of your mind as an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg, the part that is above water, represents your conscious awareness. In addition to willpower, we also use rational and analytical thinking as a way to control ourselves. Unfortunately, only about ten percent of what we do, we do consciously.

Below the water line lies the rest of the iceberg, our subconscious mind. This accounts for 90% of our behavior. Herein lies our habits, physiological systems (ie. breathing), impulses and emotions and our strategies for dealing with our world.

When we employ willpower to make changes in our lives, such as weight loss, we are only using ten percent of our mind. However, the other 90% is running the show. You are pitting logic (conscious mind) against emotions and deeply ingrained habits and strategies. As a result, willpower is always going to be a struggle.

If you want to elicit real, permanent change, you have to get your subconscious on board and leverage its power.

Imagination is More Effective than Willpower

There is a reason why diets fail and you have trouble breaking bad habits (habits of thought included).With willpower, you are in a constant battle with your subconscious mind. The odds are against you and your subconscious mind is going to sabotage your efforts.

Instead of having your subconscious fight you, (willpower creates stress by exerting force) you want to win it over so it will work for you. How do you do that?

Luckily, we have the perfect tool – imagination. Imagination is positive and affirming. Using our imagination diminishes stress and opens up our creative channels instead of strong-arming us into submission, like willpower.

Change in itself is often stressful. The key is to find the path of least resistance, make it as easy and fun as possible. Imagination and visualization helps us do that. There are a couple of guidelines to make this work:

  1. Know your “why” – what is motivating you to make this change?  What result or outcome do you want? Just because your spouse, boss, parent, etc said you should do it is not enough motivation and chances are you won’t succeed. Make it personal and meaningful to you.
  2. Make it positive – When you have your why, the reason you want to make this change in your life or why you want to achieve a goal, make sure it’s positive. When times get tough (and there will be some rough patches), your “why” is going to be your life preserver. It’s going to remind you of the big payoff of all this hard work. You’re going to be giving it a lot of focus, so make it positive. If you’re goal is to lose weight because you are tired of being called a fat slob, then all that’s going to do is dredge up bad feelings. And if you’re an emotional eater, next thing you know you’re shoving down donuts as a means to comfort yourself. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of losing weight – having more energy to play with your kids, feeling better, etc.

Once you determine your reasons for making a change/achieving a goal are truly yours and you are motivated to do it, you can enlist the power of your imagination and use visualization instead of willpower.

Note: Imagination/visualization are tools to keep you motivated and should be used in conjunction with action, not instead of. Without action, you aren’t going to achieve anything.

How do you use imagination to help create positive, permanent change? Find a (preferably) quiet place. Giving yourself time right after you wake up or right before you go to bed is ideal but you can do it anywhere – while on the train/bus to work, waiting in line, drinking your morning coffee, taking a shower, etc. Then use your imagination to visualize any of the following scenarios. Make it as real as possible, include sounds, smells, sensations, etc. Evoke as many positive emotions and feelings as you can.

  1. Visualize your life after you’ve accomplished your goal. If it’s weight loss, imagine how you will look in your new clothes and how confident you feel. Picture your new found energy, imagine just how much better you feel when you can climb up stairs or playing with your (grand) children without getting winded. Focusing on the end result will help keep you motivated.
  2. Mentally rehearse. Our brains don’t distinguish between real and imaginary events (which is why our bodies react to imaginary fears as if they were really happening). Athletes employ this technique all the time but it can be used for any situation. You can rehearse a speech, visualizing yourself in front of the crowd, appearing confident, enjoying yourself.
  3. Vent your emotions.Change is hard and one of the things that trips us up is our impulses and emotions. And since what we resist, persists, give them a voice and acknowledge them instead of burying them. If you don’t, eventually they’ll rear their ugly little heads and the littlest thing will push you over the edge. Instead, invite all those emotions in – fear, jealousy, doubt. You can give them names and personalities. Let them have their say and vent. You can do this in your head or you can write it out in a journal, which is my favorite method. The point is, acknowledging them diffuses their power.

When you use these tools, you’ll achieve your goals with less stress because you’re leveraging your subconscious mind with the power of your imagination instead of trying to force yourself through willpower. In other words, which would you prefer, a boss who is a drill sergeant or someone who acts more like a mentor?

 

 

Overcoming Procrastination

Overcoming Procrastination

Procrastination is a common problem. Clients often tell me that it’s a huge problem for them. But procrastinating is not the real problem, it is merely the symptom of an underlying issue.

Before I get too deep into procrastinating and how to overcome it, I’d like to talk about incubation. When in the creative process or working out a problem, it is typical to go through a “ruminating” phase, when you turn over all of your work to your subconscious and give it a chance to work on the problem. This is where those “aha!” moments come from. Do not confuse this important phase with procrastination. You should be able to tell the difference. For me, when I’m letting ideas percolate, my thinking is fuzzy. I feel slightly agitated because I don’t like not knowing. When I am procrastinating there is a feeling of avoidance and resistance.

Procrastination – Why we do it

As I previously stated, procrastination is not a cause but a symptom of a larger and more complex issue. Some of the reasons why we procrastinate include:

  1. Fears – Fear is uncomfortable and we often choose to relieve our discomfort by distracting ourselves with T.V., surfing the web, cleaning (notice how appealing cleaning is when faced with something you don’t want to do?), etc.
  2. Lack of confidence
  3. Perfectionism – As a recovering perfectionist, I understand how hard it can be to risk doing something that doesn’t live up to your (often unrealistic) expectations. In order to avoid making a mistake, looking bad or failing, our modus operandi is to do nothing.
  4. Bad habits – We become comfortable with our routines and bad habits and don’t realize how big of a hold they have on us. Habits are hard to change.
  5. Expecting things to be easy – If things have been relative easy for you all your life, taking on something that requires an effort can be, well, hard.

Tools to Overcome Procrastination

While it helps to understand and be aware of where our procrastination stems from, these tools don’t require identifying the origin in order to be effective.

Small Steps

Break down what you need to do into the smallest step possible, such as sticking with the task for 5 minutes. Small steps actually works on several levels. First, getting started is often the hardest part. When I am avoiding a task, I often tell myself I only have to do it for 5 minutes. It seems counter intuitive, how will you accomplish anything if you only do it for 5 minutes but it works. If I stop after 5 minutes, I’ve achieved my goal (and built up a little confidence). But what happens more often than not, is I continue because I’ve broken through that wall of inertia and gained some momentum.

Second, we often overwhelm ourselves by making that first step unrealistic. I used to make these ridiculous schedules, leaving little breathing room for anything else. And -surprise – I never followed them! It’s much less daunting to write a sentence than a book so break things down. Then break them down even further.

Find a Buddy

Find someone who is also working on a goal. Make it a habit to meet and work on your goals together (5 minutes at a time, if you have to), supporting and cheering each other on. Be picky about who you choose. I’ve been running consistently for nine years because I had a running partner when I started. Not just any partner, but someone who already had a running habit making it hard for me to back out. I knew if I did she would not go easy on me. She was the perfect partner because her good habits rubbed off on me and appealed to my competitive nature.

What Worked in the Past?

This is a powerful question. It gets our minds thinking about what we are trying to accomplish instead of what’s getting in our way. We procrastinate because we are focused on the negatives – I’ll make a fool of myself – instead of what we are trying to accomplish. We all have areas we’ve had success in and feel confident about. What did you do then that you can apply to your current situation?

You can not tell me that you’ve never had any success in your life. If you are reading this, you’ve mastered one of the hardest skills there is and you did it at a relatively young age – language and the all intricacies involved with it such as reading and writing.

I have found these tools to be easy to use and produce incredible results in a short period of time. Give them a try the next time you find yourself procrastinating.

 

 

Goal Setting – Don’t wait until you “feel like it”

goal setting“I just don’t feel like it” is one of the biggest killers of hopes and dreams. If you wait until you feel like it, chances are it’s never going to happen. Let me explain.

Goal Setting – Act First, Feelings will Follow

We set goals as a way to have control over our life. But you can set all the goals you want, until you take action they are all just dreams. And having unfulfilled goals (especially if you repeatedly set them…) can wear away at our self-esteem.

So how do we become doers instead of dreamers?

Our behavior is actually made up of four components: thinking (thoughts), feeling (emotions), doing (actively moving our bodies) and physiological (automatic responses like sweating). The key to achieving our goals is to focus on action instead of our thoughts and feelings.

We have no control over our physiological responses and little over our feelings. We do have some control over our thoughts but the component we always have control over is our actions. All of these components act together, you can’t change one without it affecting the other. Most of us make the mistake of trying to feel our way into doing something. If you’re depressed or down on the dumps, forcing yourself to cheer up before you do anything is not going to accomplish a lot. But that’s what we do, we wait for our feelings to pass or change because we think they are happening to us so we have to wait until they are no longer happening to us.

It is possible to change your feelings by changing your perspective but given you have total control over your actions, and the only way you’ll get what you want is by taking action, this is the most productive place to start. There are tons of things we can do, regardless of how we feel. Perhaps you’ve heard of the phrase “act as if…” or “act your way to a new way of feeling”. This works because as I previously stated: you can’t change one component of your behavior without it affecting the others. Since doing is the component we have the most control over, it’s what we should focus on. When you do something it will change how you think and feel. Instead of trying to feel your way into doing something, you need to do something and your thoughts and feelings will change.

Focusing on doing in spite of our feelings will take some awareness and practice. Don’t underestimate the power of your feelings. You’ll probably experience some resistance. First, acknowledge the feeling. Denying our feelings can negatively affect our health. Listen to it, give your emotions a safe place to vent (I find writing is helpful…) and then go do something. It’s best to start with small steps. If you’re depressed, make an effort to brush your teeth, shower and get dressed. When you do something, no matter how small, you are taking back control of your life. Practice doing something whether you feel like doing it or not. I bet there have been days you didn’t feel like going to school or work, but you went anyway so keep practicing. Start doing small things and see what happens.