Motivation is useless.
Money. Health. Relationships. Time. Work.
Everyone has the same problems, you are neither alone in that regards nor are you exempt. We all suffer from too much of one thing or not enough of another. That is an interesting word, suffer, right? For the majority of us who live an examined life with even the smallest amount of introspection we have identified the deficits in our lives and yet we continue to suffer. Some of us suffer like it was a badge of honor (“I worked 70 hours last week” or “That is a lot but MY student loan debt is over 300k…”). For those that want to read on, a word of caution; I am going to show you strategies that will allow you to achieve what has eluded you this far. However, that comes at a price: your excuses.
The 5 issues listed above are not an exhaustive list by any means but they are most commonly cited as the lead issues that most Americans are struggling with.[i] [ii] If you have another wildly unique problem feel free to throw it on the top of the pile because the principles don’t change.
No really, stop with your meme of the day, pinterest perk up, or today is the day nonsense. If it hasn’t worked yet it won’t ever work. Stop wasting your time.
Motivation has a lot of synonyms (spark, enthusiasm, inducement, stimulus…) and it is no surprise that many represent a TRANSIENT call to action. Motivation doesn’t last nor was it designed to. Motivation is used as a stepping stone to solidify the original purpose or act. Training wheels and bumper bowling are designed to lower the bar far enough that we could get over successfully but they were never meant to be the destination. Diapers served an essential purpose at the time with the intention to progress when the time is right. You are too old to sit in your motivation diapers any longer. Agreed?
Here is the formula:
Planning phase -> Action phase -> Stability phase
Motivation -> Habit -> Ritual
In the planning phase you are insulated from actually making any changes so this is the easiest yet most often overlooked portion. What are your goals? Clearly define your goals using at least 2 qualitative (subjective) and quantitative (objective) goals. Our minds follow The Serial Position Effect (Primacy and Recency https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_position_effect) which basically states we only remember the first couple and the last couple things in a list including how we felt a month ago vs how we feel now. You can see how this would lead us to cast an inaccurate light onto our progress so using objective measures of subjective goals is critical to charting progress. Use the rubric of FID--Frequency, Intensity and Duration--to compare your before to your after accurately. Ask in the comments portion or privately if you have specific questions regarding your FID.
Timeline. Timelines need to be established and they should be stricter than you think. Giving yourself a blank check and endless timeline will all but guarantee nothing will get done. If you have a goal to learn Spanish but you spend two hours a day on social media, your actions are incongruent with your stated mission.
Spend. Time, effort or money, whichever you value most will do. This will serve as leverage against your self-destructive behavior. Give your friend $500 and tell them to keep it if you don’t complete that 5k. Tell your neighbor you will mow their lawn if you don’t lose 10 pounds by July 4th, donate to an opposing political party if you fail to launch your startup…You get the idea.
Burn. Your goals should NOT include a pre-nuptial agreement. No back doors. No retreating. What you hold onto will hold you back. Burn your bridges.
Consistency. Simon Senik does a bit on consistency vs intensity here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NB5y9654qQ. Do yourself a favor and watch this 160 second clip. My suggestion is to do a small amount every day rather than some large amount 3-5 days a week. Why? Because you have a weekday and a weekend routine and you aren’t strong enough (yet) to dial back in on Monday after a weekend full of antithetical actions. You can’t go from thrifty on Thursday to baller on Saturday and back again 52x a year. It is inconsistent with your stated goals. The American Academy of Sports Medicine states it takes 26 consecutive weeks of performing a positive health action with no more than 7 days of inconsistency for it to take root. Meaning, you can work out every day for 20 weeks, go on vacation for 10 days and fall off the wagon and guess what? You start back at zero. Habits take time. Motivation wears out with time. You need habits.
Habits: Smokers will decide to quit then next thing they know, they got another heater between their lips. How did this happen? Because every time they grab a cup of coffee/hit a stoplight or eat a meal they grab for a cigarette. They have a paired response to a neutral action (eating, driving) that enforces their negative behavior. We also do this with positive actions like brushing our teeth before we go to bed. Link your goals to other actions that you already do and your compliance will increase. For instance, I drink 2 big glasses of water before I allow myself to eat a meal. I do a set of pull-ups before I allow myself to enter certain rooms in my house.
Lower the barriers to success: Ramit Sethi is a highly successful investor and coach who had trouble getting out of bed in the morning to work out. His biggest barrier? He had to walk across his cold apartment to change into his workout clothes. It may sound completely ridiculous but he was honest with himself about what stood between his goals and compliance. He fixed it by moving his workout clothes to the side of his bed. For an applicable behavioral psychology podcast, I highly recommend this link: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2016/03/18/podcast-184-harnessing-behavioral-psychology-for-a-rich-life/
Activity: For exercise related choices, follow the 80/20 rule. 80% of your activities should be whatever you enjoy doing--be it mountain biking, tennis or lifting. The other 20% is the activities you are terrible at. Love twisting steel? Good, now do some yoga to counteract that. Love marathon training? You’d better pay the piper and start sprinting to activate those fast twitch muscle fibers. The key is to enjoy the activity enough to maintain consistency however we need to recognize that our biases will contribute to our downfall if left to our own devices. For other lifestyle choices, the same principles apply but in different proportions. For small business owners, business books are the obvious choice of reading material. Nevertheless, I would urge them to also read some philosophy and strategy books to direct their attention in the right direction.
Ok, you have been nose to grindstone for a few months now and have some experience under your belt. The next step is to surround yourself with those who will support you and perhaps more importantly, hold you accountable.
Employ Social Contracts: We have a social contract with our workout partner, our co-workers, even our pick-up basketball buddies. Think no one cares? Call off work and see how many people ask why you were gone. Part of the reason that CrossFit is successful is that they employ community pressure to keep you actively engaged. Knowing that social contracts exist helps us to use them to our advantage. Volunteer to set up at the church event, assistant coach your daughter’s soccer team, join a book club (and read), Be a Big Sister/Brother. Whatever you do, remind yourself that people are counting on you to follow through. If not for you, do it for them. The results are the same.
Rituals: My cousin Brendan has run EVERY DAY for the last 8 years or so. In that time he has experienced sickness, soreness, injury, vacation, birthdays, life, death, weather and the Rich Rodriguez experiment. Why does he run? Because it is his ritual. It is more ingrained in him to run than it is in you to floss. Think about that. Once we latch onto a ritual it becomes infectious. The most successful professional sports team of all time is the New Zealand All Blacks whose career win percentage is an insane 77.14%.[i] Winning, one could say is a ritual in NZ. They have always won and will continue to win because that is what they do. Brendan runs and the All Blacks win, what can rituals do for you?
The main takeaways are this: using motivation alone is prohibiting your progression to the next step. Stop trying to drive 70 mph in 1st gear, you are burning your engine out. You will never Ra-Ra your way to success without a plan of action, a support system and a clear understanding of the value of your undertaking. Motivation is a tool and has a place in your tool belt but without proper application, it becomes a burden.
All the best health,
Dr Zach Simkins