Achieving your goals rests on the interplay of motivation and systems – how you get motivated is just as important as the way you turn motivation into action.
This article can help you if you…
- Feel demotivated
- Feel like you don’t achieve anything in life
- Keep postponing your plans
- Keep quitting your plans
Keep reading for handy tips and tricks!
What is motivation?
Motivation refers to the reason we behave in particular ways, because of our needs and desires. It’s the ‘why’ of the ‘what’. But the ‘why’ can’t exist without the ‘how’ – motivation can’t exist without systems. If motivation is fuel, the car is the system. Both are crucial. The word motivation comes from the late Latin “movere”, meaning “to move”. To be motivated is to want movement; a will to action. To stay motivated long term, use the initial motivation to set up structures that will help you move and act even when your feelings wax and wane.
You may have thought, “I have a great long term goal, but I don’t always feel it in the moment.” We often refer to motivation in two ways:
- As the overarching reason that we choose a particular path or action in life
- As our immediate feelings in the moment
However, our long term goal might stay the same, but our feelings can change from minute to minute. This is why it’s important to use your initial motivation – the moment when both your overarching reason and immediate feelings combine – to set up good systems that will enable you to keep yourself moving when your feelings aren’t on track.
Read on to learn more about motivation and systems. There are several steps you can take to stay motivated long term, whether you’re trying to eat healthily, succeed at college, keep your room clean, reach an extraordinary goal, or advance despite adversity.
Clarify your motivation
While long term motivation requires setting up the right structures to keep you on track when your emotions don’t, those structures will collapse unless you have a true north star, a deep-rooted reason for wanting to achieve your goal.
If you’re not sure about your motivation, ask these questions:
- Does my goal help me achieve personal growth, either within myself or in my personal relationships?
- Does my goal contribute to other people in some significant way?
- Does my goal help me achieve something that’s meaningful to me?
If you answered no to either of those, your goal may not be deep rooted or important enough to you to sustain long term.
Positive and negative motivation
Motivation is multifaceted – the drive to achieve certain things can come from fundamentally different places, like wanting to experience pleasure versus wanting to avoid pain.
- Wanting to experience pleasure is positive motivation,
- while negative motivation is about avoiding something.
This doesn’t mean that positive motivation is good, or negative is bad. Rather, positive here means the addition of something, and negative means the subtraction of something. Both motivations are inherently neutral.
Example: Positive and negative motivation
You may be positively motivated to make a million dollars. Or you may be negatively motivated to make money to avoid poverty. It’s the difference between reward and punishment, the carrot or the stick.
You can use both to motivate yourself faster – having both the carrot and the stick will really make you move! When you define your motivation, decide whether it’s positive or negative. Then explore it to see what the reverse motivation might be.
Example: Reverse motivation
If you’re negatively motivated to get good grades to avoid your parents’ disappointment, you might also factor in the positive motivations of seeing your parents happy, or beating your classmates, or setting a personal best. If you can create a goal that is multifaceted, you’ll be on your way to sustaining long term motivation.
However, just like both positive and negative motivations can cause you to act, either side can also end up being demotivational if it causes stress over the long term. This is why your goals must be well thought through with a dose of realistic optimism and a balance of structure and motivation.
Turn motivation into systems
Consider this. There is one country where organ donation is agreed to by 12% of the population, and another country where organ donation is agreed to by 99% of the population. If you were asked to guess what the countries were, you might guess two countries that are very different in their demographic, religion, or culture.
However – these two countries are Germany and Austria. How can two countries that are so similar have such different rates of organ donation?
The answer is systems. Germany relies on an opt-in method, while Austria has an opt-out method. People naturally pick the default.
Once you choose your ideal outcome, structure your life so that the default choice is to keep moving towards it.
You could create a fortnightly meal plan, allowing you to keep the same grocery shopping list every week, and buy your groceries on the same days every fortnight. Suddenly, fast food or deviation from your set menu becomes an extra effort, and you’ll be more likely to stick to the default path and make your pre-set healthy meals at home. Architecting useful systems will help sustain motivation long term.
1. Define your Goals
Sit down and decide on your goals. Don’t plan too far into the future – have your most concrete goal be exactly one year away. This gives you time to take action while maintaining the pressure to work towards it. Any further away, and goals become nebulous and closeted.
Decide on smaller goals per quarter. These should be SMART:
However, you should only decide your goal for the upcoming quarter, instead of deciding them all at once. Once you’ve achieved it, only then can you set the next quarterly goal. This is helpful because it allows you to set a goal that’s based on your experience during the last quarter.
Once you have your year goal and first quarterly goal, pick a couple of small things to do straight off the bat. Then let those snowball to build motivation. Allow yourself to get excited!
Failure can even be useful to stay motivated – but it may require some mental reframing. When a person goes travelling abroad, new gene sequences are activated in their DNA. You come back with more of yourself. The same process happens with new experiences. Any failure should be seen as intrinsically valuable for the way in which it contributes to your catalogue of life experience and gene activation.
Structures are built by strong routines. The most important routines are the morning, night, and work initiation routines. (i.e. getting into workflow). Your goals are achieved in the daily habits of life.
This routine is about staying motivated through the day by setting it up to be as easy as possible. Plan a “get up and go” routine, as well as an “easy morning” routine. The first is about streamlining the morning to go from your bed to your day in minimal time and maximum preparation. The second is about utilising your longer mornings to keep on track with goals and recharge efficiently.
Get up and go routine:
- Plan your necessary actions – for example, eating breakfast or getting dressed.
- Brainstorm how you could streamline the necessary actions. Can you put your clothes out on a Sunday in order of how you’ll wear them during the week? Can you bulk cook your breakfast? Can you plan your breakfasts on a rotating basis for the whole year (eg pesto eggs every Monday and Thursday, spinach protein smoothie every Tuesday and Friday, etc).
- Fit these actions together, imagining all the possible ways they could lead into each other. For example, you may want to do your actions according to which rooms are next to each other – getting dressed as soon as you wake up, putting coffee on as you move into the kitchen, then brushing your teeth as you move into the bathroom, picking up the coffee as you walk back through the kitchen. Play around with how these pieces could form the smoothest and fastest routine.
- Consider anything that would make your day the best day ever. This step is about casting a wide net for any extra steps that you may not have thought about as a necessary step. Consider including:
- Spending five minutes in meditation just before you walk out the door
- Kissing your partner if you have one (or pet, or hugging your family)
- Putting on a really nice perfume or cologne
- Playing your favourite ‘pump up’ music as you do your last action
- Whatever will make you feel on top of the world as you leave your home or begin your first task
- Activity: Write out your routine and put it somewhere you can see it every day, at least for the first quarter. Revise as needed.
Easy morning routine:
- Taking your “get up and go routine”, brainstorm anything you would like to be on the list that isn’t a necessary step. Examples may include;
- Making a big breakfast
- Weekly maintenance, like whitening your teeth or watering your plants
- Doing the dishes
- Wiping down surfaces with disinfectant
- Spending twenty minutes in prayer
- Going for a run
- Doing your makeup
- Like in the last routine, play around with fitting all these actions together in the most streamlined way possible.
- Write out this routine and put it next to your other morning routine. Adjust as needed.
This routine is crucial for replenishing energy and setting yourself up for the morning routine. Since nights are often less predictable than mornings, it’s best to decide what the ideal night routine might look like, and use it as a framework for deciding when to go home from events or when to start winding down.
For this reason, it’s important to time your night routine and plan it to the minute. For example, you might discover that including all the necessary steps brings your routine to 45 minutes. If you go to bed at 10 pm, then you’ll know to be home by 9:15 pm to keep yourself on track for the next day.
- Plan your necessary actions. Consider which actions will best set up your morning routine, like laying your clothes out, prepping your lunch, or making sure your bag is ready to go.
- Include “Decide tomorrow’s goals” as a necessary action.
- Brainstorm how you can streamline the necessary actions. Deciding your goals should ideally happen before dinner, to allow you to wind down and enjoy the evening.
- Fit these actions together, imagining all the possible ways they could lead into each other.
- Consider how your routine best gets you ready to sleep. Ensuring you have the best night’s sleep every night is a crucial pillar of life, enabling you to achieve your goals the next day. Think about:
- Blocking out all light, even tiny lights on devices. Since your skin has photoreceptors that can sense light, it’s best to block all lights instead of wearing a sleep mask.
- Having a shower or bath an hour before bed. Temperature is just as important as light in telling your body it’s time to sleep. Showering may heat you up, but it causes your body to rapidly expel heat through your limbs in order to cool your core down (which is why we stick our feet outside the blanket!)
- Stopping eating an hour before bed. Your body is made of billions of living organisms, and eating food (or even herbal tea) tells them that it’s still daytime, activating the enzymes in your liver. This doesn’t include water.
- Get your thoughts on paper. Externalising your worries, ideas, strategies and tasks offloads them from the brain, allowing you to drift off without turning them over in your mind all night.
- Time each action and determine how long your routine will take all up, and what your optimal time to begin your night routine will be.
- Put this routine somewhere you can see it and adjust as needed.
Work initiation routine
Being able to easily begin your tasks is the most important step in keeping motivation long term. There should be no cognitive, emotional, practical, or physical barrier between you and your next task. Procrastination is usually from one of these, not from pure laziness.
The book What’s Best Next outlines a routine for getting into workflow that is helpful as an everyday habit:
Step 1: Plan your schedule for the day
Step 2: Process all sources of input – like messages, notes, voice memos to yourself
Step 3: Do your main daily activity (eg if you’re a writer, your main activity is writing)
Step 4: Do your next priority task
You may also want to include writing a two-minute email or text to a colleague, friend, or family member expressing your appreciation for them every day, and to a different person each time. Studies show that doing this increases social cohesion drastically and is a better predictor of happiness and teamwork than the collective IQ or collective years of experience of the team.
How to motivate others?
If you’re a leader and trying to figure out how to motivate other people in your team or in your life, you’ll likely get many band-aid solutions. However, studies show the best way to motivate other people is to improve your character – to demonstrate true integrity, and show that you can be trusted. Everything else flows down from there. If you have integrity, then you also have humility, and hence you’ll be the kind of person who listens to feedback. If you have integrity, you’ll put other people’s needs before your own, and be the kind of person who makes the best decisions for the team.
It’s still good to execute “bandaid” solutions – there is no such thing as faking it til you make it, only practice.
If you’re looking to try to motivate your team, try these practical ideas:
- Tap into a shared vision
- Give freedom and direction. People need a balance between clarity and control – they need to know exactly what they’re doing and how to achieve it, but have room to move and autonomy over how they accomplish the task.
- Show your belief in them
- Build emotional engagement
- Create a community.
- Celebrate wins
- Mourn losses
- Create traditions
- Make milestones a big deal. Birthdays, farewells, moving house, weddings – make sure it becomes part of the culture to celebrate all significant events in the life of an immediate team member.
- Train them in resilience
How to get motivated to clean?
There’s something that not many people know about cleaning. Cleaning is one of the most fun activities in the world. People often don’t like cleaning because they either;
- Don’t know how to do it properly, or
- Don’t know how to make it interesting
It can be very easy to get motivated to clean if you know the tricks!
The first step is to make sure you know how to clean well. For example, you might look up on youtube how to organise a drawer in no time, or google how to remove calcium buildup from a shower, or what kind of chemicals are good for a wooden floor. Whichever area seems most daunting or nebulous, start with this area and research how you might go about organising it. Once you have a clear plan of action, you can move on to making the actual cleaning interesting.
- Put on your favorite music
Alternatively, you can find a great podcast or audiobook. You’ll find yourself looking around to do more cleaning just so you can keep listening!
How to get motivated to clean when overwhelmed by mess
We’ve talked about snowballing to build momentum. Snowballing is the best technique to sustain motivation when cleaning your house seems like too big of a task.
A good way to start snowballing is to identify one area where things don’t have a proper home and always pile up. For example, it might be:
- Clothes that you’ve worn but aren’t dirty yet
- Paperwork or mail
- Bags, shoes, and things from the day
If everything has a defined place to be, it’s a lot harder for it to get messy in the first place. But on top of that, organising one of these spaces to be sustainably beautiful from this day onwards is incredibly motivating! You can use the energy from that space to begin picking up other things.
10 ways to stay motivated
- Review your goal daily.
- Keep a photo in sight that reminds you of your goal. Associations are powerful (studies by the brain book).
- Make your goal into a motto. For example, if your goal is to make enough money to pay for your parent’s retirement, your motto might be “work hard for their rest”.
- If you have another person involved in your goal, talk about it before anything else, daily.
- Keep a journal
- Tunnel vision on the good stuff – focus on the parts of a task that you really enjoy. If you don’t enjoy data entry but you do enjoy refining your keyboard technique and beating your personal best for typing speed, focus on that part.
- Decide on milestones and celebrate them.
- Surround yourself with people who celebrate your progress. Never sacrifice your support network for your goals; every investment into creating strong, healthy relationships has a way better cost/benefit ratio than anything else.
- Make sure your other needs are met as far as you can manage. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, he theorized that the basics must be met before the higher needs. Before you begin trying to muster up motivation for long term goals, make sure you’re sleeping, eating, exercising, meeting all the fundamental needs of being human before taking on more.
- A quick note – this can occasionally work in reverse, where having long term goals can inspire you to take better care of yourself. Or, in some cases, your goals might be to achieve some of these basic needs, if you’re in an extreme situation.
- Set false deadlines, or don’t. If you know the amount of time a task will probably take, set a false deadline to inspire yourself to use time efficiently. If you’re not sure how much time your task will take, just keep a detailed record of time spent doing the task. Setting a deadline when you’re not sure how much time it will need might end up discouraging you instead – it may take less time than you think, which might encourage you to slack off, or take longer than you think, making you feel discouraged and training you to ignore deadlines.
An alternative here is to time yourself every time you do one of these tasks and evaluate whether the time was well spent. You can only go as fast as you can go!