I spend a lot of time thinking about motivation. My own. That of others.
There are all kinds of things in life that necessitate motivation. Stuff that’s hard or that we’re not excited about. Stuff we know we “should” do, but dang, we really don’t wanna.
Some of these things are easier to work up some motivation to do. The one-off things that we just grit our teeth and get over with.
- Cleaning out that closet.
- Getting that room painted.
- Finishing that term paper (which, after all, has a grade and a deadline attached to it).
- Knocking out the after dinner dishes.
It’s the long-term stuff that we need to make a habit that’s hardest for most people.
- Eating right.
- Exercising regularly.
- Writing every day.
These things take TIME and WORK. And we are all far too likely to say “I can’t,” when the truth of the matter is, “I won’t.”
“I can’t” only really applies in certain situations. I can’t exercise because I have an injury or I’m sick. I can’t stick to my calorie budget because I’m out of town visiting other people and I have no control over the menu, nor do I know how many calories is in what’s been prepared for me. I can’t write because I am out of town for work all day and won’t get back until bedtime.
“I can’t” is when there’s a legitimate conflict, and those are usually temporary situations. Applying “I can’t” to any other situation is self defeating.
Any other time, it’s really “I won’t”. I won’t get up an hour early to exercise. I won’t deny myself food I like when I eat at restaurants. I won’t give up an hour of TV in the evening to carve out some words.
Because all of these things we ought to do tend to require some kind of sacrifice of things we want to do. Instant gratification vs. delayed pay off. Most of us have a REALLY hard time saying no to the thing we want right now in favor of the long term positive. Our entire culture is built around instant gratification and now, now, now.
So how do you go about changing that?
One option is to pull a Nike. Flip a mental switch and just do it. This is often the cold turkey, whole hog approach of diving in. I confess, I am a fan of this method for many things. But it’s also the approach that causes most people to fail at whatever change they want to make. It’s too much, too fast.
A better approach is to make small changes. If you can’t manage an hour early. Make it a half hour earlier. Gradually roll back your morning alarm to get in that work out (or words if you actually have brain enough to write in the morning). If you’re trying to eat healthier, focus on cutting out something unhealthy from every meal. Dessert only once a week. Cheese with only one meal a day (What? We’re cheese addicts in our house). Set a low daily word count and gradually stretch it each week by an extra 50 or 100 words.
It’s also important to not only make changes in your actions, but in your way of thinking. Instead of focusing on the thing you’re losing out on to make this change, focus on the positive you will gain from it. Instead of thinking, I’m losing an hour of sleep to exercise, focus on I’m burning calories, getting my workout finished first thing, and I’ll be free to face the rest of the day with a clearer brain. Instead of I’m missing out on favorite TV programming to get in my words, focus on that slow and steady build of word count, day after day (which you ought to get a progress meter for so you have a nice visual measure). It starts off as a very conscious thing, this reminding yourself of the positives. But do it long enough, and you’ll find your actual attitude changing. And that is the key to long term stick-to-it-iveness.