Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Article on Motivation

Motivation: The Scientific Guide on How to Get and Stay Motivated

Motivation is a powerful, yet tricky beast. Sometimes it is really easy to get motivated, and you find yourself wrapped up in a whirlwind of excitement. Other times, it is nearly impossible to figure out how to motivate yourself and you're trapped in a death spiral of procrastination. This page contains the best ideas and most useful research on how to get and stay motivated.

This isn't going to be some rah-rah, pumped-up motivational speech. (That's not my style.) Instead, we're going to break down the science behind how to get motivated in the first place and how to stay motivated for the long-run. Whether you're trying to figure out how to motivate yourself or how to motivate a team, this page should cover everything you need to know.

You can click the links below to jump to a particular section or simply scroll down to read everything. At the end of this page, you'll find a complete list of all the articles I have written on motivation.

I. Motivation: What It Is and How It Works

  1. What is Motivation?
  2. Common Misconceptions About Motivation

II. How to Get Motivated and Take Action

  1. Schedule Your Motivation
  2. How to Get Motivated (Even When You Don't Feel Like It)
  3. How to Make Motivation a Habit

III. How to Stay Motivated for the Long-Run

  1. How to Stay Motivated by Using the Goldilocks Rule
  2. How to Reach Peak Motivation
  3. What to Do When Motivation Fades

 

I. Motivation: What It Is and How It Works

Scientists define motivation as your general willingness to do something. It is the set of psychological forces that compel you to take action. That's nice and all, but I think we can come up with a more useful definition of motivation. 

What is Motivation?

So what is motivation, exactly? The author Steven Pressfield has a great line in his book, The War of Art, which I think gets at the core of motivation. To paraphrase Pressfield, “At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it.”

In other words, at some point, it is easier to change than to stay the same. It is easier to take action and feel insecure at the gym than to sit still and experience self-loathing on the couch. It is easier to feel awkward while making the sales call than to feel disappointed about your dwindling bank account.

This, I think, is the essence of motivation. Every choice has a price, but when we are motivated, it is easier to bear the inconvenience of action than the pain of remaining the same. Somehow we cross a mental threshold—usually after weeks of procrastination and in the face of an impending deadline—and it becomes more painful to not do the work than to actually do it.

Now for the important question: What can we do to make it more likely that we cross this mental threshold and feel motivated on a consistent basis?

Common Misconceptions About Motivation

One of the most surprising things about motivation is that it often comes after starting a new behavior, not before. We have this common misconception that motivation arrives as a result of passively consuming a motivational video or reading an inspirational book. However, active inspiration can be a far more powerful motivator.

Motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Getting started, even in very small ways, is a form of active inspiration that naturally produces momentum.

I like to refer to this effect as the Physics of Productivity because this is basically Newton’s First Law applied to habit formation: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Once a task has begun, it is easier to continue moving it forward.

habit motivation

You don't need much motivation once you've started a behavior. Nearly all of the friction in a task is at the beginning. After you start, progress occurs more naturally. In other words, it is often easier to finish a task than it was to start it in the first place.

Thus, one of the keys to getting motivated is to make it easy to start.

Before we talk about how to get started, let's pause for just a second. If you're enjoying this article on motivation, then you'll probably find my other writing on performance and human behavior useful. Each week, I share self-improvement tips based on proven scientific research through my free email newsletter.


II. How to Get Motivated and Take Action

Many people struggle to find the motivation they need to achieve the goals they want because they are wasting too much time and energy on other parts of the process. If you want to make it easy to find motivation and get started, then it helps to automate the early stages of your behavior.

Schedule Your Motivation

During a conversation about writing, my friend Sarah Peck looked at me and said, “A lot of people never get around to writing because they are always wondering when they are going to write next.” You could say the same thing about working out, starting a business, creating art, and building most habits.

  • If your workout doesn’t have a time when it usually occurs, then each day you’ll wake up thinking, “I hope I feel motivated to exercise today.”
  • If your business doesn’t have a system for marketing, then you’ll show up at work crossing your fingers that you’ll find a way to get the word out (in addition to everything else you have to do).
  • If you don’t have a scheduled time when you write every week, then you’ll find yourself saying things like, “I just need to find the willpower to do it.”

An article in The Guardian summarized the situation by saying, “If you waste resources trying to decide when or where to work, you’ll impede your capacity to do the work.”

Setting a schedule for yourself seems simple, but it puts your decision-making on autopilot by giving your goals a time and a place to live. It makes it more likely that you will follow through regardless of your motivation levels. And there are plenty of research studies on willpower and motivation to back up that statement.

Stop waiting for motivation or inspiration to strike you and set a schedule for your habits. This is the difference between professionals and amateurs. Professionals set a schedule and stick to it. Amateurs wait until they feel inspired or motivated.


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