How to Keep Motivated When You’re Just Not Feeling It photo

How to Keep Motivated When You’re Just Not Feeling It

Motivating yourself is hard. But effective self-motivation is one of the main things that distinguishes high-achievers from everyone else. So how can you keep pushing onward, even when you don’t feel like it?

To a certain extent, motivation is personal. What gets you going might not do anything for me. And some individuals do seem to have more stick-to-itiveness than others. However, after 20 years of research into human motivation, the following strategies have been identified that seem to work for most people.

Design Goals, Not Chores

Ample research has documented the importance of goal setting. Studies have shown, for example, that when salespeople have targets, they close more deals, and that when individuals make daily exercise commitments, they’re more likely to increase their fitness levels. Abstract ambitions—such as “doing your best”—are usually much less effective than something concrete, such as bringing in 10 new customers a month or walking 10,000 steps a day. As a first general rule, then, any objectives you set for yourself or agree to should be specific.

Find Effective Rewards

Some tasks or even stretches of a career are entirely onerous—in which case it can be helpful to create external motivators for yourself over the short- to-medium term. You might promise yourself a holiday for finishing a project or buy yourself a gift for quitting smoking.

A common trap is to choose incentives that undermine the goal you’ve reached. If a dieter’s prize for losing weight is to eat pizza and cake, he’s likely to undo some of his hard work and re-establish bad habits. If the reward for excelling at work one week is to allow yourself to slack off the next, you could diminish the positive impression you’ve made. Research on what psychologists call balancing shows that goal achievement sometimes licenses people to give in to temptation—which sets them back.

Sustain Progress

When people are working toward a goal, they typically have a burst of motivation early and then slump in the middle, where they are most likely to stall out. Fortunately, research has uncovered several ways to fight this pattern. I refer to the first as “short middles.” If you break your goal into smaller subgoals—say, weekly instead of quarterly targets—there’s less time to succumb to that pesky slump.

A second strategy is to change the way you think about the progress you’ve achieved. When we’ve already made headway, the goal seems within reach, and we tend to increase our effort.

Another mental trick involves focusing on what you’ve already done up to the midpoint of a task and then turning your attention to what you have left to do. Research has found that this shift in perspective can increase motivation.

Harness the Influence of Others

Humans are social creatures. We constantly look around to see what others are doing, and their actions influence our own. Even sitting next to a high-performing employee can increase your output. Listening to what your role models say about their goals can help you find extra inspiration and raise your own sights.

Interestingly, giving advice rather than asking for it may be an even more effective way to overcome motivational deficits, because it boosts confidence and thereby spurs action. A recent study found that people struggling to achieve a goal like finding a job assumed that they needed tips from experts to succeed. In fact, they were better served by offering their wisdom to other job seekers, because when they did so, they laid out concrete plans they could follow themselves, which have been shown to increase drive and achievement.

A final way to harness positive social influence is to recognize that the people who will best motivate you to accomplish certain tasks are not necessarily those who do the tasks well. Instead, they’re people who share a big-picture goal with you: close friends and family or mentors. Thinking of those people and our desire to succeed on their behalf can help provide the powerful intrinsic incentives we need to reach our goals.

CONCLUSION

In positive psychology, flow is defined as a mental state in which someone is fully immersed, with energized focus and enjoyment, in an activity. Alas, that feeling can be fleeting or elusive in everyday life. Self-motivation is one of the hardest skills to learn, but it’s critical to your success.

Adapted HBR Dec 2018 Fishbach

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