Motivating yourself is hard. But effectiveself-motivation is one of the main things that distinguishes high-achieversfrom everyone else. So how can you keep pushing onward, even when you don’tfeel like it?
To a certain extent, motivation is personal. Whatgets you going might not do anything for me. And some individuals do seem tohave more stick-to-itiveness than others. However, after 20 years of researchinto human motivation, the following strategies have been identified that seemto work for most people.
Design Goals, Not Chores
Ample research has documented the importance ofgoal setting. Studies have shown, for example, that when salespeople havetargets, they close more deals, and that when individuals make daily exercisecommitments, they’re more likely to increase their fitness levels. Abstractambitions—such as “doing your best”—are usually much less effective thansomething concrete, such as bringing in 10 new customers a month or walking10,000 steps a day. As a first general rule, then, any objectives you setfor yourself or agree to should be specific.
Find Effective Rewards
Some tasks or even stretches of a career areentirely onerous—in which case it can be helpful to create externalmotivators for yourself over the short- to-medium term. You might promiseyourself a holiday for finishing a project or buy yourself a gift for quittingsmoking.
A common trap is to choose incentives thatundermine the goal you’ve reached. If a dieter’s prize for losing weight is toeat pizza and cake, he’s likely to undo some of his hard work and re-establishbad habits. If the reward for excelling at work one week is to allow yourselfto slack off the next, you could diminish the positive impression you’ve made.Research on what psychologists call balancing shows that goal achievement sometimeslicenses people to give in to temptation—which sets them back.
When people are working toward a goal, theytypically have a burst of motivation early and then slump in the middle, wherethey are most likely to stall out. Fortunately, research has uncovered severalways to fight this pattern. I refer to the first as “short middles.” If you breakyour goal into smaller subgoals—say, weekly instead of quarterlytargets—there’s less time to succumb to that pesky slump.
A second strategy is to change the way you thinkabout the progress you’ve achieved. When we’ve already made headway, the goalseems within reach, and we tend to increase our effort.
Another mental trick involves focusing on whatyou’ve already done up to the midpoint of a task and then turning yourattention to what you have left to do. Research has found that this shift inperspective can increase motivation.
Harness the Influence of Others
Humans are social creatures. We constantly lookaround to see what others are doing, and their actions influence our own. Evensitting next to a high-performing employee can increase your output. Listening to whatyour role models say about their goals can help you find extra inspiration andraise your own sights.
Interestingly, giving advice rather than asking forit may be an even more effective way to overcome motivational deficits, becauseit boosts confidence and thereby spurs action. A recent study found that peoplestruggling to achieve a goal like finding a job assumed that they needed tipsfrom experts to succeed. In fact, they were better served by offering theirwisdom to other job seekers, because when they did so, they laid out concreteplans they could follow themselves, which have been shown to increase drive andachievement.
A final way to harness positive social influence isto recognize that the people who will best motivate you to accomplish certaintasks are not necessarily those who do the tasks well. Instead, they’re peoplewho 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 helpprovide the powerful intrinsic incentives we need to reach our goals.
In positive psychology, flow is defined as amental state in which someone is fully immersed, with energized focus andenjoyment, in an activity. Alas, that feeling can be fleeting or elusive ineveryday life. Self-motivation is one of the hardest skills to learn, but it’scritical to your success.
Adapted HBR Dec 2018 Fishbach
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