5 Steps For Tapping Into Motivation, Direct From The Pros

by | May 8, 2023 | Wellness

We’re meant to start a new year full of beans, dreams and a renewed sense of purpose… At least that’s what Instagram tells us. But, if it feels like you’re in a rut or can’t quite work up the energy to do whatever it is you really want to do, you’re not stuck in neutral alone. Just one example: 52 per cent of unhappy employees say they lack energy and motivation, according to a recent Indeed survey. No matter where you think your drive is – or isn’t – right now, these simple steps can help to rev up your motivation. Hint: it’s all about embracing the long game and being kinder to yourself.

1. Do Something 

Reality check: drive isn’t something that only lucky people have, like great hair or fast feet. Anyone can develop drive (or motivation – experts use them interchangeably) if you know how to go about it.

“People often think of motivation and drive as the big flame that happens if you take lighter fluid and spray it all over a grill,” says Steve Magness, an executive coach, performance expert and co-author of the book Peak Performance. “A better way to think about drive is that you get some coal, light the fire and let it slow burn over time. That allows us to sustain and cook whatever we’re trying to cook.” 

James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, writes that “one of the most surprising things about motivation is that it comes after starting a new behaviour, not before.” In other words, you don’t just get motivated, then do something. You do something, and that gets you motivated. “Getting started, even in very small ways … naturally produces momentum,” he writes. If starting out, even in a “very small way,” feels like anything from a minor sticking point to a monumental obstacle, he recommends making the first few steps so easy that you waste no energy thinking about doing them.

So instead of waiting “until you feel like it” to overhaul your LinkedIn profile to get the job you want, block out 10 minutes to play around with the first entry. Instead of trying to overhaul your nutrition, start by planning what you’ll have for breakfast most days and buying the ingredients.

2. Remove Barriers

Even the pro athletes sometimes have a tough time getting started, says Magness, who has worked with NBA players and Olympians. “What saves these athletes is that their environment is set up in a way that lowers the bar – there’s less activation energy that’s needed to get out the door.” They have trainers devising their workouts, training partners depending on them to show up. Their systems are organised to minimise hurdles. And good news: you can do the same. 

During a rough period when Magness says he was working too much and finding excuses not to exercise, he added five minutes to his evening commute to get to a park where he liked to run. The easy choice would have been to take the faster way home. But by going a few minutes out of his way and seeing his running shoes on the passenger seat, he removed the barrier to taking that run. “It’s almost like your brain sees running as the easier decision now. Those cues are inviting you to take that action, and you don’t have to think about it,” he explains.

Success strategy: Unlocking motivation is all about the long game, say experts. Seeing drive as a slow burn to sustain rather than a big flame.

3. Create Micro-goals

Dr David Zald has watched motivation disappear. He’s the director of the Center for Advanced Human Brain Imaging Research at Rutgers University. His research has found that this happens when the workload seems too heavy or the rewards too far off. The obvious but hard-to-see-when-you’re-in-it solution is to break that big goal into smaller, doable tasks. 

“Below your goal are subgoals, each of which has its own subgoals, cascading down to specific behaviours,” says Dr James M. Diefendorff, a professor of industrial/organisational psychology. Goals closer to the top of the hierarchy explain why you’re doing what you’re doing and reflect your values, while goals further down explain how the goal will be met, he says. Subgoals help you understand the steps you need to take and give you tasks to succeed at along the way – both help make long-term goals more manageable. Feeling like you’re making progress also feeds drive.

So below ‘take all my vacation days this year,’ subgoals might be: ‘narrow down Airbnbs to two,’ then ‘email options to friends,’ and finally ‘book it.’ Similarly, if you’re having a hard time getting excited about a long run, promise yourself that you’ll run a kilometre or so, then take a break, and repeat that pattern until you’re finished, tips Zald.

Key in on the phrase ‘take a break,’ too. You’re more likely to stick to a goal if you earn immediate rewards for steps you take rather than delaying rewards until you’re finished, according to research by Dr Ayelet Fishbach, author of Get It Done: Surprising Lessons from the Science of Motivation.

4. Stop One Rep Short

If you’re driven, you’re always pushing yourself hard… right? Performance coach Brad Stulberg wants to change your mind about that. In his new book, The Practice of Groundedness, he makes the case that “anyone can crush themselves and do an Instagram-worthy workout or all-nighter. That’s actually pretty easy. What is hard is maintaining drive for longer periods of time.” To keep it going, “force yourself to stop the equivalent of one rep short, day in and day out. Doing that is all about going a little slower today so you can go faster tomorrow.” Close the laptop at 6pm instead of 7pm. Sit down to eat lunch. Drive runs on sustainable energy, so feed it right.

Success strategy: Rather than driving to the basket non-stop, be patient with yourself and look after your energy levels for a real motivation winner.

5. Let Drive Change

 “The pandemic altered the lives of nearly everyone and led millions to re-evaluate and clarify the core of what is important, essential or meaningful in life – which may not be climbing the corporate ladder,” says Diefendorff.

What sets you on fire can be a moving target, since we become interested in different things and develop different values over the course of our lives, he adds. To understand what you care about, try thinking about what happens on your best days. What gives you energy and excitement? If you don’t want to switch jobs or goals to feel a sense of drive again, “try to structure your day to ensure that some ‘best day’ activities can be experienced at least some of the time,” Diefendorff suggests.

The post 5 Steps For Tapping Into Motivation, Direct From The Pros appeared first on Women’s Health. Words by Emily Sohn

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