Have you ever found yourself putting off doing something that should be done? Let it be working out daily, or calling that important but troublesome client, or having that awkward conversation with your spouse, etc. You know that there’s a long-term reward in doing these things. But somehow you procrastinate on them. In this post, let’s discuss how you can motivate yourself to get them done.
Exercising daily can keep you healthy, your big business opportunity comes from speaking to that difficult client, and you can save your marriage if you talk at the right time with your spouse. But our mind hesitates to do them and puts them off to later thinking that it’s not urgent.
One of the reasons for this is that our brain values short-term pleasures over long-term goals. The tasks that are not pleasurable in the short-term are avoided or skipped. But with enough motivation, our brain can be trained to see the long-term effects as well.
Practical ways to motivate yourself
Based on what I’ve read and some scientific researches, I am suggesting you to try the following to motivate yourself to do the stuff that you don’t want to do.
1. Have an internal locus of control
In 1954, American psychologist Julian B. Rotter identified two loci of control: internal and external. If you think that you have control over your behavior, it means you have an internal locus of control. On the contrary, if you think your behavior is influenced by the outside factors, it means you have an external locus of control.
Let’s consider calling a troublesome client who always wrangles. The reason why you hesitate to call him is that he’s troublesome, which is something you can’t control. If you rely on things you can’t control, you won’t be taking any action.
On the contrary, if you adopt an internal locus of control, your approach will be different. “Yes, he’s a troublesome client. But it’s my responsibility to make a business deal. Unless I call him, it’s not possible to strike a huge business deal. So I’ve to talk with him.”
Take responsibility for your successes and failures instead of blaming the outside factors. Once you adopt this mindset, you’ll stay motivated to do things even if you don’t feel like doing them. Because now you know that without taking any action, no change is possible.
2. Become a success seeker rather than a failure avoider
One of the most important reasons that we avoid doing something important is that we’re afraid that we won’t be able to succeed in that. We know that if a task is done correctly, it could result in a huge success. But what if things don’t go our way?
For example, you know that it’s important to talk with your spouse about an issue that’s concerning you. But you’re afraid to talk about it thinking that she might misunderstand you and things may go worse. So, to avoid such a situation, you avoid talking about it with her.
One of the reasons that I procrastinate on writing content for my blog is that I used to think, “What if my article is not well received by my audience?” I was trying to avoid a failure of not getting a good response for my writing which makes me publish less content to my blog.
If we’re afraid of failure, we won’t be living our life to our fullest potential. We tend to skip on things that matter the most and end being in the same place without any improvement.
So to stay motivated don’t try to avoid failure. Do the thing that you wanted to do with determination and positivism.
3. Just get started
A peculiar thing about motivation is that most of the time it shows up after starting to do a task. You may not be motivated to workout initially. But once you start working out without waiting for the motivation, it usually shows up.
Instead of feeling motivated to do something, do something to feel motivated. Once you get motivated, you do more. It’s a circle like this.
I can hear you saying, “Hey, the starting part is the problem. If I get started anyway, why do I need any motivation?” It’s difficult to get started because our mind perceives the task at hand as a threat to our current state of comfortableness.
The solution is to make the task that you want to do as simple as possible so that your brain doesn’t perceives it as a threat.
For example, instead of having a goal to work out for one hour every day, have a goal to workout for just 10 minutes every day. In this manner, the task of working out seems simple to your brain and it won’t take it as a threat to its comfortableness.
This is a way of tricking your brain. Most of the time, you can see yourself working out for more than 10 minutes, though your goal was to workout for just 10 minutes. Why? Because now motivation has kicked in and it won’t let you give up soon.
4. Start your day with visualization
You don’t need any external motivation to do a task that’s consistent with your identity. For example, if you identify yourself as someone good at playing tennis, you won’t need any external motivation to make you play tennis. You’ll do it consistently because that’s who you are. On the other hand, if you identify yourself as someone poor in playing tennis, it’s hard to make you play the game even with external motivation.
So the key here is to make the task that you want to perform as a part of your identity. Let’s say you aim to score more in Mathematics. To achieve this, you’ll have to solve more problems in Mathematics. But if your identity is of someone poor in Mathematics, you won’t be motivated to solve the problems. If you don’t solve enough problems you won’t score more.
One of the powerful techniques to change your identity suggested by most productivity and personal-development experts is visualization. In a study conducted on 144 basketball players, it was found that players who just imagined making free-throws almost performed to the same extent as those who practiced it in real.
Given that visualization can impact your performance, you can use it to change your identity as well. Each morning set aside a time to visualize the thing that you wanna do that day. Vividly imagine yourself doing it right and good. For example, if you want to solve more problems in Mathematics, imagine yourself solving them and getting it right.
This way you can improve the odds of performing the task that you want to do.
5. Use the implementation intention
You may have the intention to do a task. But if you have a specific plan for when and where you’ll do that task increases the chances of you doing the task. This is known as the implementation intention.
In a research conducted by Katherine L. Milkman, et al., it was shown that people who were prompted to write when and where they’ll get their flu shot were 4.2 percent more likely to get the flu shot than those weren’t prompted to do so. Several research papers stress the importance of implementation intention in increasing the probability of goal attainment.
Instead of saying, “I’ll wash my hands regularly.”, you could say, “Every time I come home, I’ll wash my hands.” or you may say, “I’ll practice violin for one hour from 6 AM at my room” instead of just saying “I’ll practice violin.”
When you make a specific plan, you won’t need the motivation to get started. That’s why planning your day is so important. Write down what you’re going to do at what time in a piece of paper and see how remarkable your execution will be.
Based on what I’ve read and listened to, I’ve recommended these strategies to get things done. You can use the one that best suits you. No matter how small, every day owe to do something that takes you one step closer towards your goal. When you consistently do the things that you always wanted to do, it’ll one day become a part of your identity. Once it’s a part of the identity, naturally you’ll be more inclined to those tasks. But an important thing to consider here is to perform the tasks that provide value to your future. Before starting any task, just ask yourself whether or not it’ll provide value to your life.
The motivation to write this post came from Quora, where I saw a question on “How to motivate yourself?” As I said earlier, to do any task, you’ll need a certain level of motivation.
Researchers at Princeton University collaborated to find that our brain prefers short-term rewards over the long-term ones.
When I listened to this TEDx talk by Scott Geller on “The psychology of Self-motivation”, I came across the idea of being a success seeker rather than a failure avoider.
One way to make it look easy for the brain so that it doesn’t hesitate to start performing a task was the inspiration from the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.
The idea of implementation intention was also discussed in the book “Atomic Habits”