How to Stay Focused and Motivated

When you’re motivated, you may find it easy to start projects, navigate obstacles and manage complex tasks. You might even channel your focus easily.

But at some point, especially if the project is long, you find yourself getting distracted. You aren’t as enthused about your goal as you were when you set it. You start to make excuses and give in to what’s easier.

If you struggle with motivation, whether it’s associated with your job, exercise program or favorite hobby, you might be worried that you’re never going to accomplish your goals by the end of your life. You want to be able to stay determined when it really counts.

This is how to do it.

How to Stay Focused and Motivated

Make Sure That You’re After Your Own Goals

If you’ve been having trouble staying focused and motivated, it may be time to dissect your goals. Are you doing things that you want to do or following a path that you feel like you should follow?

This is a common conundrum with students. Because the brain doesn’t fully mature until your mid-twenties, most young people have trouble seeing the big picture. They’re impulsive because their brains are wired that way.

Therefore, they don’t always see the benefit of doing schoolwork. They might be more interested in pursuing their passions than going to college. If they do follow a scholarly path, their interest and focus might wax and wane until they find the subject that really lights them up.

In our society, most people are guilty of neglecting their desires in exchange for following a path that they feel like they should take. We’re told that money equals success. We should find a solid career that sustains us, get married and have kids.

If we don’t really want to pursue those goals, we might find ourselves backpacking around Europe, taking odd jobs and living the single life at age 45. To further complicate the issue, we may tell ourselves that we’re unhappy with our situation because everyone else is paired off and looking forward to retiring in 10 to 15 years.

Stop and think about what you really want. What are your true desires? How do you want to live your life? Set intentions and goals that align with your authentic self. You’ll be much more likely to stay motivated and get the most out of life.

Make Motivation Part of Your Routine

If you have trouble feeling motivated when you wake up in the morning, try creating a routine that gets you fired up. Make your first task something completely indulgent, like taking a bubble bath, meditating or drinking your favorite type of coffee. That may be enough to get you out of bed.

Once you’re out of bed, try framing your day with intention. If you can create a focal point early on, you’ll feel more productive and clear-headed as you go through your day. You’ll feel a lot less focused if you don’t have a plan or an intention for your day.

A simple way to touch base with your desires upon waking is to ask yourself how you want to feel. Doing that can help you set an intention for the day. Perhaps you want to feel:

  • Motivated
  • Accomplished
  • Happy
  • Relaxed
  • Purposeful
  • Organized

Once you know how you want to feel, write it down as an “I am” statement. For example, you might write, “I am accomplished.” The act of putting those words on paper solidifies them in your mind. Even if you don’t plan your day further, you’ll find that the actions you take resonate with that intention and keep you moving forward.

You can expand on this practice by writing your to-do list next. When you schedule your day shortly after setting an intention, all of the activities that you perform tend to line up with your goals. You’ll feel less chaotic and more dedicated when your life feels like it’s flowing in one direction.

Set Clear Goals

In addition to spending time setting an intention every day, you should establish clearly defined goals in a few different areas of your life. These can be long or short-term goals. They should help you move forward in areas of your life that need work.

To determine what you’d like to change, ask yourself how satisfied you are with your life in the following wheel of life categories:

  • Career
  • Finances
  • Personal growth
  • Health
  • Family
  • Relationships
  • Social life
  • Attitude

You can adjust this to meet your needs. For example, you might want to add travel, hobbies or extracurricular activities to the categories and lump family, relationships and social life together.

If you find that you’re struggling to find satisfaction in some of the categories, ask yourself how you’d like to feel within those areas. You might also consider what you want to accomplish in those groupings. That will help you prioritize your goal-setting in the areas that are going to make the most difference in your life.

Setting goals helps shift you away from the instant gratification mindset. In this era of technology, it’s easy to get some of what you need immediately. When you want information, you can access it right away. If you want to get something done, you can often find software to help you achieve it.

But you can’t set up everything in your life with an app on your smartphone. If you want long-term success and fulfillment, you’re going to have to set your sights on your desires and keep them there.

Goals help you envision what you want. They also help keep you pushing toward your target when you feel like giving up. Even if you do choose to take the long road, keeping your sights on your goals will help redirect you and give you the motivation to continue instead of getting caught up in something unimportant.

Because humans crave comfort, they develop patterns to keep them in the status quo. This manifests itself as a resistance to change. It’s what makes you stop trying when your objectives seem too difficult. It’s what makes you lose motivation when you come across an obstacle or something that seems more enticing at the moment.

Setting goals gives you the inspiration to break out of your box and shift old patterns. If those old patterns include procrastination, giving up and fear of change, then you’ll be able to break them by setting goals. It won’t happen overnight, but it will create a habit that sets you up for consistent focus and motivation throughout your life.

Stop Waiting for More Money

Do you ever give the excuse that you would just take action toward your goals if you had more money? With a bigger income, you could pay for childcare for the kids, which would free you up to tackle even the biggest job. You could pay a personal trainer to keep you focused on your fitness goals. You could hire a chef to keep you on track with your diet.

If you need to pay someone to motivate you, you’re just sticking a bandage on your real problem. It could certainly be a temporary solution to teach you some skills that would ultimately lead to self-motivation. But eventually, your hired help is going to call in sick or you’re going to go on vacation, and it’s going to be up to you to dredge up your own inspiration.

What’s especially interesting about money is that anticipating it is more motivating than actually receiving it. Researchers have looked into what happens to motivation when you use monetary compensation in the workplace. They have found that the promise of a financial bonus can change behavior. But once employees get the money, they lose motivation within a week.

Scientists have determined that the excitement of getting a pay raise wears off as soon as people acclimate to their new circumstances. In the workplace, most people are only motivated by their salary if it’s comparatively higher than that of their colleagues. Plus, many workers would be happier with job security or paid time off than a boost in salary.

Therefore, if you want to become motivated, you might want to dangle a wad of cash in front of your face but keep it far enough that you have to continue reaching for it. Once you deposit it into your bank account, you need to figure something else out to maintain your drive.

If you have used money as a motivator to get you to where you are today, consider looking for a deeper source of motivation to sustain your determination and focus. Take part in activities that are aligned with who you are.

Stop Procrastinating

You can set all the intentions and have all the desire in the world, but if you procrastinate, you’re not going to get it done. Plus, procrastination causes you to lose momentum, which results in diminished motivation.

Humans are wired to enjoy comfort and familiarity. When you do the same thing every day, you become used to it. If you’re consistently working on a project, you’ll probably stay motivated to do it. When you stop because it’s the weekend, you go on vacation or you get too busy, it’s harder to harness the determination to start up again.

One of the best ways to stop procrastinating is to do a little bit of your task every day.  There are going to be times when you just don’t feel like doing anything. In those moments, try following the 15-minute rule, as suggested by Wanderlust Worker.

Set a timer for 15 minutes. Tell yourself that you’ll do whatever task you feel like putting off for 15 minutes. You can stop as soon as the timer goes off.

When the timer rings, you may find that you’re so engrossed in the task that you want to keep doing it. Even if you don’t continue, you’ll feel like you accomplished something that day. That feeling of achievement stimulates the reward pathways in your brain, which tell you to keep doing the activity that felt rewarding.

When it comes time to tackle the project the next day, you’ll be much more motivated if you’ve been doing it daily.

Change Your Environment

Procrastination is just a pattern that most people get used to. To break the habit, consider changing your environment. Let’s say that you lose motivation every time you set an exercise goal. Within six weeks, you’ve lost interest. Your couch seems more enticing than six-pack abs.

If that’s the case, then get away from your couch. Instead of coming home after work, go straight to the gym so that you don’t have the option to sit back and relax.

Likewise, if you’re trying to quit smoking but find yourself lighting up every time you walk out of the office, change your habits. Leave out of a different door. Have a snack or smoothie in your hand so that you resist the urge to smoke.

A small shift can mean big changes when it comes to your motivation. If that change led you to make a better choice that resulted in you feeling good, it will produce a rewarding feeling in your brain. That’s a strong motivator because it tells you to keep doing the behavior that produced the reward.

One of the reasons that it can be so hard to break a habit is that we get stuck in patterns of problematic behavior that produce rewards. Let’s say that you come home every night, flick on the TV and tune out. You feel an instant rush of relaxation, which is rewarding.

But you’re not getting anything accomplished at home, and the laundry and dishes are piling up. Still, your brain tells you to keep lazing in front of the TV because it feels so good.

You need to replace that activity with something that is equally rewarding. All you have to do is change something small. This is a great time to use the 15-minute rule.

Tell yourself that you just need to do the dishes for 15 minutes. Afterward, you’ll be able to turn on the TV.

After you finish the dishes, you’ll look at your clean kitchen and feel a sense of accomplishment. The brain chemicals that are responsible for producing rewards will be released. Your brain will tell you that your new habit felt good, and you’re more likely to do it again the next day.

The trick is to make sure that you don’t change so quickly that the shift becomes overwhelming. Don’t try to do all of the laundry or dishes at once. If you do, you might end up feeling stressed out because of all the work. The stress will override your reward circuit.

If you feel more tension than accomplishment, you’re likely to go back to sitting in front of the TV as soon as you get home from work the next day. But if your positive feelings outweigh the tediousness of the task, then you’ll stay motivated to get it done regularly.

Limit Distractions

You may tell yourself that you work better in a chaotic environment, but research shows that even small distractions can derail your productivity. It can take 25 minutes to really immerse yourself in a task after you’ve been distracted.

Therefore, interruptions can detract from your immediate focus, making it virtually impossible to stay motivated in the long run. Improving your concentration on a micro level can help you harness it when you’re looking at your long-term goals.

One way to stay focused is to work in blocks of time. If you want to get something done, estimate how long it will take you. Then, chop that timeframe up into smaller chunks of time. Thirty minutes is ideal for getting into the groove.

Turn off your phone, set a timer and work on your task. Commit to focusing only on the activity at hand until the timer goes off. When the timer rings, allow yourself to take a five-minute break to grab something to eat, use the bathroom, check your phone and do all of those things that would have distracted you while you were working.

Once you practice this skill, you’ll become more adept at setting boundaries. You’ll gain the discipline to avoid distractions in life, and you’ll improve your focus and motivation.

How to Stay Motivated to Work Out

What if you apply all of these rules but still find it difficult to stay motivated to work out? Fewer than 25 percent of Americans get enough exercise. Some of the most successful people in the world have died young because of stress or health problems.

Exercising results in the release of neurotransmitters that help you stay focused and motivated. If you could just keep up your gym habit, you could encourage yourself to stay in a healthy loop that stimulates you to accomplish your objectives in other categories.

In fact, we could have created the heading of this section to read, “Stay motivated by working out.” But we understand that finding the motivation to exercise is a problem in itself.

Therefore, we’re taking a step back to help you harness this important habit once and for all.

If you love the feeling that you get after you exercise but just can’t make the choice to get out of your cozy bed in the morning, you’re not alone. You may feel as though you’re weak or lack willpower. However, laziness is a human instinct.

We are wired to conserve energy because ancient humans didn’t always have access to food. If they expended energy prematurely, they might be left hungry. They needed to save their energy to go out hunting or gathering.

Our ancestors only exercised when it was necessary, such as for procuring food or escaping danger. They also exercised as a form of play.

Modern humans tend to do the same thing. We might be consistent about walking or riding a bike to work. But if we don’t have to exercise, we have to muster up the motivation. We lose interest if exercise isn’t fun.

Moreover, we might have an aversion to exercise if we had a negative experience with it in childhood. Were you ever picked last for a team? Did people make fun of you during gym class because of your lack of coordination? Maybe that’s why you hate exercising as an adult.

Understanding your biology can help prevent you from feeling guilty for living a sedentary lifestyle. Now that the shame is out of the way, let’s talk about how to stay focused and motivated with your workouts.

Don’t Set Hard Rules

While it’s important to establish goals, you shouldn’t set firm rules for your workouts. For example, if you tell yourself that you have to work out your legs on Tuesdays and Thursdays but don’t feel like doing lunges when Tuesday rolls around, you might avoid exercising altogether.

Instead, allow yourself some flexibility around your workout schedule. If you are the type of person who is motivated by following a concrete program, give yourself options for plan A, plan B and plan C. If you don’t want to follow plan A, you won’t have to think too hard about an alternative workout. Your decision has been made for you.

Establish Process-Based Goals

When your main exercise goal is to change your appearance, you might be disappointed by the results. Changing the way that you look is a slow process. If it’s your main motivator, you may lose your spark long before you achieve results.

Plus, you may not have as much control over your appearance as you think. The shape of your thighs may be attributed to genes. You might not develop defined arm muscles no matter how many weights you lift.

Therefore, it’s more effective to focus on the process or the journey. Set goals based on something that you can control, such as your performance.

You can take ownership for running one minute longer this week than you did last week. You can increase your reps or weights for different exercises. But you can’t guarantee that you’ll get a six-pack by summer.

If you set performance-based goals, you’ll often get the added benefit of slimming down. That can be an extra reward that keeps you motivated. Just don’t make it your goal. If you don’t achieve the weight loss or body change that you want, you might get disappointed and scrap your plans to exercise altogether.

Write Down Your Goals

Evidence shows that writing your goals down can help you accomplish them. You use different neural pathways when you’re thinking vs. writing. The act of putting pen to paper solidifies your plans in ways that you can’t accomplish even with the most determined thought patterns.

Writing something by hand is also different than typing it into your phone or computer. Try going back to basics and using your own handwriting to set your goals.

Keep track of your progress on paper too. Doing this not only gives you evidence of your achievements, but it also tricks your brain into wanting to continue.

Jerry Seinfeld made this technique famous. He calls it the “don’t break the chain” method of motivation. He found that writing every day helped him come up with better jokes.

But doing anything routinely, like exercise, is tough. It’s easy to come up with excuses and skip days.

Seinfeld decided to use a marker and a calendar to check off every day that he did his writing exercise. The more marks that he made on the calendar, the more motivated he was to continue. At a certain point, he was writing just so that he wouldn’t have to look at his calendar with an empty day on it.

When it came time to do the task, his mind wasn’t focused on the effort that it would take to write. His only job was to make the mark on the calendar. That made it easier for him to do the writing even when he didn’t feel like it.

Make it Fun

You’ve heard it before—you’re more likely to stay motivated to exercise if you enjoy it. Many people hate the act of exercising but enjoy the rewards that it brings them. They might detest running but love the runner’s high. Still, that’s not always enough of a reward to trick your brain into choosing to put on your running shoes instead of catching up on the latest episode of your favorite Netflix show.

If you can take part in an exercise regimen that interests you, the reward is in the activity. This is a time when instant gratification can work to your advantage. If you enjoy your workout, you’re much more likely to take part in it instead of making excuses to avoid it.

However, if you’re still hung up on losing weight quickly or developing large muscles as fast as possible, you can get discouraged even if you love your workout routine. For example, you might enjoy doing yoga because you love the way that it makes you feel. But you don’t see dramatic results in your body, and the scale isn’t budging.

If you continue to set outcome-based goals that are linked to your weight and appearance, enjoying your workout won’t be rewarding enough to keep you motivated. That’s another reason why it’s vital to focus on your intention and journey more than the outcome.

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