Even if you’re a driven person, life can get overwhelming sometimes. It’s not always easy to stay motivated. Only about 8 percent of people are motivated enough to stick to their New Year’s resolutions. How can you stay motivated to reach your other goals? These motivation techniques help you take action even when you’re not feeling it.
Have you ever been excited about something one day only to be apathetic about it the next? Your enthusiasm wavers from day to day even if you’re going after something that you really desire.
Why Are Goals Good Motivation Techniques?
Goals are motivating because they help you decide what you want and keep your focus on it. If you don’t set goals, you may get distracted by whatever strikes your fancy on a day-to-day basis. If nothing seems enticing on a particular day, you might even have trouble getting out of bed.
Most people can relate to this feeling. When you have the same routine every day, life gets mundane. Motivating yourself to go to work only to perform the same mundane tasks that you do all the time is hard.
You need to set your sights on something to stay inspired. The goals that you set can relate to your career, personal life or vacation. In fact, you should have at least one goal in a variety of categories, including:
- Professional life
- Health and fitness
- Passions and hobbies
Break Down Your Goals
One of the mistakes that people make when they set goals is establishing objectives that are too big. It’s tough to stay motivated if your goals are so big that you’re unlikely to achieve them anytime soon.
Therefore, make sure that you break your goals down into smaller chunks. For every goal that you set, consider the smaller action steps that are necessary to achieve them. Write those down too, and set deadlines. Taking consistent action toward your objectives will help you feel like you’re progressing. The momentum itself is motivating.
You’ll also be more likely to achieve your goals if they’re specific and challenging. If you set a goal to eat more healthfully, you might give yourself plenty of excuses to give in to temptation when you have a craving for cake or join your friends out for dinner.
On the other hand, if you set a goal to eat three different types of vegetables with every meal and go for a 30-minute walk on your lunch break every day, you can make clear-cut decisions about whether you’re going to stick to your goals or not.
Quantifiable goals are motivating because you get a rush of dopamine every time you reach them. Therefore, in the second example above, your brain processes a reward at every meal and once a day during your lunch break if you stick to your goals.
The feel-good neurotransmitters that flood your nervous system when you accomplish your objectives tell you to do the same behaviors again. In other words, setting goals activates self-motivating chemicals that keep you on the right path.
But motivation involves more than setting goals. If you’re not in the mood to set goals or find yourself consistently ditching them, you should harness the power of some other motivation techniques to stay on your game.
Replace Negative Thought Patterns
The 5-second rule works on the premise that your brain can get in the way of your motivation. It’s true that your mindset plays a huge role in your motivation.
According to David Burns, the author of “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated,” there are 13 negative motivation patterns that can make you slack off. These include:
- Hopelessness – You feel like you’ll never get out of your rut.
- Helplessness – Your blame factors that are out of your control, such as fate or your hormones, for your lack of motivation.
- Overwhelm – You make an activity seem more complex than it is until it seems unfeasible.
- Jumping to conclusions – You claim that you can’t take action for a particular reason.
- Self-labeling – You identify yourself as an unmotivated, weak or inferior person.
- Undervaluing the rewards – You tell yourself that the activity isn’t worth the effort.
- Perfectionism – You set extreme objectives or standards and set yourself up for failure.
- Fear of failure – You don’t try at all because you can’t deal with the possibility of defeat.
- Fear of success – You feel that you’re not ready for the side effects of success.
- Fear of disapproval or criticism – You worry that people will look down on you for your actions or mistakes.
- Coercion and resentment – You’re bitter because you feel pressure to do the activity. This pressure is often self-imposed.
- Low frustration tolerance – When your expectations aren’t met, you’re discouraged.
- Guilt and self-blame – You feel that you always let others down.
How to Change These Limiting Beliefs
Which of these thought patterns are pervasive in your life? If you’re honest with yourself, you can pinpoint the mindsets that you commonly adopt. Becoming aware of the fact that you’re creating excuses that live outside of reality is the first step toward changing the limiting beliefs that keep you stuck.
Get acquainted with these negative motivation patterns. Go back and re-read them, thinking about how they are inconsistent with reality.
For example, you know that lack of motivation comes and goes. Nothing lasts forever, including the emotional highs and lows that you experience. Therefore, hopelessness is just an excuse to stay where you are and avoid taking on other opportunities.
If overwhelm is a common negative thought pattern for you, using the technique of breaking down goals into small chunks will help you immensely. When you divide every project into simple action steps that take just a few minutes or hours to accomplish, you will have trouble arguing with yourself that the project is too daunting.
People with low frustration tolerance should get clear on their expectations. They’re usually anticipating something unrealistic, which makes them chronically disappointed. Perhaps having more appropriate expectations can help them avoid frustration.
Once you gain awareness of the beliefs that are holding you down, change them. Write down a positive phrase that you can say every time you realize that you’re spiraling into a negative thought process.
Some examples include:
- Nothing lasts forever.
- This will feel better soon.
- I can make this easier on myself by taking one baby step.
- I just have to do it; it doesn’t have to be perfect.
- There’s no such thing as perfection; there is only progress.
- I am choosing to do this; no one is pressuring me.
- Others understand that I’m human too.
You can also use the next technique in this article to act before your negative thoughts have a chance to take over.
The 5-Second Rule
Motivational speaker and CNN legal analyst Mel Robbins developed a technique that closes the gap between all of these negative thought patterns and the action that you take. She calls this the 5-second rule. She says that if you have an idea and act on it within 5 seconds, you’re more likely to accomplish what you set out to achieve because you don’t let your thoughts get in the way.
If you feel like acting on a goal, you have to move right away or you might lose the motivation completely. When you segment your goals into simple action steps, you can take advantage of the 5-second rule to tackle each one.
How Does the 5-Second Rule Work?
To use the 5-second rule, count backward from 5 every time you feel yourself hesitating when you know that you should be taking action. You can use it to:
- Get out of bed in the morning
- Tackle a project that you’ve been avoiding
- Take time out instead of yelling at your kids
The counting helps your mind focus on something other than your excuses. Once you finish counting, you must take action. If you don’t, Robbins argues that you probably never will.
The 5-second rule works because it involves metacognition. In essence, it diverts your brain so that you don’t fall back on your old habits.
Most people’s behavior is based on patterns that have been ingrained in them for years. On any given day, you run on autopilot. You know what to do because you’ve done it hundreds of times before.
If your behavior involves making excuses to avoid doing something, you probably have a habit of being unmotivated. These behavior patterns make you feel safe. They allow you to stay in your comfort zone because you know exactly what’s going to happen next.
When you shift your behavior, you experience uncertainty, which can make you feel out of control. Your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that’s responsible for decision making and moving toward your goals, loses function. All you have to do to get back on track is to take control of your prefrontal cortex again.
You can do this by taking deliberate action that has a predictable result. The 5-4-3-2-1 countdown accomplishes this. When you feel as though you have control over one aspect of your life, your brain believes that you can regulate other areas. You’re more likely to make good decisions and prioritize easily when you maintain this feeling of control.
The 2-Minute Rule
The key to the 5-minute rule is that you simply have to take the first step once you’ve counted down from 5 to 1. However, if you generally fall prey to the fallacy of overwhelm, then you might tell yourself that you don’t even know where to start.
It doesn’t matter. You just have to start somewhere.
If you’re trying the 5-minute rule but having trouble getting started, consider adding the 2-minute rule to your repertoire of motivation techniques. James Clear uses this as a method to stop procrastinating. It’s essentially another way to split up complex tasks or large goals into minuscule action steps.
The Benefits of the 2-Minute Rule
The 2-minute rule states that any new habit should be pared down into a version that takes only two minutes to complete. If you’re telling yourself that you need to exercise for 30 minutes a day, try cutting that back to “Put on my sneakers.” If you want to start meditating, try setting a goal to sit down in a quiet space for two minutes.
The idea behind this is that:
- Everyone has two minutes to instill new habits or do an activity that falls outside of their routine.
- Two minutes is short enough to help you avoid the overwhelm that can prevent you from moving forward.
Basically, your 2-minute activity becomes a gateway habit that propels you into further action. It’s something simple. It’s so mindless that you would feel silly giving yourself an excuse not to do it.
Especially if you’ve been struggling with motivation, this hack can get you moving. It allows you to show up for your life with action instead of sitting around pondering your next move.
Clear says that it helps you standardize before you optimize. In other words, you lay the foundation for motivation habits. If you establish patterns of doing in response to your thinking, you’ll get used to that type of momentum. You’ll become the type of person who doesn’t wait for rainbows and butterflies to inspire you; you’ll realize that sometimes, your actions are all of the motivation that you need.
You might wonder if this motivation technique is grounded in science. It is. As we discussed previously in this article, the dopamine levels in the reward pathways of your brain increase when you accomplish something. If you’re not afraid to go into action mode, you can elevate this motivation chemical and trick your brain into getting motivated even when you’re not feeling particularly inspired.
Do What You Love First
Motivation doesn’t always come easily, especially when you’re trying to finish a project that you’re just not interested in. In a perfect world, we would all pursue our passions. We would work at a job that lit us up. We would enjoy doing every part of our daily routine.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way that life works. We don’t always enjoy taking care of the daily chores that keep our space tidy and clean. Our employers may assign tasks that we aren’t thrilled to take on.
When you’re faced with a busy day and have a lot of tedious tasks on your plate, do you tell yourself that you’ll plow through them so that you can reward yourself with a pleasurable experience? Maybe you look forward to cracking open that mystery novel or taking a walk on the beach. You’ll do it as soon as you finish your to-do list.
What typically happens? Does your to-do list seem like it’s never-ending? Do you keep adding obligations to your inventory of chores and never get to do the thing that you love?
If you live like this, you end up missing out. Not only do you limit yourself from engaging in enjoyable pastimes, but you also train your brain to be unmotivated.
Re-Wire Your Brain for Pleasure
Remember the dopamine scenario? Every time you accomplish something, you activate the neurotransmitter that entices you to do that same activity again. But if you combine that rewarding feeling with thoughts such as, “I hate doing this so much” or “I wish I had more time to do the things that I love,” then you’re solidifying a pattern of negative thoughts that come along with that task.
What do you think will happen the next time you have to do laundry or enter data into a spreadsheet at work? Those excuses will rise up, preventing you from tackling the project efficiently.
What if you do the thing that you love before you get to the more mundane chores? Read a chapter of your novel before you get out of bed. Take a walk on the beach with your morning coffee in hand.
When your brain is flooded with chemical motivators and your inner dialogue is raving about how amazing the activity makes you feel, you’re more likely to go into the rest of your day with a positive attitude. When you do, you’ll be less apt to use negative thought patterns to make excuses.
Many people feel as though they don’t have time to engage in their passions before taking care of their obligations. When you have a particularly busy day ahead of you, you might tell yourself that you’re going to feel anxious if you don’t take care of the more urgent and pressing responsibilities first.
That’s probably another negative thought pattern that you’re stuck in. You don’t have to spend hours doing your enjoyable activity. If you could just spend 10 minutes on it, you would stimulate motivating neurotransmitters that can make you more excited to do the boring stuff later.
Reverse Parkinson’s Law to Be More Productive
Plus, humans are like goldfish. When you have plenty of time to accomplish your to-dos, you’re likely to take all of that time. This is called Parkinson’s Law. It explains that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
If you do what you love before you take care of the mundane tasks, you’ll limit the time that’s available for doing what you don’t enjoy. That’s not the end of the world. It should help you use your time more efficiently and make you more productive.
You end up accomplishing everything on your list without complaining that you’re spending all day on the tasks that stress you out. That’s motivating.
Find the Fun in Everything
Most people want to enjoy a spacious, clutter-free environment. They want to be organized. They need clean dishes to eat off of and clean clothes to wear. However, they hate cleaning, organizing, doing laundry or washing dishes. Therefore, they put those activities off. Then, they get overwhelmed by the mess, filth or disorganization that pervades their lives.
The cycle crushes motivation. If you don’t create a solid foundation that makes you feel healthy and spacious in mind, body and spirit, you may have trouble dredging up any inspiration.
Moreover, constant stress can deplete you. It can wreak havoc on your physical health and exacerbate psychological conditions. The Japanese refer to this as karoshi, or “death by overwork.”
The human body is designed to use stress as a signal to keep you safe. When you feel threatened, your reptilian brain goes into action. It sounds an alarm that tells you that you’re in danger, and it ignores the rational part of your brain that tries to explain that everything is ok, you’re not in danger, you’re just feeling a little overwhelmed.
Your stress hormones are elevated as your body goes into fight-or-flight mode to take care of the danger. When this happens, your blood pressure goes up. Your heart beats faster. Your body’s self-healing mechanisms are deactivated because your brain thinks that you need to put all of your energy into getting back to safety. Even your digestion is impaired.
Over time, this stress response can become chronic. When it does, it chips away at your health. If you’re not feeling physically or psychologically sound, you lose motivation.
You can counter this over the long term by using stress-reduction techniques. Learning to lower your stress levels is vital for optimal functioning. But you still might groan every time you’re asked to give a speech at work.
If you’re always doing things that you hate to do, you’re going to remain unmotivated. Change things up by manipulating your mind into thinking that it’s having fun.
How to Find Joy in What You Do
Tidying expert Marie Kondo calls this “finding joy.” She teaches people how to organize and declutter their homes by finding joy in the material possessions as well as the process. As she teaches people how to fold clothes, she explains that you should do so with a loving touch.
It sounds a little ridiculous, but you should try it and see what happens. If you’re always folding laundry roughly, shoving it into drawers that are overflowing and too tight, you’re going to have a stress response as you do it. On the other hand, if you take your time, noticing the pleasant sensations beneath your fingertips, you’ll elicit the release of mood-enhancing chemicals that not only stave off stress but also tell you that this activity is enjoyable.
It’s not impossible to find the fun in your most mundane activities. If you’re having trouble, consider asking yourself questions such as:
- What part of this feels good?
- What about this feels easy?
You can also try using mindful meditation as you do monotonous tasks. Pay attention to the motions that you’re going through with your physical body. Bring your awareness to your breath and the sensations that you feel.
This will help you focus on the task at hand without getting re-routed by the negative discourse in your brain. You’ll be more productive and re-train your mind to think positively about the activity, improving the chances that you’ll be motivated to do it in the future.
Surround Yourself with Motivation
If you hang out with unmotivated people, your own drive will suffer. Your environment and the people in it have a big impact on your motivation. Your partner, co-workers, friends, and family members can boost your determination or deplete it.
When you’re feeling unmotivated, the last thing that you should do is turn to people who sap your energy. Whether they’re motivated or not, if they have pessimistic attitudes or complain all of the time, they’ll drain you. You’ll end up feeling the need to replenish your motivation when you’re done with them.
On the other hand, you may get inspired if you surround yourself with the right people. When you pinpoint the individuals who perk you up, you can make sure that you interact with them regularly.
One motivation technique involves getting an accountability partner. You’re 77.5 percent more likely to accomplish your goals if you have someone to encourage and support you.
Enhance Your Environment
You should also make sure that your environment encourages motivation. Some environmental factors that can improve your motivation are:
- A connection to nature
- The ability to choose how you set up your space, including temperature and music
- Nearby social support
- Pleasant décor
Motivation isn’t always easy to harness. But waiting for it to strike isn’t effective. Motivation isn’t something ethereal that affects only the luckiest human beings. It’s a skill that you can improve using the techniques above.
When all else fails, remember that your mind is often the primary obstacle to motivation. You can take action before you have a chance to tell yourself that it’s not worth it or you’re too tired. Get into that habit by setting an intention to show up for whatever life throws at you every day. When you’re consistent with setting intentions and practicing these motivation techniques, there is no stopping you.