If you’re like most achievers, there are things you know you should do and even want to do, but just can’t seem to get to. I’m not talking about work-related tasks – achievers are far too diligent to let any balls drop job-wise!
This is about things that are important to you personally but aren’t urgent.
Things like learning a new language, researching a subject you’re interested in or getting and staying in shape physically and mentally. Or taking the time to build your network of relationships or pursue a passion project.
When I mentioned this during a recent workshop, a young woman in the audience raised her hand to ask:
“So how do you motivate yourself to do the things you know you should do and even want to do? And once you get going, how do you make yourself stick with it?”
What a great question.
Don’t “should” on yourself
Before beating yourself up about not doing the things you feel you should, recognize that as a high achiever, you may be asking too much of yourself at any given point in time.
If you’re juggling a full-time job plus family obligations, it may not be realistic to learn Spanish while training for a marathon and writing a novel.
So be prepared to let go of some things for now in favor of getting one of them done.
Second, the word “should” is laden with judgment and blame. I avoid it whenever possible. Whenever I hear myself saying “should”, flashing red lights and sirens go off in my head. It’s a signal that I need to make a conscious choice about whether or not to do that thing and stop “should-ing” on myself!
Willpower is limited
Third, the idea of “making” yourself do things is not a sustainable strategy. We only have a certain amount of willpower each day, so if that’s what you’re relying on then you might run out at just the wrong moment and get thrown off track.
If you find yourself having to use willpower to get something done, it’s a sign that maybe you’re not ready to do that thing yet. And if you persist, it can be a draining experience rather than the energizing one you want it to be.
When you find yourself relying on willpower to move forward on projects or develop new habits, step back and assess whether this is the right time for you to take on this new endeavor.
And if it is, here are four strategies you can experiment with to get and stay motivated.
4 Strategies for Motivating Yourself
These four strategies have helped me get and stay motivated on big goals without using an ounce of willpower. You can use them on their own or in combination. Perhaps they can help you too.
1. Get clear on your purpose
Having a clear purpose or a “big why” is a strong motivator. This means visualizing a future state that is so attractive (or unattractive) to you that you’ll want to take the actions now to create (or prevent) it.
When a new habit or project taps into your “big why”, you’ll be much more likely to stick to it. And when your motivation needs a boost, all you have to do is remind yourself of that future purpose.
In my case, exercising in the gym has gone from being an intimidating environment to my “happy place”.
It began by observing women in my mother’s generation become frail, lose bone density and often break bones when they fell. They hadn’t done regular exercise as young and middle-aged adults, and I could see the impact it was having now in terms of loss of strength, mobility and, ultimately, independence.
This has motivated me to get serious about weight training (I joined a CrossFit gym) and eating more healthily (more protein and plants).
Having glimpsed the future, I’m determined to go into my later years with as much strength as possible. That’s why the gym is my “happy place”.
I have a “big why” for going to the gym and there’s no willpower involved.
2. Make a financial commitment
I’ve always been money conscious and reluctant to spend on anything that isn’t an essential.
Even as my investment banking colleagues bought flashy cars, joined country clubs or became art collectors back in the day, I was still driving my sensible car and buying things on sale.
So one thing that’s been a sure-fire motivator for me is to make a significant financial investment.
When there’s serious cash outlay involved, it makes me focus. Like the time I finally joined a high-end mastermind group. Since then, my business has grown dramatically and I’m on track to help many more people.
Every time I’ve made a serious investment – or as we say in New Jersey, plunked down a big chunk of change – I’ve been motivated to follow through. Let’s just say I like to make sure I’m getting a strong return on my investment.
3. Enlist others to help
When it comes to having the courage to get started and stick to your endeavors once they’re going, enlisting the help and support of others can be a great strategy.
None of us succeeds on our own, and even the “self-made” success stories include the help of many other people.
Sometimes you’ll need to find supporters yourself, like the time I teamed up with a friend who was also pregnant to swim laps every night after work. That got us both in great shape for going into labor, delivering the baby and recovering afterwards.
At other times they may be part of the financial investment you made (as in #2 above).
For example, the Conversational Intelligence® coaching certification program I joined comes with a built-in peer discussion group. As a group, we encourage each other to keep up, stay accountable and accelerate our progress as coaches.
4. Tie it to an existing habit
Embarking on a personal project is in essence creating a new habit. And another way to create a new habit is to link it to one that already exists.
For example, I’ve started journaling every morning by tying it to my morning tea ritual. One of my daughters bought me a beautiful cobalt blue teapot and I brew Assam loose leaf tea every morning when I’m at home.
When I set the timer for the 5 minutes it takes the tea to brew, I start journaling. It’s the perfect amount of time to write one page and set myself up for the day.
Commit to Your Self
When you find yourself relying on willpower to move forward on those important but not urgent personal projects, step back and assess whether this is the right time for you to do it.
If it is the right time, set yourself up for success by using some or all of these four strategies. You owe it to yourself to do the things you hold dear and not just fulfill the duties that come with work and life.
What are those precious things in your life that you’re ready to get to? And which strategy could you employ to get and stay motivated?
Leave me a comment. I’d love to know!