Most of us dream of achieving big goals and creating large significant changes in the world. But it is difficult to get the motivation to put in consistent efforts. It might be fear of failure, laziness, or your inner-critic that is holding you back. The important thing that you need to understand is that you can never reach your destination unless you keep moving.
Say you are trying out something entirely new, like learning an instrument or learning a new language. You’re eager to learn so you put in a lot of effort during the first few days. But on the next day, you start worrying that you’re not seeing any significant improvement. In such a situation, there are two different paths you could go on. One way to move forth would be to not give up and put in a little effort every day. The other way would be to lose motivation and put absolutely no effort. Taking the first path would reward you with noteworthy progress in a month while the second path would not give you any progress at all, not even a little.
- Get Your Environment Ready
All of us wish to practice good habits daily and get rid of the bad ones, which is easier said than done. The word habit is defined as a regular tendency or practice. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg wrote about the concept of the habit loop. Each habit is triggered with a cue, followed by a routine that gets you a reward. If you have the habit of staying up too late on your phone, the loop would look something like this. Cue: going to bed with your phone and earphones. Routine: opening your favorite apps and going down the rabbit hole. Reward: Feeling happy and excited. The result is a perpetual habit that affects your health in the long run.
The most crucial part of the habit loop is the cue. This is where your environment plays a huge role. Instead of just thinking that you will start or stop a certain habit, set up your cues explicitly by making changes in your environment. If you want to make drinking water in the morning a habit, get a good bottle, fill it up and keep it next to your bed the night before. If you want to stop spending too much time on your phone, change your phone’s settings. Use those time limit features and change the color scheme of your screen to grayscale. So next time you want to start a new habit, take that small step and set up your cues!
- Change your Perception
The way you talk about yourself and your habits matter. Your perception anchors your choice of words. There is a common misconception that you need to learn how to manage time. But when you think of it you can never manipulate time, it goes on by itself. You need to learn how to manage yourself. You need to learn how to organize your tasks and your actions. This change of perception will help you realize what you need to bring your focus to. You. Say you want to start eating healthy. Change your choice of words when you talk about it. Instead of saying things like ‘I can’t help eating junk food’ or ‘I always end up eating the whole pack’, say phrases like ‘I used to eat junk food, but I don’t anymore’ or ‘I used to end up eating the whole pack, but now I stop way before that’. This will subconsciously change your actions.
- Split Your Main Goals into Smaller Goals
It is important to visualize the big picture and not lose track of where you want to be. But you might feel like that place is so far away if you don’t plan out your path with smaller steps.
Having attainable smaller goals will help you stay motivated. Reaching those goals makes you feel a sense of pride and give you the right amount of push to keep you moving forward.
Suppose your final exams are coming up and you have plenty to study. Your main goal is to do your best for your exams. Instead of studying every day with only that goal in mind, you could divide your entire portion into smaller chunks. Plan out your days. Decide that you would finish one topic per which would result in one chapter per week. Now learning only one topic each day would reduce your stress and improve your focus. When you achieve that goal, you will realize that you are making progress and will be much more motivated to get the same result the next day. Visualize your goal, plan it out in smaller steps, and take it one day at a time!
- Plan your Day Ahead
This is a small step that would make a great impact on your day. Instead of spending time in the morning to plan out your day, do it the previous night before you go to bed. This practice will help you feel assured and will help your mind realize that your body needs rest. Planning your day will also make you eager to get up in the morning hustle hard.
There are many ways to plan. To-do lists are indeed a great way of organizing the things you need to do, but you must prioritize them. One fun way to prioritize is by using an Eisenhower matrix. The horizontal axis shows urgency while the vertical axis shows importance. Remember it’s up to you to decide which task goes where.
Check out tools like Google Keep, Google Calendar, Trello, and Eisenhower. They are bound to help you plan your day.
- The Two-Minute Rule
Have you ever felt it difficult to start something new? Do you often procrastinate and never get started? This might be because you have ritualized the beginning of the process. You have built up the perception that you can only start if you are completely prepared. This misconception prevents you from giving yourself the signal to go. You end up waiting for all eternity. This is where the two-minute rule comes in. In James Clear’s amazing self-improvement book Atomic Habits, he states the rule – When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do. (I highly recommend the book!) So if you want to start learning something, just get started. Don’t wait. If you’ve been putting off reading a book because you’re waiting for the ‘right environment’, pick up the book and read the first page. Establish the habit first and then think about improving it.
‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’ – Lao Tzu
- The Goldilocks Rule to Stay Motivated in Life and Work
In Atomic Habits, James Clear states the Goldilocks rule – humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. If your task is too easy, it might lead to boredom and if it’s too hard it might lead to failure. Unless it’s that sweet spot in your graph of motivation versus difficulty, you might find it hard to keep going. Human beings need challenges that are within the optimal curve of difficulty. You need to ease your way towards difficulty while making it manageable. This gradual progress will ensure that you stick with your decisions. If you want to get fit and lose weight, do not take on intense workouts all at once. Select those workouts which fall on the brim of your capability. Work your way from there and you’ll soon realize that your Goldilocks zone has shifted to the right!
- Be Aware of the Gap
Suppose you have just started to learn a new form of art, say music. Since you are a person who loves listening to music, you have an idea of how good music should sound. Your critic mind is trained with music made by artists who have been doing that for a very long time. This ‘critic mind’ will pop up whenever you are making music on your own even though you are just a beginner. This will highly impact your motivation and might lead you to give up because you think you’ll never be as good as the people you look up to. The difference between the music you listen to and the music you make as a beginner is called ‘the gap’. So the next time you start something entirely new to you, remember that there is a gap and that you will someday cross it, but just not at the beginning. Hush out your critic mind and let your creative juices flow!
- Celebrate Small Wins
At the end of the day, pat yourself on the backs for all your small achievements. Be your cheerleader and encourage yourself till the finish line. Be proud of your efforts and celebrate each step of the journey. Positive reinforcement produces positive results!
To quote James Clear, ‘Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results.’ So get your mind ready, shape your environment, and just get started. Remember, well begun is half done! Zoom in on the big picture and take it one jump at a time. This is especially important for students who are juggling many activities at once. Check out ‘How to Maximize your Productivity While in College’.
To quote our quirky Dory from Finding Nemo – ‘Just Keep Swimming. You’ll see amazing changes before you even know it!
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- The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
- Atomic Habits – James Clear