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July 01, 2021 6 min read

Have you ever started something with much enthusiasm - a fitness program or some other personal project perhaps -  more than ready to make positive changes that will impact you and the rest of the world,  only to find yourself bored and unable to continue months, weeks, days, and sometimes,  just a few hours later? It had been a good idea to start doing whatever it is, and in hindsight it still is, but you can't seem to find the same excitement you started with to see things through. 


Don't worry, slumps like these happen to the best of us! At one point or another, we've all lost motivation thinking we can never get it back - only to have it reappear when we least expect it to. But we can't always wait for motivation to return on its own, not if we want to finish things when we want to. But how do you find motivation and make it stay for as long as it’s needed? 


First thing's first though: what is motivation? Positive Psychology defines it as "a condition inside us that desires a change, either in the self or the environment." As an internal process that gets us to move and take action, motivation is vital to our survival as human beings. It drives us to satisfy our needs, pursue and reach our goals, and make something more out of our lives. Without it, we won't feel the need to do anything. That being said, having a handle on when we feel motivated and for how long can lead us to achieve great things just because we’re capable of finishing what we've started.   


In today’s article, we want to share these helpful tips on how to find motivation and make it stick, even during those difficult days where you feel like it’s impossible to finish anything!


1. Set achievable goals and divide them into smaller chunks.  

While it’s great to run head-on and accomplish as much as you can while your motivation is at its peak, a better approach when you’re faced with a great opportunity is to first set a goal. But it can’t be just any goal: it has to be a realistic one. To ensure it’s reachable, break down the process of achieving it into bite-sized portions. This will reduce the risk of burnout due to being overwhelmed, and keeps you from getting demotivated just because you’re trying to do too much, too soon.  


Take joining and finishing a marathon as an example. No matter how exciting the thought is, you wouldn’t sign up for one right away just because you’re up to the challenge. Sure, you’ll be able to sign up, but the marathon will probably be too difficult for you to enjoy. Instead, what you’ll have to do first is to follow a training regimen that will condition and enable you to run longer distances. 


The actions that you take, which lead to you achieving your goal, don’t only build anticipation; they also show you something important, which is your progress. An article by Harvard talks about the progress principle and how being able to see how far you’ve come can impact your motivation - therefore, setting up your goal using small measured steps actually allows you to reset your own motivation. Doing it this way allows you to track all of the ways you’re slowly but surely succeeding in achieving what you’ve set out to do. 


2. Find meaning behind what you do.  

While having something to look forward to by setting a goal is all well and good, knowing the reason behind why you want to achieve something is key to finding and keeping your motivation, especially when it’s nowhere to be found. Goals are a great way to keep you running toward the future, but when faced with roadblocks, looking back and remembering why you got started in the first place will rekindle your desire to continue pressing forward, no matter what. 


Here’s an example: you may have started going to the gym because your goal is to lose weight. Over time, as your workout routine starts being tedious and while outside factors start making you question the time and effort you put into gym time, you start losing motivation. During the days you think that losing weight is far too difficult and your goal too out of reach, look back and recall why you wanted to lose weight in the first place. Did you want to be healthier so you can live a longer, happier life with people that you love? Or was it because you wanted to give your self-esteem a boost, and shedding a few pounds will make you feel better about yourself? 


Often, getting these reasons down on paper is helpful. Sometimes it takes some digging to figure out why we want to do a certain thing. It seems so amorphous in our head, but becomes concrete when we see it in writing (especially our own handwriting). The Field Journal is a great tool to keep track of your goals and the reasons for having them. Of course, any journal can get the job done, but you want to keep these thoughts secured in one place so that you can keep coming back to them time and time again.


Whatever your reasons are, use the why behind your goal to propel yourself forward. According to an article published by Psychology Today, positive psychology considers “purpose and meaning as cornerstones of happiness, flow, optimal experience, and a life well-lived.” So find meaning and purpose in what you do; it’s going to provide enough motivation for you to carry on. 


3. Choose the reinforcement that’s right for you.  

It’s easy to give up when we’re stuck with half-finished tasks and things, unable to make progress simply because we can’t find the will to continue. But what if you’re able to move forward by making use of a punishment/reward system? Calledoperant conditioning, Positive Psychology defines it as “a stimulus (Antecedent) leads to a behavior (Behavior), which then leads to a consequence (Consequence).” There are four types of reinforcement, divided into two groups, that you can utilize to keep you motivated. 

 

  • The first two are meant to increase a desired behavior, and are great for people who prefer rewards over punishments in order to keep going. 
      • Positive Reinforcement. Perhaps you’re on a diet with gym time to boot, but you’ve been working hard the past few months and the results have been amazing. Now that you know you can trust yourself to make the right food choices and are disciplined enough to follow a regular workout schedule, you start having “cheat days” every week. 
      • Negative Reinforcement. You had a difficult time with your fitness goals in the beginning and decided that to make working out a habit, you’ll start by doing it five days a week during set times. It was a challenge, but you’ve managed to power through! Now that you have the self-discipline to keep going to the gym thanks to months of dedication, you remove the overly strict schedules you have in place and lessen the days you spend working out.   
    • The last two are to decrease bad behaviors. This is for you if you work better with “punishments.”
      • Positive Punishment. You keep missing your scheduled gym time each week, so you devise a plan: for each day you’re unable to keep your schedule, you’re going to add an additional hour to succeeding sessions, thus extending the time you spend at the gym. 
      • Negative Punishment. You may have had cheat days right from the start when you started working out, but lately, keep missing your scheduled gym time for a variety of different reasons. To encourage yourself to stick to your fitness goals, you decide to remove cheat days whenever you miss a workout during the week.

    Most of us fall under a specific reinforcement category, and being mindful of what’s effective for you can help motivate you into action, even during days where you don’t feel like doing anything at all. 


    When in a slump, what other steps do you take to keep yourself motivated? Does it always work? Share your story below, we’d love to know what’s worked for you! And remember that no matter how demotivated you feel, it’s temporary: you have the power to restart and keep going!


    That said, good luck! 


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