Happy New Day! Yes, you read that correctly. The New Year hype has been programmed into most of us and spikes our motivation to better ourselves with inevitable new year resolutions. Unfortunately, motivation is useless, am I right? Let me explain…
I apologise for getting all Sheldon Cooper on you, but the new year is simply a new day. Why would one wait for such a day to decide on a list of things they’re going to improve about themselves? Hype. So many digits becoming 0 when the clock strikes midnight usually means a party, some fireworks and the inevitable new year’s resolution. The hype appeals to our motivation. Our motivation is usually based on emotion. This often makes us create lofty goals that we focus on… for the next few days… or until that Haagen Dazs ice cream is on sale.
Anyone? Just me? Fine, moving on.
I have recently been reading some excellent literature from James Clear, which articulated something which I have always known, but haven’t actively thought about when planning my own goals – motivation is unreliable. It tends to spawn overnight unrealistic goals.
King of goal setters
Lose 20kg in 2 months!
Get rich in just 4 months! (Could do with this one myself)
Given motivation is based on emotion, what happens when that motivation is low, or dies altogether? You then end up in the depressed state and you can drop your goals altogether. “New Year Resolutions” get swept under the rug only to be rediscovered the following 1st of January. Anyone can work hard whilst motivated. After a talk on something you’re passionate about, seeing someone’s success or overcoming adversity in the Olympics, or following a success of your own – it’s so easy to be so determined to succeed.
So what’s the hack here? Habits.
James Clear wrote something I knew as a former track and field athlete:
“What’s the difference between the best athletes and everyone else. What do the really successful people do that most people don’t?”
“At some point, it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day and doing the same lifts over and over and over again.”
At the end of the day, our life is the sum of our habits. Most of us like to avoid the habitual changes we would need to make in our life on a daily basis in order to achieve a goal. The difference between successful people and the rest of us is that they go through a daily grind of the “boring” things.
Most of us like to avoid the habitual changes we would need to make…
It’s not about the event, it’s about the process. You need to fall in love with boredom and monotony of the process.
Without further ado, let me jump into the 3 ways you can hack your motivation:
Focus on habits more than goals
Goals are great to have. It’s good to be motivated, I love the feeling myself. But translate those into habitual changes.
If you’re a fan of “Only Fools and Horses”, you’ll be aware of Delboy’s famous quote “This time next year, we’ll be millionaires”. How did he eventually get there? It wasn’t really the goal setting. He well and truly loved what he did and kept doing it whether he was succeeding or failing. He was continually hustling, continually selling… ok, sometimes what he did was fraudulent.
Er, that may not be the best of examples, but you see my point. So let’s revisit the overnight hype statements here:
Lose 20k in 2 months!
- Stop using the lift at work.
- Stop having sugary drinks.
- Go to the gym 3 times a week.
Get rich in 4 months!
- Save £X or $X every month. (Set up a standing order)
- Only buy take out or restaurants at the weekend
- If I want to impulse buy, wait 3 days and consider again.
These are just examples, but you get the point. They are habits to change on a daily basis, you will reach the goal eventually. The time frame is a guess anyway, what matters is what you do to get there.
You want to be a brilliant writer? Fall in love with writing something everyday. Athletes have to wake up every morning and hit the track or gym and do repetitive exercises or runs. It will get boring. But we are creatures of habit, once we develop the habit we eventually fall in love with the habit.
Shameful plug alert! As if my Cyman digital butler app knew what my blog topic was, when I asked it to motivate me, he said:
Fall in love with the process. Fall in love with repetition.
KISS – keep it simple, stupid
I’ve always found the “stupid” part at the end of that phrase grating. It’s like someone really wanted that phrase to abbreviate to “KISS”. Forced abbreviation is forced.
Don’t over-engineer your plans
Keep the habit changes simple and don’t over-engineer them. We do better with smaller increments. Massive overnight changes simply won’t last. Let’s take my tragic penchant for ice cream as an example. I simply won’t “give up” on ice cream. However, I can be motivated to do so, but once that motivation dies, it’s game over. But if I started by restricting it to weekends, or only ever buying one at a time, or not having a whole tub at a time (did I just say that?) – then we’ve really got something here.
Those of you who have actively reduced the amount of sugar they put in their tea or coffee can relate. To train your taste buds, you might have been a 2-sugar person. So reduce it to 1 and a half teaspons of sugar. Stick to it for weeks, months. You will find that 2 teaspoons will taste too sweet. Again reduce to 1 teaspoon of sugar and so on.
So going back to our “hype” examples.
If you have trouble going to the gym 3 times a week to do your workout, start by forming the habit of just going. Even if your session is 10-15 minutes. That way there’s no excuse if you didn’t leave enough time for a full workout. Just keep going at your designated time just to build the habit in your psyche. Eventually you will start doing more.
If you have trouble with the habit of saving money, save a ridiculously small amount, but don’t touch it in your account. Save £50, £20 – doesn’t matter. Just start the habit of saving something. The fact that something is building up will actually help in motivating you further and you can increase by small increments rather than make unrealistic goals. You’ll feel better for the habits you have instilled.
Make a Schedule, not a Deadline
Deadlines tend to make us the most motivated beings at two points. After the deadline is set, and towards the end of the deadline.
Think about it, the gyms are filled early January, Personal Trainers are hi-fiving each other – it’s their moment. The next time the spike occurs? Summer. When people realise the bronzed body goal they were going for has been forgotten, and the holiday deadline approaches.
I find this behaviour is prevalent in other areas too – writing a novel, completing a programming project, an entrepreneurial venture.
We have enough deadlines that are enforced upon us that we can’t control. For those goals we have, it works best to set a schedule for our habit changes, otherwise they simply won’t happen.
“I will go to the gym 3 times a week” doesn’t pan out. Which 3 times will you go?
“I will write a blog post every month” is great. But when will you be writing it? Better to say “I will write something every week day in a month”. Even if it’s not much you’re writing each time (see “kiss” in my previous point).
It doesn’t mean you have to be so regimented as to have a particular time to everything you’re doing. But if you have a habit you need to change, you need to attach it to a time or event.
You can also try using “triggers” which James Clear also talks about in his book. For example, you can use waking up as a trigger for a jog in the morning. Brushing your teeth can be the trigger to using mouthwash. Use things you already do every day as a trigger for a new habit you want to form. It’s much easier to include that habit in your daily repertoire.
In Summary, those are 3 ways you can hack your motivation centre. There are other very useful ways to help you to build habits which James Clear outlines very nicely in his book Transform Your Habits: The Science of How to Stick to Good Habits and Break Bad Ones. I have just articulated 3 of my favourites.
Given, I’ve only been at it for a couple of months, it could be argued that this blog post was born of emotional motivation. So perhaps this whole post is moot because… paradox.
I will let you know how my own habit changes are going some day in the future…
… just don’t expect it on New Year’s Day, ok?