3 Easy Ways to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Goals
For one, be careful who you share your goals with
The personal development industry has boomed in recent years as economies are getting stronger and millennials (who by 2030 will make up 75% of the US labor market) have extra cash to spend on achieving their goals.
Hundreds of motivational blogs, videos and masterclasses are published daily that promise to 10x your motivation and transform your life. Yet, the number of people reporting dissatisfaction either at work or with life in general is at an all time high. How is that possible?
Why is that?
Well, for one, the self-improvement market seems very similar to the one of dieting where conflicting information about what you should and shouldn’t do abound. Take this, for instance. Almost a decade ago, Derek Sivers, an American entrepreneur, gave a TED talk where he urged the audience not to share their goals with others if they were to achieve them.
He blamed “social reality” for this, explaining that once you’ve shared your goal with others your mind is tricked into thinking that it’s already achieved, and therefore, you’re less motivated to act on it.
Then, in 2017 Thomas Oppong, a fellow Medium writer, wrote a blog where he argued that sharing your goals with others creates social expectation and, therefore, makes you more likely to follow through. He quoted a study by the American Society of Training and Development to back up his claim.
A simple Google search will find dozens of other articles making similar arguments.
Who’s right and who’s wrong then? This article by Dataquest offers a more balanced view supported by a number of scientific studies. The short answer is — both, depending on the context.
Friends are better accountability buddies than strangers. Also, positive feedback matters more when you’re starting out whereas negative feedback can have a better impact on achieving your goals when you’re more advanced in the project.
Grit vs. motivation
Here’s another contradiction. How many times have you heard that if you want to be successful you need to have clarity and single-minded focus to whatever it is you’re doing? Setting long-term goals and working steadily towards achieving them (aka grit) is what differentiates the successful ones from the rest, isn’t it? Well, maybe not.
David Epstein in his book Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World argues that remaining flexible and open to opportunities is actually better than specializing in one thing only. He uses the example of Roger Federer and Tiger Woods where the former had a much more relaxed and experimental approach to his career and achieved stellar success regardless.
Also, experimenting (especially early on) will give you a chance to find out what is the right thing for you.
In the same book, Epstein argues that grit, in fact, is often mistaken for motivation. If we look at anyone that we unanimously agree has demonstrated grit (Novak Djokovic, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates etc.), it is very obvious that they have genuine interest in the field they have mastered.
Their grit feeds off their motivation. Therefore, chastising yourself for not having enough grit is simply unfair as that is not something you either have or don’t have.
Everyone has grit, for the right thing.
So, should you specialize or dabble in multiple things? Again, it depends. Expertise and mastery follow from specialization. However, specializing in the wrong field can leave you unmotivated and, therefore, mediocre or miserable.
Or both. If you currently feel unmotivated because the field you’ve chosen doesn’t suit you, you’d be better off experimenting and trying out a few other things and then settling on one or two things that truly light you up.
How To Stay Motivated Despite These Contradictions?
Whether you decide to try out multiple things or focus on just one, you still need focus to achieve results. In his book High Performance Habits, Brendon Burchard talks about internal and external forces that impact performance. The internal forces (your intrinsic motivation) are your personal standards of excellence and obsession with a topic.
External forces (the extrinsic motivation) are your sense of social duty, obligation and urgency. While both are strong drivers, they drive you to do things for very different reasons and so their effect and duration differ dramatically. Extrinsic motivators can make you do things to avoid consequences or win a reward.
Intrinsic motivators exist even if there are no consequences nor reward and, therefore, are more reliable longterm.
Assuming you have meaningful and measurable goals to work towards, you can use these 3 easy techniques to actually follow through with your actions.
Create urgency — set yourself visible deadlines
Deadlines are perhaps the best silver bullet we have against procrastination. The only thing better than a deadline is a visible deadline. Not only does it stop you procrastinating, but sufficient amount of research exists to show that deadlines actually increase your intrinsic motivation to finish things.
I have used a countdown app to write my first book draft, lose weight and even write this blog. It is hard to ignore it when the hours keep staring at you every time you open your laptop.
Take your goal milestones and set a deadline against them. I have a Mac so I use Countdown Timer Plus, but there are many other apps you can find that serve the same purpose and most are available for free. A good alternative is to write the deadline on a piece of paper and leave it on your desk.
For smaller day-to-day tasks you can use Todoist or something similar to stay on track.
Generate awareness — track how you spend your time
People in the US spend over 3 hours watching TV and almost 4 hours on their smartphones each day. Yet, one of the most common reasons cited for not finishing personal projects is lack of time.
Time shouldn’t and it never is the real reason for not doing something. Think about this — if your family of closest friends were in a life-or-death situation and asked you to commit three hours to save them, would you have the time? I am pretty sure the answer will be yes. This is taking it to the extreme, but you get my point.
And I bet that if you really look at your days, you will identify pockets of time where you’re doing “busywork” rather than actual work which isn’t getting you any closer to your goals.
Busywork is the biggest killer of success because it gives you a false sense of progress!
If you are glued to your laptop (as I am), tracking your time can be as easy as installing an app. I use Timing which offers great stats on where you spend your time and how much time you spend on each project.
It also shows you your most productive days of the week and hours of the day. You can link specific URLs to projects so that it accurately measures every action you take in your browser.
If possible, sync your app with your phone or other devices you are using to get the full picture. If you are not relying on technology throughout most of your day, then a little bit more manual effort will be required on your part. Set yourself a timer each time you start a time-consuming activity and make a note of that.
It won’t be as accurate as it won’t track literally every second of your work, but it will give you a good idea of what you’ve accomplished throughout the day.
Dedicate time to self-reflection
Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider on Unsplash
Our brains need the quiet space where they can think through the events in our lives, our goals, fears and feelings and make sense of the world and our place in it. We can’t do that when we’re constantly overworked and rushing to the next item on our to-do list.
If you want to be and stay more motivated, set aside some time for self-reflection. You can do this either by yourself, just sitting in silence without any disruptions or, you can hire a professional coach to guide you through it (if you find it difficult to sit still with your thoughts).
Coaching is one of the most misunderstood professions of the modern world. Many confuse coaching for counseling, mentoring or psychotherapy, when, in fact, it’s none of those things.
The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
This means that a coach will provide you with the space to reflect and explore your thoughts, goals and self-limiting beliefs while they will also challenge you to go beyond them and make a positive change in your life.
Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash
I hired my first coach back in 2018 and it has made a world of a difference, not only for my goals but my wellbeing as well. Because they are impartial they notice things that you’re blind to, yet are glaringly obvious.
For instance, in one of my coaching sessions my coach pointed out that when I talk about sensitive topics I tend to shift from “I” to “you” or “we.”
I had no clue I was doing that until the coach mentioned it, but that made me aware of how my mind is trying to avoid dealing with difficult emotions. I don’t do that as much, but when I do I am aware of it and I can choose how to act.
This is why talking to your partner or friends about your goals and fears can never have the same effect. Those close to you come with baggage of knowledge and empathy for you.
After all, they have to keep living with you and won’t want to hurt your feelings, whereas the coaching relationship ends after a specific amount of time.
Use the coaching space to explore your goals and how to go about achieving them. A well-trained coach will help you stay on track by gently encouraging you, but also keeping you accountable.
You can easily find one via the ICF’s website or other directories. Just make sure that they are accredited or certified by ICF as there are many out there claiming to be a coach, yet have no credentials or training to support their expertise.
- If you are unsure about what it is you want to do, that is okay. It is better to experiment and quit early than to demonstrate grit in the wrong field.
- Once you do know what it is you want to do, be careful about who you share your goals with. That can impact their outcome.
- Whether you share them or not, you need to play on both your intrinsic and extrinsic motivators to keep you going: make your deadlines visible, either on your laptop or in your work environment; use a timer to see where you spend your time — then cut down on busywork and increase productive work; and finally — hire a professional coach. Talking things through with an impartial person can be a revelatory if not a life-changing experience!