Don’t you wish you could bottle it – that inner impulse that gets you up and going, that winds your spring and quickens your step? Motivation. It’s what turfs us out of bed and gets us from A to B. It’s what overcomes the embrace of duvets and the call of the couch. Crucially it’s what enables us to achieve what we want in life – to overcome set-backs, to leap hurdles, to fulfil our goals.
If you’ve set your heart on getting fitter, healthier, slimmer, or more productive then motivation is key. So what is it, how can we get it, and, most importantly, how can we hang on to it?
The ins and the outs of it
Psychologists distinguish between two types of motivation – extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic, or outside, motivation is about reward and punishment. We do stuff in order to get something good or avoid something bad. No harm in that, but the trouble with extrinsic motivation is that it can burn out – rapidly. And this might be because the reward becomes more important than the activity. Intrinsic motivation comes from within. It’s about your passions and priorities. It’s often linked to things we love in themselves. Think about it. If you exercise solely to lose weight, you’re less likely to stick at it than if you find an exercise you love – or at least enjoy. And weight loss is a handy side-effect.
SMARTen up your goals
Motivation needs management. No matter how passionate you are, if you haven’t got clear, achievable goals, your motivation will melt away. SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) have been around a while in corporate life, but they can be just as effective in your personal life.
Specific: Be as clear as you can about what you want to achieve. Write it down. It’s your mission statement.
Measurable: How are you going to measure your progress? What would success look like? If it’s a long-term thing, set yourself some milestones to tick off on the way. How satisfying is that?
Achievable: It’s got to be doable. Set the bar too high and chances are you’ll end up miserable. You’re teeing yourself up to fail. Set the bar too low and there’s no challenge.
Realistic: Can I achieve this with the time and other resources I’ve got? If not, better scale it down. There’s no point trying to do something that can’t be done.
Time-bound. Set yourself deadlines. An open-ended goal can be put off forever.
Get good habits
Motivation is a slippery critter. We can throw ourselves into something new with all the vigour of a convert, only to find, after a couple of weeks, the wind goes out of our sails. Think of all those rowing machines mouldering in lofts and garages, those almost-box-fresh trainers.
Once you’ve started, the key to carrying on is turning it into a habit. So here are a few handy tips for doing just that:
Make a schedule: Set yourself a time and place for exercise and you’ll start to function on autopilot.
Make your day a ritual: If you want to build exercise into your day, turn it into a ritual. 6.45 am is simply the time you do your thing. You don’t need to think about it
Push yourself – but not too far: Look for the motivational sweet-spot – the point where the challenge excites but doesn’t daunt you.
Miss a day now and again – but don’t make it two. You’re only human. But don’t make that an excuse. Unless you’re ill, a day’s backsliding is fine. But only the one.