Motivation is a funny thing. People routinely seem to underestimate how tricky it can be to achieve a personal goal. It’s all well and good to wake up one day and decide to lose those pesky 10 pounds, or start a workout routine, or stop eating junk, but it’s quite another to stick with this plan all the way to the goal. Over the years I have realized through my own experience and working with clients that sheer willpower will not do the trick. The key to motivation is to tap into commitment. Motivation gets you started (although it is often externally driven such as when a doctor tells you to quit smoking or lose weight for example), but it won’t get you through the rough days that lie ahead. Real dedication is the only thing that will empower your journey. And to find this dedication, you have to ask yourself just how resolute you really are, and understand that your level of commitment will vary throughout the experience.
Commitment takes place over time, through a repeated act of constraint and self-discipline, not a single action or decision. Inevitably your level of commitment is challenged by the pain and discomfort of exercising to get into good shape, or the overwhelming desire to eat that piece of cake or the cookies staring at you from the cookie jar. These challenges or costs to our commitment are to be expected, but they often leave us discouraged (if we give in to them), exhausted (if we push ourselves too hard too soon) and ready to give in (the old “I’ve fallen off the wagon so I may as well give the whole thing up” syndrome). Having strategies to overcome these challenges is crucial if we are to succeed. Positive rewards and benefits of the commitment can help you balance out the challenges. These rewards can be innate, such as a sense of accomplishment when you have worked out for several days in a row, or extrinsic, such as getting that new job you were going after, or being able to buy that little black dress you had your eye on and can now fit into more easily. Find ways to reward yourself, and explicitly associate those rewards with your commitment (not with the final goal), and hang onto them for dear life when the troubles come your way.
Internal conflict about your commitment also presents a challenge to your motivation. As soon as we are presented with choices, alternatives become increasingly attractive (particularly when dealing with some form of sacrifice such as eating less junk food, cutting out sugar etc). For many clients, this is the moment of truth, and it is the moment when they have to ask, “What am I really committed to?” and then think about possible alternatives that create new commitments that help them to make better choices. Having a commitment that is realistic, that you can stick to and feel progress against, is often the difference between success and giving up.
Define your commitment – specifics count here – don’t say you want to lose weight, instead be specific about the actions you will take – work out at the gym at least 3 days per week (even specifying the days can help, along with what kind of workout you intend to do). Small goals can help too and will give you opportunities to make progress and celebrate successes along the way
Reflect on rewards – write down the positive experiences that will make attaining your goal fun and enjoyable – tangible rewards such as a more positive self image, looking good in that little black number, more energy, being able to climb a flight of stairs easily, enjoying new and healthy recipes
Increase rewards – put target dates on the specific goals you want to achieve – say working out 3 days a week by the end of the month, or look into new exercise possibilities like a yoga class by September 1. These actions focused around benefits not only get you moving in the right direction, but are create attainable small goals you can check off your list with glee
Identify challenges – write down the setbacks you anticipate – be realistic about life getting in the way of your goals sometimes, so that you can be ready to meet the challenge head on. Some challenges are unavoidable (cost of attending the gym, or having to schedule workouts around carpool schedules for example). Others are flexible (not liking green veggies but being willing to try new ways of preparing them to make them fun and interesting, setting two alarm clocks to get you out of bed early to workout if you struggle to get up, or telling friends who routinely invite you to the local bar on your workout day that you won’t be available in advance so you won’t have to make a choice in the moment)
Decrease challenges – think about how you can overcome the flexible challenges and minimize the unavoidable ones – working with a coach to brainstorm creative ideas can be very helpful, along with having an accountability partner to share encouragement when the inevitable challenges arise
Don’t take your resolution lightly. Your life satisfaction and wellbeing may depend on keeping your commitment. If you can align your values with your commitment, you are likely to stay motivated well beyond the original goal. By deciding what options are manageable and incorporating the best ones into your lifestyle, you are setting yourself up for success. Motivation kicks you into gear, but commitment is what keeps you going. And remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. All good things take time.