How to stay motivated to accomplish your goals

Good day!

Holy cow! What a response to my last post about setting ourselves up for success!

It seems it struck a nerve.

And, *phew* I guess I wasn’t alone in feeling like maybe I set my ambitions a little too high. Seems we all felt we were floundering these past couple weeks.

Many of you wrote me sharing your stories. Thank you! What an honour to be included in your journey. I noticed that each of you seemed to be saying the same thing. For example, here is what Kassandra O. said (used with permission):

“I feel like I try to follow the steps of goal setting, I even scheduled everything into my daily schedule to make it a habit, but I still feel like I’m failing. It’s demoralizing. How do I keep the energy up to keep pushing forward?”

You know what? I feel this!

We do everything right, but it feels like a slog! How do we keep motivation going?
Today I have two strategies to share with you that hopefully will make a huge difference so you can get off the hamster wheel and back into your life.

Let’s move from surviving, to thriving!

Let’s dive right in. The two things that will help are:

1) Realizing that motivation is the result of action, not the catalyst

2) That setting goals that are so so so simple and small actually rewires our brain to believe in ourselves more (and setting goals that aren’t small enough, creates a “failure loop”)

First, let’s talk motivation:

We often wait until we feel like doing a task before we attempt it. When motivation doesn’t come, then we put off doing the task hoping that it will strike later…

The reality, however, is that motivation follows action.

We need to start the task first, and then the energy to continue it falls into place.

Trust me, I’m a scientist! And if you don’t trust me, just try it! Set a time and tell yourself “I will do this thing for 5 minutes then I can stop”. Often starting a task is the hardest part. But committing to 5 minutes is doable (and often what happens is an hour flies by and our task is done).  

This is how I got through a 6 year PhD. I never wanted to write my dissertation. I was perpetually burnt out. I had already done 8 years of school (undergrad, masters, specialization certificate programs…) and I had nothing left to give. But I could do 5 minutes.

Somedays I did quit after 5 and that’s ok. Other days I completed my task in way less time than I thought it would take and with much less pain. I had imagined this horrible slog, and honestly…when I just did the thing it wasn’t half bad after all. I found the motivation the keep going happened naturally because I was immersed in the task.

So. Just do the thing!

Still not convinced? Ask yourself these questions:

“How will I feel once i have completed this thing?” or “How will I feel if I do not complete this thing?”

This gets you motivated because it reminds you of what good feelings await if you take actions. Too often we ask ourselves how we are feeling tn the moment (and of course, in the moment all we are feeling is anxiety, dread and avoidance). So focus on the future, and the good emotions (rewards) that are to come!

This is also the beginning of creating a success mindset and getting out of the failure loop.

Every time we set a goal or put a task on our to-do list, we unconsciously set ourselves up for failure. How? We aren’t realistic about the task.

What happens is the task then looms over us and every time we don’t execute it perfectly, or even if we do a darn fine job, but don’t complete it 100%, our brain then goes “Welp! I failed” and then the task lingers and carries over to the next day and then we feel inadequate and that’s when we burn out and give up. Because who wants to feel like a failure all the time??

Instead, it is actually recommended to make our tasks so small and doable that we can’t help but accomplish them. What this does is helps our brain go, “Wow, I’m really nailing this! I’m so successful! Look at all I accomplished! I did it, I can do anything!!”

Sounds silly, but it’s true. Every time you complete a task, you flood your brain with feel good chemicals that actually re-wire your neural pathways. Soon, your default setting is “I can do it” not, “I can’t do anything”.

What this looks like: Instead of “work on my thesis today” I would say “write one paragraph for chapter 2”.

If I looked at my to-do list and say “work on thesis” I would think of the entire document and go “OMG I will never be able to complete this task”. But if I saw “write one paragraph on this specific thing” then I could easily do that. I knew I was capable.

And what that did was build up the part of my brain that believes I am capable. I had operated so long in a space of feeling in capable that I almost shut down. Feeling capable is the success mindset that helps you keep going.

So how are you going to make your goals a lot smaller this week?