If you really want to get motivated, it’s a good thing you’re reading this. You’ll get all the motivation you can handle in this little article. Are you ready for it? Think you can handle it? Okay…
1. TAKE ACTION
Here’s some good news to start you off—by reading this far, you’re already doing more than 90 percent of people who say they want to get motivated. You’re actually taking action. Most people don’t. Most people are all talk. You’re taking the important first step of reading an article about how to get motivated. That’s great! It’s easy, this getting motivated, isn’t it? It’s low-hanging fruit.
It’s true that the job of motivating yourself can be difficult sometimes, but not right now. Right now, it’s not too painful at all. It’s just reading an article. Go with that! We’ll start easy and ramp up to the harder stuff.
By starting with this small, painless step, you’re outsmarting the part of your brain that’s lazy and would rather not get motivated. You’re making it think it might actually be rewarding to get motivated. And this is critical. You’ll never get motivated if you don’t want to get motivated. You have to train your brain to want it, and not be afraid of it.
That’s probably why you’re not motivated now. You’re afraid of what’ll happen if you get motivated. Maybe not consciously, but on some level you’re asking yourself, “Will I have to work hard? Will it be difficult?” It may be. "Will I fall on my face?" You might. But don’t worry about that right now. Right now, just congratulate yourself for taking this first little step. You're going great! You’ve heard about the journey of a thousand miles? Achieving any goal, no matter how big or small, starts with a single step. Just do a little, tiny thing. It’s such an insignificant amount of work that you might even start to think it’ll be fun to get motivated.
And in fact being motivated and achieving goals is fun. It'll release pleasurable hormones in your body. But you can’t get that pleasure yet. It’ll take a few more steps.
What’s not fun is beating yourself up everyday for not doing what you want, for not getting motivated to achieve your dreams. And that heavy weight will get heavier as time passes. You can get out from under it! The sooner the better. It’s not that hard. You’ve already begun.
2. ACCEPT THE PROCESS
The second step to motivating yourself is realizing it’s not a singe event. It’s a process.
And as with any process, weaving motivation into your life is about doing a little bit every day. It doesn’t have to be daunting. It doesn’t have to hurt.
Okay, so you’ve done two steps now. You’ve taken action, and you’ve realized it’s a process. Great work! You’re well on your way.
3. CREATE A CARROT AND A STICK
Now you need a carrot and a stick.
Getting motivated is hard for a lot of people, and everybody is motivated by different things. Some people get excited about the possibilities. Other people don’t care much about possibilities. They care about reality. They just want to buckle down and do the work. Others need to feel an external force to discipline them, force them to get motivated to avoid a clear consequence. Others just want to get out of the pain they’re in right now and escape to a better life.
I don’t know you, and I don’t know what specifically motivates you, but I know that if you create both a carrot and a stick, you’ll cover all the bases and have plenty of motivational fuel to get you where you want to go.
I used the “carrot and stick” analogy with someone recently, and they were confused. They’d never heard it before, and had no idea what I was talking about. So, let me just quickly explain that it goes back to breaking in a horse. To get a wild horse to do what you want, to train it to be ridden and to obey its rider, you need to dangle a carrot in front of its mouth, so it knows it will get rewarded for good behavior, but you also need to whack it with a riding crop so it knows it will get punished for bad behavior. The combination of positive and negative reinforcement is how almost all animals are trained. Humans are no different.
So let’s figure out what you want to achieve. Before you get motivated with an intense passion to achieve something, you need to know what that something is. What do you want to get motivated to do? Just like a rocket, you can generate a lot of power to enter the stratosphere of achievement. But rockets in real life have intricate programming to take them to a particular place in outer space. You need your own programming before you motivate yourself. You don’t want to squander your efforts just buzzing around randomly through the sky. I’ve done this—I’ve literally spent an afternoon pumping my fist, motivated like crazy, and then soon realized the day is over and I’ve accomplished nothing.
Defining goals can be a tricky step for a lot of people, so let’s keep it simple. Just pick one thing, one small thing that you want to get done today, this week, or this month. When you’ve selected that thing, you may have the confidence to come back to this article and build on the idea, taking the time to plan a bigger goal, or a set of life goals or career goals.
If you’re feeling enough confidence to plan bigger goals right now, go ahead and read the next section. If you’re not, just pick the one small thing you want to achieve in the short term, skip the “Your Carrot” section, and jump ahead to “Your Stick.”
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Write it down. Imagine it. Put yourself there and just daydream about it. What is your life like? How much are you making? Who are your friends? What’s your job? Where do you live? Try to fill about a half a page describing a typical day for you in this idealized future. Make it specific. Make it emotional, not just material. How do you feel? Describe all the physical sensations you’ll feel. How awesome is your life? Write it all down. Title it, “5 Year Goal.”
Stop here and write that out. Don't read on until you've done it. Just write it quickly, in a stream of consciousness. It doesn't have to be perfect or polished. It will take you maybe 15 minutes.
Next, break down this vision into actionable steps. How will you get from where you are now to this idealized future? What will you have to achieve in the next year to put you on the path to achieve everything you want in the next 5 years? If you need to do more research on this, take a break and google it. Listen to some interviews with people who have achieved similar success and see how they did it. (The How To Write Funny Podcast would be an excellent place to start.) Write this one-year plan in a separate document. Title it, “1 Year Goal.”
Then, break that one-year goal down into achievable monthly goals you’ll need to accomplish in order to hit your one-year goal. Put that in your calendar. Then, write down what you’ll need to achieve every day this month to get you to your monthly goal. What will you need to do today? Write it on your to-do list, and then do it.
To keep you motivated every day, make a one-sheet document that summarizes your 5-year picture. Use shorthand and key words to put you back in the state of imagining that glorious future. It’s important that you take a moment actually feel positive emotions like pride, happiness, and fulfillment in your achievement. Let yourself feel how wonderful life will be. Let this one-sheet inspire you to accomplish your daily tasks. Hang it somewhere where you’ll see it first thing when you wake up. Or use it as wallpaper on your computer. Or make a notification on your phone. Write affirmations on it if you think they’d be helpful. Make it short and to the point. Use this at-a-glance document as a daily reminder of the importance of the tasks at hand. Spend five minutes every morning simply closing your eyes and experiencing the emotions of this great future.
Then, most importantly, do the daily task. If you don’t actually do the tasks, none of this will work. The goals and one-sheet will help, but in the end, only you can make these things happen. The tasks may be difficult, but you have to force yourself to do them every day for about a month. After that, they’ll get easier because you’ll have formed a habit. Then it will be automatic. More on that later.
You need someone to kick your ass to get you motivated, and there are two ways you’re going to do that. The first is mental. The second is financial. That’s right, you’re going to take an immediate financial hit if you fail to get motivated enough to achieve your goal.
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This is where things will start to hurt. Are you sure you want to keep going with this? How badly do you want to get motivated?
Let’s start with the mental. Imagine your life 10 years from now if you fail to better your condition, if you just keep coasting along doing what you’re doing now, never rising to the challenge of achieving something that will improve your life. Look at yourself there, looking 10 years older, bedraggled, sitting on the couch, unmotivated, unsuccessful, unhappy. Feel the weight of that picture. Feel the sense of regret and guilt and self-loathing. Feel how out of shape you are. Imagine your friends laughing at you. You’re a miserable failure. Are you proud of yourself? Do you like this picture? If you do, then you don’t need to get motivated. Have a seat. Play a video game. Enjoy your life.
But if you don’t like this picture, know that you have the power to change it right now. Just accomplish your first daily task. Then, when you’re done with that task, celebrate! Tomorrow, do it again. Get yourself on the pathway to achieving something life-changing by making it a daily habit.
Write it down. Describe this image of you in 10 years, this slovenly, unsuccessful bum who no longer has time to make anything out of life. Reread or trot out that image any time you wonder why you bother doing anything. Add it to the flip side of your Carrot one-sheet (if you read the Carrot section). Remind yourself that if you don’t achieve your daily goal, that good-for-nothing future you is going to become a reality.
Now, the financial. Let’s give your pocketbook a noticeable hit if you fail to achieve a monthly goal.
Find a trusted friend and give that friend a good chunk of money. I’d say roughly one tenth of your monthly income. Let’s say that’s $500. Ask your friend to hold that money in trust until you can report back that you’ve done one of two things:
1. If you’ve achieved the monthly goal you set for yourself, your friend is authorized to give you your money back. Buy something nice for yourself.
2. If you fail to achieve your goal, your friend is authorized to donate your $500 to a charity or cause or political candidate that you hate, and then send you an email receipt showing that your money was spent in this way.
Ask your friend to be prepared for one of these two options at the beginning of the month. Let them check in on you if they want, if you think that would be helpful.
This kind of accountability is extremely powerful. The more money you put on the line, the more motivating it will be.
Once you’ve created a stick, you’ll have taken all the first important steps necessary to getting motivated. The next step, and the last, is to stay motivated. And keeping this going is easier than you think.
4. MAKE SUCCESS A HABIT
It’s so easy to give in to all the seductive options we have nowadays to get instant gratification. We can watch videos, we can go on social media, we can respond to texts, we can dillydally around the house, we can play with the cat. The list is endless. Everyone in the world, it seems, is trying to get your attention and trying to pull you away from the important tasks you’re trying to achieve in your life.
Don’t let them.
Focus. Achieve your daily tasks first, then play. Time-wasting distractions will be so much more fun when you’ve achieved your daily tasks and you don’t have stress or guilt hanging over you because you haven’t done them. Giving in to the forces of instant gratification may seem fun—and it is, in the short term—but in the long-term, it’s far more painful than the alternative.
Switching from short-term thinking to long-term thinking is one of the most difficult things to do as a human being. Some of these instantly gratifying activities are immensely powerful and can distract even the most disciplined people.
Avoiding these distractions is the hardest part of getting and staying motivated.
But you have a powerful tool you can use against these forces.
Habits control us, for the most part. Almost all of what we say and do is habitual. Habits can doom you to a life of failure. If your daily habit is to sleep in, eat a crappy breakfast, smoke, play video games, and do a half-assed job at work, you'll have a difficult time achieving anything you want in life. On the other hand, you can use habits to your advantage. If you routinely accomplish your daily tasks and make them a priority at the beginning of every day and build them into your schedule, you'll make them habitual. Then, if you have time left, you can still eat a crappy meal, smoke a cigarette and play video games! You get to have your cake and eat it too!
The latest science says that if you force yourself to do something like this for about a month, that’s enough to create a habit. But experiment with yourself. Everyone is probably a little different. You may need more time. You may not need as much.
At first, forcing yourself to do your tasks will be difficult. But use your carrot and your stick as much as you need to. Once it’s a habit, the behavior will be automatic. You won’t have to force yourself to do it, and it won’t feel like a chore. It will just feel like you. It will actually start to feel good! When you begin to achieve incremental successes, you’ll develop a positive association with doing the tasks necessary to achieve your goals. You’ll form new neural pathways. You’ll get bursts of serotonin and dopamine and other feel-good hormones. You’ll be like the horse finally enjoying the carrot after doing what it’s told. And this positive association will train your brain to pursue your goals even more. You’ll become a goal-achieving perpetual-motion machine.
Now, if you haven’t already, go do today’s task. Now. And achieve your dreams.