The underpinning of many of our successes in life is ultimately the effort we put forth. Most of us are talented and capable individuals who – when we put in maximum effort – will ultimately emerge successfully from the vast majority of our undertakings. While being a professional basketball player may be something no amount of effort and willpower can make happen for many of us (last I checked, there was no way to grow a foot taller) nearly everything else – be it working on a new business project, losing those extra ten pounds, being able to run a marathon, etcetera – is achievable provided we put the necessary effort forth to make it happen. We generally know this fact, and can usually recognize in hindsight that when we don’t achieve our goals, it’s often because we just didn’t put forth quite enough effort.
The recipe for effort is a pretty simple one. Add two parts motivation and one part willpower, and that’s generally all it takes. The more motivated we are, the more effort we tend to put in; it’s a pretty direct relationship. All of us have our moments where we’re highly motivated, but unfortunately that motivation almost always seems to wane – we get sick, we get complacent, we get distracted, we get busy with something else, and so on and so forth. Life has a habit of getting in the way of our best intentions, and we end up falling short on achieving our goals more often than many of us would like to admit.
Fortunately, motivation is something that can be hacked and engineered just like our diets. Follow these three steps when you’re sketching out your set of goals over the coming year, and thank us later.
Step 1: Set a few small goals as opposed to one big one.
Saying you want to lose twenty pounds sounds like a lofty and ambitious goal to talk about over dinner, so actually achieving that goal can end up feeling especially out of reach. Try breaking the goal down into not only smaller increments of actual pounds lost, but more importantly, certain achievements that aren’t necessarily measurable on the scale. For example, set the goal of eating vegetables at every meal, or adding an extra five minutes to your run. Make these goals weekly and institute a system of small, meaningful rewards for when you achieve them. The more specific you make the goal and reward, the better. Meanwhile, your bigger, ultimate goal can be the umbrella that all of your smaller goals fall under.
Step 2: Develop self confidence through early successes.
Henry Ford famously stated, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” While we all like to think that we fundamentally believe in ourselves, almost anyone can have moments of self-doubt, especially when we’re trying to achieve some lofty goal we’ve set out for ourselves. Fortunately, if we’ve done a good job of setting small measurable goals, we should be in an early habit of building successes that serve to increase our confidence in our own abilities to achieve. Thus, as an addendum to Step 1, one must be mindful to make sure that these individualized goals are highly attainable, especially at the outset. This is when our motivation is highest, and the best time to make sure you get some points in the win column.
Step 3: Track your progress closely.
Beyond numbers and metrics, tracking your progress can also take a more qualitative form, like keeping a daily journal with short, self reflections on why you’re pursuing whatever goal it is that you have set for yourself. A study conducted in 2010 on weight loss in women between the ages of 22-65 suggested that as individuals self-monitor, they remain more motivated and ultimately yield better results. The study found that nearly all of the women participating had roughly similar success and similar levels of motivation for the first four weeks but that after that time, those who were involved in daily journaling exercises exhibited significantly higher levels of success losing weight. As we engage ourselves in proactively thinking about the goals we’re striving for, why we’re doing it, and the progress we’re making, we inherently refuel the motivation tank that provides the fuel for our successes.
This post originated on www.thepathmag.com.