I’ve researched and written about motivation several times over the years, and the more I learn about it, the more I realize that motivation isn’t that complicated.
Sure, there are all kinds of tips and mental hacks that can help, and many tactics and strategies I’ve used with a range of success. But it really all boils down to two things.
And those two things are so simple that you might decide to stop reading after I name them: 1) make things enjoyable and 2) use positive public pressure. Trust me, you’ll want to read on for more on how to use those two things to motivate yourself for any goal.
It’s Motivation, Not Discipline
First let’s back up a little bit. Lots of people have emailed me about sticking to their goals — anything from exercise and eating right to being organized and productive to creating new habits — and have said they simply lack the discipline to stick with things for very long.
But what is discipline, really? It’s mostly an illusion, in my experience.
When people say that someone has “discipline”, what they really mean, is that she has the motivation to stick to something.
Consider someone in the military, a typical case of someone who is said to have discipline. This military man might get up super early, fix his bed neatly, go on an early-morning run, do a bunch of drills, and generally do a disciplined job throughout the day.
But is that because he’s disciplined? I think it’s mostly because he’s in a situation where there’s “public” pressure (both positive and negative) to do all of those things. If he doesn’t do them, he might get “disciplined” or looked down upon from his peers. If he does what’s expected, he’s an exemplary soldier.
After a while these things become pleasurable for him. He feels really good about staying in shape and keeping things neat. He enjoys the early morning. He feels good about being conscientious about his job. And the acceptance and encouragement from his peers becomes a positive feedback loop.
So in the end, it’s not some vague quality (“discipline”) that allows him to stick to these habits, it’s the two secrets of motivation: Make them enjoyable and positive public pressure or feedback.
What I Learned From My Experiences
Over the last few years, I’ve experimented with how to achieve various goals — from waking early to regular exercise to eliminate my debt and live frugally and simply and more. And what I’ve learned has repeatedly taught me that these two key motivation principles are all you need.
I’ve learned other things as well, but the more I stick to my goals, the more I realize that it’s these two secrets that keep repeatedly surfacing. It’s almost eerie, actually. Check this out:
- Trail Walks (Exercise). While walking may seem mundane, it’s something I both enjoy and get positive feedback. I walk with the wife and dogs every afternoon, usually putting in between 2 and 4 miles through either our property (we have a lot of land) or the nature preserve that surrounds us. It’s enjoyable because it’s quiet time where I can do some mindful walking meditation, I also get to watch the dogs frolic, and talk about stuff with the wife, and enjoy the beautiful outdoors. I get positive feedback from the health benefits, and the pictures I take and share on social media, and the inspiration I get for many blog posts and videos over the years!
- Blogging. I’ve now been blogging for nearly twenty years (different blogs), I use it to test and launch interest in new online businesses, it’s one of the longest-running “disciplines” I’ve ever stuck with. Sometimes it leads to a new business, other times it becomes a way to express myself and share my thoughts about life experience. But it hasn’t taken discipline to stick with blogging, not at all. It’s something I really enjoy, and there’s the added bonus of positive public pressure (that’s you, the readers) that has motivated me to stick with it.
- Online Businesses. Last summer, I completed the script and presentation for a new course, called Volume Profile (it’s a unique Investors analytical tool), and have since presented it to hundreds of people with glowing 5 star reviews. I will admit that I had some trouble developing an online course, it’s a huge amount of work that doesn’t see any returns for months, and all the while launching another business with a new partner. I wasn’t always following my own advice about focussing on one thing, although in my defense I learned how to segregate the different goals so I only concentrated on one at a time. But I got the course done with both forms of motivation — pressure from my wife to bring in new household revenue, and the enjoyment I got from working with prospective clients that tested the concepts of the course and helped with the research.
I could go into many more examples of how I used these two forms of motivation, but you get the idea. Now let’s take a look at each one and how you can use them to your advantage.
Positive Public Pressure
While pressure is often seen as a bad thing (“I’m under too much pressure!”), if used properly it can become a good thing, providing a positive feedback loop. It’s important that the pressure isn’t too negative or too high intensity. Keep things positive and at a manageable intensity, and things will move along nicely.
Some examples of how to use positive public pressure to motivate yourself:
- Tell all your co-workers you’re going to achieve a goal (“No sugary snacks this week!” or “I’m going to keep my email inbox completely empty”) and report to them regularly on your progress.
- Email your family and friends and tell them about your goal and ask them to keep you accountable. Email them regular updates, and tell them about your progress when you see them.
- Post your goal on your blog and post regular updates. It’s important that you not just post the goal but also stay accountable with the updates. Encourage people to ask you about your goal if you don’t report your progress.
- Join an online forum related to your goal — I’ve done this when I quit smoking and also when I started running. Introduce yourself, make friends, tell them about your goal, ask for help when you need it, and report your successes and failures.
- Write a regular column in a publication on your goal.
- Post your goal and a chart of your progress up in your office or other public place.
- Post pictures of yourself each day. One guy did this and created a video of his progress — it was amazing to watch.
You get the idea. I’m sure you can come up with some ideas of your own.
Enjoy Your Goal Activity
You can motivate yourself to do something you don’t like to do, using positive public pressure as motivation. But if you really don’t enjoy it, you’ll only be able to keep it up for so long. And even if you could do it for months and years … is that something you’d want to do? If you don’t enjoy it, why do it for very long?
But, you might say, what if it’s something I really want to achieve but I don’t enjoy it? There are ways to find enjoyment in most things — the key is to focus on the enjoyable parts. Focus on the positive.
Here are some ways to use this motivational principle to your advantage:
- Having trouble motivating yourself to write for your blog? Look for topics that excite you. If you find things that you’re passionate about, writing becomes easy.
- Having trouble with a dissertation for graduate school? Maybe you’re not as passionate about the topic as you thought you were. Re-examine your dissertation topic and see if you can either re-energize yourself about it or find a new topic you can get excited about.
- Having a hard time exercising? Find exercise that’s fun for you. If you don’t like running, try soccer or basketball or rowing. If you don’t like to lift weights, try doing some primal workouts where you flip logs and jump through tires. Go hiking, or walk with friends and talk the whole time.
- Is eating healthy a challenge for you? Find healthy foods you love. Experiment with new recipes and have fun testing them out.
- Is training for a marathon tough? Learn to enjoy the quiet of the early morning, the contemplative nature of running, or the beautiful nature that surrounds you. Or play some songs that pump you up. Or listen to interesting audiobooks as you run.
Find the enjoyable parts of any activity, and focus on those. In time, you can really learn to love something. Or, switch to something you love more and stick to that.
These two principles, especially when used together, can be powerful motivators. In fact, in most cases, they’re all the motivation I ever need.