Motivation is the psychological feature that arouses an action toward a desired goal. For instance: An individual has not eaten, he or she feels hungry, and as a response he or she eats and diminishes feelings of hunger.
There are many approaches to motivation: physiological, behavioural, cognitive, and social. It is the crucial element in setting and attaining goals—and research shows that subjects can influence their own levels of motivation and self-control.
Today we preset to you the motherload list of motivation hacks. These hacks will serve almost everybody, so grab your favorite snack and beverage and start creating a better you!
1. Chart Your Progress
I recently created a chart to track my progress with each of my goals. This chart is not just for information purposes, for me to look back and see how I’m doing. It’s to motivate me to keep up with my goals. If I’m diligent about checking my chart every day, and marking dots or “x”s, then I will want to make sure I fill it with dots. I will think to myself, “I better do this today if I want to mark a dot.”
Well, that’s a small motivation, but it helps, trust me. Some people prefer to use gold stars. Others have a training log, which works just as well. Or try Joe’s Goals. However you do it, track your progress, and allow yourself a bit of pride each time you give yourself a good mark.
Now, you will have some bad marks on your chart. That’s OK. Don’t let a few bad marks stop you from continuing. Strive instead to get the good marks next time. Over time, if you stick with this motivational tool, you will start to get a lot of good marks. And that is one of the best feelings in the world.
2. Hold Yourself Back
When I start with a new exercise program, or any new goal really, I am rarin’ to go. I am full of excitement, and my enthusiasm knows no boundaries. Nor does my sense of self-limitation. I think I can do anything. It’s not long before I learn that I do have limitations, and my enthusiasm begins to wane.
Well, a great motivator that I’ve learned is that when you have so much energy at the beginning of a program, and want to go all out — HOLD BACK. Don’t let yourself do everything you want to do.
Only let yourself do 50-75 percent of what you want to do. And plan out a course of action where you slowly increase over time. For example, if I want to go running, I might think I can run 3 miles at first. But instead of letting myself do that, I start by only running a mile.
When I’m doing that mile, I’ll be telling myself that I can do more! But I don’t let myself. After that workout, I’ll be looking forward to the next workout, when I’ll let myself do 1.5 miles. I keep that energy reined in, harness it, so that I can ride it even further.
This has an added benefit of stopping myself from getting injured or burned out. But I promise you, if you hold yourself back, your desire to continue only increases.
3. Join an online (or off-line) group to help keep you focused and motivated.
When I started to run, more than a year ago, I joined a few different forums, at different times, on different sites, such as Men’s Health (the Belly-Off Runner’s Club), Runner’s World, Cool Running, and the running group at About.com. I did the same when I was quitting smoking.
Each time I joined a forum, it helped keep me on track. Not only did I meet a bunch of other people who were either going through what I was going through or who had already been through it, I would report my progress (and failures) as I went along. They were there for great advice, for moral support, to help keep me going when I wanted to stop.
Now, there are many such groups or forums out there, each of them good and with their own personalities. Don’t be afraid to just jump in (after reading the FAQ) and say hello, introduce yourself, and ask questions. Post your progress. If you are having problems, say so, and ask for help. Keep coming back, and you will stay motivated.
There are also real-world versions of these groups, for many different goals, from running to quitting smoking to quitting alcohol and more. Look for such a group in your area and give them a call. A combination of online and off-line groups could also work.
4. Post a picture of your goal someplace visible — near your desk or on your refrigerator, for example.
Visualizing your goal, exactly how you think it will be when you’ve achieved it, whether it’s financial goals like traveling to Rome or building a dream house, or physical goals like finishing a marathon or getting a flat stomach, is a great motivator and one of the best ways of actualizing your goals.
Find a magazine photo or a picture online and post it somewhere where you can see it not only daily, but hourly if possible. Put it as your desktop photo, or your home page. Use the power of your visual sense to keep you focused on your goal.
Because that focus is what will keep you motivated over the long term — once you lose focus, you lose motivation, so having something to keep bringing your focus back to your goal will help keep that motivation.
Other similar ideas: Make your own motivational poster. Create a dream scrapbook, with clippings of photos or drawings of your own of each of your goals. Or use a bracelet, or other accessory, as a reminder of your goal.
5. Get a workout partner or goal buddy.
Staying motivated on your own is tough. But if you find someone with similar goals (running, dieting, finances, etc.), see if they’d like to partner with you. Or partner with your spouse, sibling or best friend on whatever goals they’re trying to achieve. You don’t have to be going after the same goals — as long as you are both pushing and encouraging each other to succeed.
For example, my wife and I became goal buddies. We each set our top goals for the year, and we have weekly meetings to set our monthly goals, to set weekly goals, and to review our progress for the past week (or for the past month, at the end of each month). We continually remind, encourage, push and reward each other. It can be a fun way to stay on track.
I also have a workout partner. While I run with my wife most of the time, I also swim and bike with a friend of mine named Patrick. We’re both beginner swimmers, so it’s good to have someone at my level. He’s a more experienced cyclist, which is cool because he can teach me the basics as we ride.
Having a workout partner or a goal buddy is a great idea because you don’t just have yourself to answer to — you have to answer to that other person as well. You’re more likely to stick to your workout or your goal for the week if you have someone to meet. No one likes to stand someone else up or look bad to other people.
6. Just get started.
There are some days when you don’t feel like heading out the door for a run, or figuring out your budget, or whatever it is you’re supposed to do that day for your goal. Well, instead of thinking about how hard it is, and how long it will take, tell yourself that you just have to start.
I have a rule (not an original one) that I just have to put on my running shoes and close the door behind me. After that, it all flows naturally. It’s when you’re sitting in your house, thinking about running and feeling tired, that it seems hard. Once you start, it is never as hard as you thought it would be. This tip works for me every time.
7. Make it a pleasure.
One reason we might put off something that will help us achieve our goal, such as exercise for example, is because it seems like hard work. Well, this might be true, but the key is to find a way to make it fun or pleasurable.
To take running as an example: I began running in the morning at the time just before the sun rises, and as I did my morning run, the sky became an amazing display of colors. I would look up at the sky as I ran, taking in this daily miracle, take a deep breath, and say to myself, “What a glorious day!” It was truly a celebration of life. The next morning, I would look forward to greeting the new day this way. It was a pleasure.
Another example: making your exercise or other activity a social activity can make it fun. You might go cycling with a group, for example, and chat with them as you ride. Or run with a group. If you do this, you don’t even realize you’re working out!
Yet another example: Let’s say you want to keep track of your expenses each day, or write every morning. Well, you could make a little ritual where you input your expenses in your spreadsheet, or write for 30 minutes, while taking in your first cup of coffee in the morning.
Savor the aroma and flavor of the coffee, sip it slowly while doing the activity you want. Or it could be hot chocolate, or in my case fresh berries. Whatever would make the activity a pleasure.
If your goal activity becomes a treat, you actually look forward to it. And that’s a good thing.
8. Give it time, be patient.
I know, this is easier said than done. But the problem with many of us is that we expect quick results. I blame this on our quick-fix, immediate-gratification culture.
We want a diet that will give us results in two weeks. We want to workout and have a flat stomach in four weeks. We want to get out of debt in two months and we want to retire in a few years. Well, unless you were almost there to start with, it ain’t gonna happen.
When you think about your goals, think long term. If you want to lose weight, you may see some quick initial losses, but it will take a long time to lose the rest. If you want to run a marathon, you won’t be able to do it overnight. If you don’t see the results you want soon, don’t give up … give it time. In the meantime, be happy with your progress so far, and with your ability to stick with your goals. The results will come if you give it time.
As an example, my weight loss has slowed down considerably since I initially lost 20 pounds. I think I was taking in too many calories. I might still be, but I’ve cut back on sweets and I’ve stepped up the exercise, with the triathlon training that I’m doing.
Now I think I’m losing weight (or fat) again, slowly. I don’t weigh myself much, but people have been commenting on it a lot. The thing is, I’m still far from my goal of having a flat stomach … but I know that if I give it time, I will get there.
9. Break it into smaller, mini goals.
Sometimes large or longer-term goals can be overwhelming. After a couple weeks, we may lose motivation, because we still have several months or a year or more left to accomplish the goal. It’s hard to maintain motivation for a single goal for such a long time.
Solution: have smaller goals along the way. For example, in running, I may have a training plan that lasts three months. But along the way, I may have races every two or three weeks, and training for each race will keep me motivated.
Also, on an even smaller scale, I might have a goal just for this week, and another just for today, in terms of my training. And finally, even within a single run, I might set smaller goals for each mile (“Just run another mile at this strong pace, don’t think about the five miles after that!”).
This can be done with any goal. Something that’s accomplishable and just ahead of you, instead of way down the road, is something you’re more likely to go after. Trying to get debt free?
Focus on one small debt, and celebrate when it’s done. If your debts aren’t too small, focus on getting one debt down by $500 (for example), and then focus on the next $500, and so on.
Once you’re done with each mini goal, you celebrate. Then you set your sights on the next mini goal. Achieve enough of these, and you’ve made incredible progress on the larger goal. Once in awhile, step back and look at the larger picture. You’ll be pleased at how far you’ve come already.
10. Reward yourself. Often.
And not just for longer-term goals, either. In Hack #9, I talked about breaking larger goals into smaller, mini goals. Well, each of those mini goals should have a reward attached to it. Make a list of your goals, with mini goals, and next to each, write down an appropriate reward.
By appropriate, I mean 1) it’s proportionate to the size of the goal (don’t reward going on a 1-mile run with a luxury cruise in the Bahamas); and 2) it doesn’t ruin your goal — if you are trying to lose weight, don’t reward a day of healthy eating with a dessert binge. It’s self-defeating.
Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have sweet rewards now and then, even if you’re trying to eat healthy. But make them smaller treats, and only on occasion. For example, I often reward myself on the weekend for a good week of eating healthy and resisting temptations. This is not a daily reward, but once a week. And on the weekends, I often go for a run (or do a race), do my Sunday bike ride, and yard work. I’m burning off that sweet weekend reward anyway.
Rewards can be anything you like. Some of mine have included sweet treats, new running shoes, a running mp3 player, books, running clothes, dinner at a nice restaurant, or other things I’ve been holding back on because I’m trying to be frugal. You might also like a massage, or shoes, or clothes, or a manicure or facial. I’m not that into those things, but you might be.
At any rate, don’t just indulge yourself — celebrate! Feel good about your accomplishment, and look back on all the hard work you put in. It’s important that you make a big deal about it, because this will make you feel good about your goal activities, and motivate you to do more. Tell family and friends about it. Be proud of yourself. Give yourself a gold star.
11. Find inspiration, on a daily basis.
Inspiration is one of the best motivators, and it can be found everywhere. Every day, seek inspiration, and it will help sustain motivation over the long term. Here are some of my sources of inspiration:
- Blogs by people achieving my goal
- Success stories by other people (search online)
- Forums with other people going through the same thing
- Friends and family
- Magazine articles
- Bios of high achievers (like Ben Franklin, Lance Armstrong)
- Books about my goal
- Photos (set as your desktop pic!)
- People I meet every day, if I get the chance to talk to them
Use these, or find your own sources of inspiration, and make it a daily habit to be inspired. Then set off towards your dreams, energized!
12. Get a coach or take a class.
Yeah, I know. Too much trouble. Well, stop making excuses! 🙂
Having a swim coach has been very motivating for me. Not because the coach yells at me like a Marine drill sergeant, or encourages me every step of the way … but I show up simply because I know the coach is there waiting for me, and I try hard because of course I want to look like a good student. And then there’s the added motivation that you’re paying for this, so you better not waste it!
I’ve only missed a couple session with my coach, and they were both cases of life getting in the way (my daughter’s soccer game, for example), not of me not being motivated. Yes, there have been times when I didn’t feel like doing my swim workout for the day, but I went anyway, because I had made a commitment to my coach.
This can work for many goals. Want to get your finances in shape? Meet with an advisor. If nothing else, it will force you to sit down and take a look at your finances, and think about some strategies that will work for you. Want to learn computer programming? Take a class. Not because you need a class to learn, but because you will be motivated to actually show up, and to do the reading, and to do the work required to learn the skill.
This works with just about any skill — learning Spanish, to play a guitar, to learn clay modeling. Want to lose weight? Get a personal trainer. He or she will not only motivate you to work out, but motivate you to eat right too, especially if you have to report your progress to him.
This might be one of the more expensive ways of motivating yourself, but it works. And if you do some research, you might find some cheap classes in your area, or you might know a friend who will provide coaching or counseling for free.
13. Have powerful reasons. Write them down.
When I decided to quit smoking (well, the last time I decided … I’d tried and failed several times before) , I realized that I needed a better reason than just “it’s good for my health” or “I want to prove that I can” .. so I found my real reasons: I wanted to do it for my kids and my wife.
I wanted to live long enough to see all my kids grow up and have kids of their own, and play with those grandkids in good health. I was also worried about my kids growing up to be smokers … most people who smoke had parents who smoked.
I didn’t want that to happen to them. Finally, I was worried about my wife’s health. I wanted her to quit, and she had temporarily while pregnant, but I knew that if I didn’t quit for good before she gave birth that she’d immediately go back to smoking. She had every time before.
So I had some powerful reasons to quit, and I wrote these down. Even more, I took it a step further: I made a solemn promise to my oldest daughter, Chloe, that I would quit I told her that even if I failed, I would try again, and keep trying, until I was successful. Finally, I made a commitment and promise to my wife that I would quit, and got her to promise that she would stay quit even after giving birth. It was a deal. We would not back out of it.
Now, when I was going through my quit, there were many times when I wanted to give in. But one of the things that kept me going was the promises I had made, and the powerful reasons I had written down. I kept those reasons in my mind as I went through the tough times, and they sustained me, and kept me going.
This can work with any goal. Know your reasons. Give them some thought … and write them down. Working out to lose weight isn’t enough. Most people who do this will give in. Have more powerful reasons. Those who exercise because their doctor tells them that they will die if they don’t exercise … they have a pretty good reason to exercise. And they usually stick to it. They know their reasons, and they are powerful ones.
Think about your goals. What are your reasons? If you have loved ones, and you are doing it for them, that is more powerful than just doing it for self-interest. Doing it for yourself is good too, but you should do it for something that you REALLY REALLY want to happen, for really good reasons.
Write them down. Post them up. Keep them in mind every time you get the urge to give up, or your interest flags.
14. Become aware of your urges to quit, and be prepared for them.
One of the things I discovered as I was quitting smoking was that when I had an urge to smoke a cigarette, I didn’t really think about it. I wasn’t aware of the urge on a conscious level. And so I would automatically start justifying the urge, without realizing I was doing it.
And so I discovered that one of the most powerful things I could do was to start being more conscious of those urges. A good exercise is to go through the day with a little piece of paper and put a tally mark for each time you get an urge. It simply makes you aware of the urges.
This can work for any goal, because with any goal, we get urges to quit, at least for that moment. We might not feel like running today, so we automatically begin justifying it to ourselves. We might feel a lag in motivation about spending (and spending urges are strong!) or about dieting or anything else really.Become aware of those urges, those moments of crisis that are mostly unconscious.
The next step is to have a plan for when those urges hit. Plan for it beforehand, and write down your plan, because once those urges hit, you will not feel like coming up with a plan. It will be too late, usually. The plan could include such tactics found in the other motivation hacks here on this site, such as “just get started” or “remind yourself of your powerful reasons”.
My strategy for quitting smoking was to take deep breaths and drink water, and never have a cigarette without going on the quit smoking forum and posting about my urges first. Then, if that didn’t work, I would first enlist the help of my supporters (my wife and mom). I made it very difficult to have that cigarette. And that worked for me. I suggest you have a similar plan, with a series of obstacles to get in your way.
First be aware of those urges. We all have them, and it’s no shame to get them. Just know that they are happening. And have a plan to conquer them. They are strong, but not unbeatable.
15. Make it a rule never to skip two days in a row.
This doesn’t mean calendar days, but days in which you are supposed to take action towards your goal. For example, if you planned to work out on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, don’t skip two of those workouts in a row (if you skip Monday, be sure to work out on Wednesday). The same would be true of any other scheduled goal tasks. If you are trying to eat healthy every day, and eat McDonald’s today, be sure not to cave in tomorrow as well.
This rule takes into account our natural tendency to miss days now and then. We are not perfect. I certainly am not. But missing one day should not cause us to get sidetracked for good. If we miss two days in a row, soon we’ll miss three days in a row, and we’re sliding down that slippery slope.
Don’t allow it to happen. It’s harder to start back up after a long break than it is after just missing one day. If you just miss one workout, for example, you’ve still got momentum going. Keep it going.
It’s not impossible to start back up if you’ve missed a week or a month or more, and in fact I urge you to do so if you have missed that much time already. You just have to start slow. But you’re much more likely to stick with it if you can be consistent, and you’ll see much better progress towards your goal too. Consistency is important in improvement.
So, you missed one day … now the second day is upon you and you are feeling lazy … tell yourself NO! You will not miss two days in a row! Zen Habits says so! And just get started. You’ll thank yourself later.
16. Visualize your goal clearly, on a daily basis, for at least 5-10 minutes.
Similar to Motivation Hack #4 (Post a picture of your goal someplace visible), the idea is to have a clear picture of the successful outcome of your goal in your mind.
Athletes use this, famously, to a great degree of success. In fact, I used this to help train for and complete my marathon last December.
The key: visualize your successful outcome in great detail. Close your eyes, and think about exactly how your successful outcome will look, will feel, will smell and taste and sound like. Where are you when you become successful? How do you look? What are you wearing? Form as clear a mental picture as possible.
For example, I have a goal to strength train a couple of times a week for the remainder of this year. But my goal really isn’t the training … that’s the path towards my goal. My goal is to become stronger. I don’t want to look like Arnold, or be buff in any way. But I would like to have a little more muscle, and have a strong midsection, so that I can be a stronger runner and tri-athlete. I think it will also make me feel better about myself. When I visualize this goal, I see myself as I will look if I successfully follow my strength training program, and how I will feel about myself.
This is a powerful motivator, and though it may feel silly, I urge you to close your eyes and do it right now, for at least a few minutes. Can you picture it? Now here’s the next key: do it every day. For at least a few minutes each day. This is the only way to keep that motivation going over a long period of time.
See your success, and make it happen.
17. Keep a daily journal of your goal.
If you are consistent about keeping a journal, it can be a great motivator. A journal should have not only what you did for the day, but your thoughts about how it went, how you felt, what mistakes you made, what you could do to improve.
Looking back on this journal over time is also excellent motivation — it helps you see your progress over time, and helps you pinpoint where you went wrong, what you’ve been doing right, where you could improve and how far you’ve come so far.
To be consistent about keeping a journal, do it right after you do your goal task each day. For example, if I go for a run today, as soon as I come home and drink some water, I pull out my journal and write an entry about the run. Make it mandatory and automatic. Don’t put it off until later, otherwise you will soon be putting it off for a couple of days and then you won’t be doing it at all. Do it right away, every single time. soon it will become a habit that you won’t be able to skip.
Make keeping a journal a sensory pleasure. Invest in a really nice one, with thick, textured pages and a nice cover. One that you might find at a stationary store. Or a Moleskine journal is nice too. And get a pen that rolls nicely, so that writing with it on your textured paper will be a tactile pleasure. Enjoy your journal-writing, and you will look forward to it.
A journal helps keep you on track. It helps remind you that what you are doing is not just for today, but for all the days you’ve already journalled about it and for all the days you will journal about it in the future. It won’t take you all the way to your goal by itself, but combined with other motivation hacks, it can be a very useful tool.
18. Create a friendly, mutually supportive competition.
We are all competitive in nature, at least a little. Some more than others. Take advantage of this part of our human nature by using it to fuel your goals.
How to do this? If you have a workout partner or goal buddy, you’ve got all you need for a friendly competition. See who can log more miles, or save more dollars, each week or month. See who can do more push ups or pull ups. See who can lose the most weight or have the best abs or lose the most inches on their waist.
Now, I understand that such a contest might not be fair if you are of different capacities. Your SO might run faster than you, or be much more experienced. Then set different goals, or weight your performances. You might try losing a certain percentage of your weight or waist, or increasing a certain percentage of your mileage or savings.
You might see who can save a certain percentage of your income. Or give the weaker competitor a head start — and let the other try to catch up. The key is that if the competition is too unbalanced, you have to adjust it somehow so that it’s a lot closer, otherwise neither competitor will be motivated much.
Set up a challenge, where each person publicly challenges himself/herself, and tries to meet that challenge. Each person’s challenge will be different, but the competition is to see who can reach their challenge.
Why mutually supportive? If this competition is truly friendly, you will want your friend to do well. Thus you will help him or her along, even if you are in a contest. I’ve run a half marathon while cheering on my fellow competitors … I cheered on one guy while we ran several miles together, and he did the same for me.
We were running a race, but we both wanted the other to make it to the finish. It didn’t matter so much who crossed the finish line first — as long as we both did our best, and we both finished.
Another tip: compete with yourself. If you’re logging in your goal, such as workouts, then you can compete with yourself from week to week. This can be a lot of fun too.
19. Always think positive. Squash all negative thoughts.
I cannot stress this motivation technique highly enough. I can tell you that there’s one driving force that helped me achieve all that I’ve accomplished so far: and that one force is the power of positive thinking.
I know: this sounds like so much motivational public speaker mumbo jumbo. I’ve been cynical like you, and I know how I sound. I wish I could stop sounding like this, but it’s impossible to help — I’m speaking a truth that has astounded me every time I put it into practice.
Let me use running as an example. There’ve been many times when I wanted to quit, to just stop and give up. But here’s the trick: when you sense these negative thoughts coming into your head, squash them immediately!
These negative thoughts will conquer you if you don’t conquer them, and you will never achieve your goal that way. So that’s what I did — I became aware of the negative thoughts, and I pushed them out. I told myself, I said, “Self! Don’t think thoughts like that! You can do this!” And I kept telling myself that I could do it, and that optimism just multiplied until I was running faster than before and I had no thought of stopping.
Monitor your thoughts. Be aware of your self-talk. We all talk to ourselves, a lot, but we are not always aware of these thoughts. Start listening. If you hear negative thoughts, stop them, push them out, and replace them with positive thoughts.
Positive thinking can be amazingly powerful. It’s been used by many successful people, and I’ve only recently discovered its untapped potential. While all the motivation hacks I’ve listed on this site work extremely well, they will be 10 times stronger if you combine them with positive thinking. Maybe a thousand times stronger.
20. Make a big public commitment. Be fully committed.
This will do the trick every time. Create a blog and announce to the world that you are going to achieve a certain goal by a certain date. Commit yourself to the hilt.
When I decided to run a marathon, I didn’t just tell my wife or mom that I would do it. I didn’t just write it down. I didn’t just set mini-goals and rewards along the way. I did all those things and more, but I went a giant step further: I began writing a bi-monthly column in my local newspaper about my journey to my first marathon.
It was huge. People I didn’t know would recognize me in the supermarket and ask me how my running was going. People would honk at me as I ran and cheer me on. People emailed me all the time with encouragement.
Now I ask you: after all that, how likely was it that I would back down? Not bloody likely at all. And I didn’t — largely due to all that positive public pressure, I achieved my goal last December.
You don’t have to write a newspaper column, but you can tell as many people as possible about your goal. Tell your whole office, your whole family, all your friends, everyone you meet. And don’t just tell them about it — keep them updated.
Ask them to encourage you and remind you and pester you every time they see you. Start a mailing list of everyone you know and send them weekly updates. Post your results up in your office and house. Put daily or weekly results on your blog. Join an online forum and commit yourself there, and post updates frequently.
Be creative and do what you have to do. But the more positive public pressure you create for yourself, the more likely your eventual success. This is guaranteed.
None of us like to look bad to other people. To ourselves, sure, we can look really bad. But to everyone else, we hate to fail in the public’s eye. Make this simple trait of human nature work for you, and help you achieve your goals.