You and I both know that, sometimes, it’s hard to self-motivate. Pretty much everyone experiences it at some point- getting out of your warm bed on a cold morning, sticking with your workout routine, catching up on emails and phone calls, giving a presentation to a large group, making the healthy meal choice, initiating a difficult conversation, transitioning from something fun to something not-so-fun. It might even sort of feel like a miracle that you were able to make it from bed to the bathroom to brush your teeth this morning.
And before you get too deep into the “Ugh, I’m so lazy. I just need to suck it up! Everyone else seems to be able to do it” narrative, let me just tell you that every typically developing human brain experiences this same problem. The human brain is wired to seek comfort and satisfaction because comfortable and satisfied equals safety (i.e., you get to live). Discomfort, on the other hand, equals danger (i.e., you might die). It’s adaptive. This process is what helps keep you from standing in a busy street full of cars or leaving your hand on a hot stove. Your brain doesn’t care (or even know) if, in reality, you won’t die from giving a presentation to 500 people. It just knows that its little limbic system is firing signals that the current situation is not safe. Your body is a great listener to this network and starts to release more cortisol into itself and before you know it, you are in full fight or flight mode. Do this enough times and you get a good old fashioned pattern happening in which you don’t even need to think twice before this process is right behind the trigger.
But take heart. It’s possible for you to rewire this process in your brain so that you don’t have to go through quite so much sturm and drang. It takes work and commitment, but with enough practice, you can retrain your brain to respond more favorably to what you previously viewed as insufferable tasks.
Rewiring your brain to perceive things differently can help you to accomplish all sorts of things that normally feel tricky or burdensome. You can learn to manage your time better, delay gratification, improve your self-discipline, strengthen your relationships, and improve your confidence, just to name a few. You might even start to view your brain as a cute sidekick and powerful ally instead of an enemy. To improve or maintain the relationship you have with your brain, take a look at two basic things you can do to increase your ability to self-motivate.
First thing’s first. You need to know why you are doing what you’re doing. You’re much more likely to keep your commitments if they are in line with your value system. Start by identifying your values, the way you live your life, your personal code of integrity. Do you want to be a better parent? Do you want to live a more purposeful life? Do you want to be and feel healthier and stronger? Identifying your values behind the action is crucial for getting your buy-in.
Second, you must identify actionable and measurable goals for yourself. This will give you a concrete plan for next steps and a sure-fire way to see if you’ve hit your target or not. Let’s say that one of your values is self-respect. Part of how you demonstrate self-respect is by treating your body well. Some ways you can treat your body well? Get yourself moving regularly and feed yourself healthy foods. So, one of your actionable and measurable goals can be “Today, I will take 200 more steps than I did yesterday” and “Today, I will drink 16 more ounces of water that I did yesterday”. Start small and be realistic. Remember to step up your goals as you accomplish them. The more you practice accomplishing the challenges you set for yourself, the more you will increase your confidence and ability to self-motivate and the better you will be at it. (I’m serious. fMRIs show that the more our brains experience challenges and accomplish goals related to those challenges, the more emotionally resilient we become.)
Some days, you might shoot your goal right out of the water. On days like these, you will feel invincible. Other days, you might have a hard time making it to your goal at all. You might even fail. This is a good thing. We can talk about how these failures are useful to you (and how failure, in general, is an important part of the human experience).
If you’ve tried this and are having trouble or if you can’t seem to get yourself in gear to make the first move, please let me know and we can talk about next steps.
Love and Be Loved,