Most people I work with know what to do to move towards success. They know how to do it.
They know the foods to eat, and the exercises to do. They know they should call their mom, eat more vegetables, and stop procrastinating.
They just don’t do it.
“Not feeling motivated” is one of the most common struggles shared by people both at Metabolic Effect and DannyColeman.net.
“I just don’t have the energy.”
“I don’t feel like it.”
“I want bacon; it’s just too much work to clean up afterwards.”
Okay, that last quote is mine, but most of us know the exercises we need to do. We know the foods that will accelerate fat loss. We know we shouldn’t procrastinate on that project. We know we should break up with our girlfriend because she is mean and smells funny. We know we really do want an entire pack of bacon. And we know we need to call Grandma.
But we don’t. It’s too much work to clean the bacon pan. It takes too much energy to go to the gym. It’s easier to stay with the same person who is bad for us than to fight thru the heartache and dating scene.
We all struggle to feel motivated on occasion, but many of us have a serious motivation gap between what we say we want, and what we actually do.
Research shows that people who have the ability to self-motivate and resist Netflix binges “earn more money than their peers, report higher levels of happiness, and are more satisfied with their families, lives, and jobs.”
If you’re not a super self-starter, don’t sweat it. I have some good news.
Motivation is a skill. It’s not an elusive feeling that’s ingrained in some and fleeting of others.
It’s something that can be practiced and developed, like training for a hot dog eating contest or the Olympics. The more you practice, the more motivation you’ll have. And the way to practice motivation is by taking a “bias towards action.”
More often than not, motivation is something that comes from action, not the other way around. Action coming from motivation is much less common.
In other words, we think it works like this:
- We get inspired, we write.
- We get a surge of energy, we hit the gym.
- We’ll call Grandma when we feel like talking
Although this does happen sometimes, it’s not how to have high, sustainable motivation.
Ask the New Years Resolution gym crowd if they’re still hitting the weights. That short surge of motivation in January is hard to sustain through June.
In reality, motivation follows action.
- We sit our ass down and write, then we feel creativity, inspiration, and ideas flow.
- We do 4×10 reps of heavy squats, then all of a sudden we feel like doing a little extra leg work today.
- We dial Mom’s number, then we start to feel like talking.
Activity begets momentum, not the other way around. That’s what the 4-Step Motivation Model does.
It gets us to 1) have a bias toward action 2) strengthens our willpower and motivation muscles and 3) makes motivation a habit so it generates on autopilot.
Sounds great, right? Let’s hit it.
“It is the ability to choose which makes us human.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle
When I was going through training to become a Wellness Coach, one of the key lessons I learned was to never set goals for my clients. That, and don’t shame people. Turns out asking “Why do you suck so much?!” doesn’t really inspire positive change. Who knew?
As a coach, I am suppose to guide people to their own solutions, but never give them the answers straight up.
This is really difficult to do. Many times I see exactly what the problem is, and I know of a few solutions that can help. Yet I have to bite my tongue and use questions and nudges to push people to come up with solutions of their own.
Research shows that goals and solutions are much more powerful when people choose them by themselves. If I give my clients goals they are much less likely to take action than if they create their own.
This is the power of choice. When we feel as if we have a choice in how our life turns out, we are more motivated to take more action and try harder. “We must believe that we have control over our actions and surroundings in order to motivate ourselves.” 
A study (Stop yawning and listen up!) in a journal called Problems & Perspectives in Management (2012) showed that when we have a belief that we can influence our destiny through the choices we make, it leads to higher self-motivation and social maturity, lower incidences of stress, more friends, better relationships, better career satisfaction, higher incomes (more of those dollar dollar bills y’all), and a longer life span.
Yeah, seriously. So here’s step one.
Step #1: Make More Choices
- Making decisions gives us an sense of control
- It doesn’t matter how small the decisions are – simply stop being indecisive. It’s a habit like anything else.
- “The brain is a completion machine. Once we chose, the brain will help us figure out the “how” as we progress.” 
- Don’t say “I don’t care. Whatever you want.” for the next week. Where to go to dinner? Choose something. What to drink? Choose. What movie to see? Pick one.
“The key to success is prioritization – successful people are experts at discerning between the essential and nonessential information in their lives”
Now that you’ve made your choice, you’ve sparked motivation, but this is where we face the most common motivation-killer.
The feeling of being overwhelmed.
When there are a million things to do, it’s so much easier to just eat Chipotle and watch the NBA Finals rather than go to the gym or work on the project.
This is what the second step of motivation, chunking, fights against.
“Chunking” means to break down big, hairy, smelly goals into small. achievable action steps.
If you want to get in shape, what are the steps? If you want to start a business, what are small action steps you can take?
To take it to the next level, write when and where you’ll do each task. A study on procrastination  showed that those who wrote down exactly where and when they would complete a task, were 8X as likely to complete the task.
“Sit down at Starbucks to write from 10:00am-11:00am” will keep you motivated whereas, “write a book” is such a daunting task that you just want to curl up into a ball with white cheddar popcorn and cry.
Step #2: Start Small, Start Now 
- Break down big goals (like get in shape or start a business) into small, achievable activities.
- Write them down. When we write things down, it puts our brain at ease. It frees up mental space to focus on what needs to be done rather than remembering 100 things you have to do.
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing” -Walt Disney
We’ve made choices to spark motivation. We’ve broken the hairy shit down into achievable action steps to sustain motivation. Now comes the biggest factor to sustain and develop momentum:
Movement and taking action.
Remember that action creates motivation, rarely the other way around. The more we practice taking action, the more we want to take action.
I call is the Movement-Motivation Cycle.
The more we move, the more motivation we feel, which will cause us to move more, which will cause us to have even more motivation, and so on.
There’s also something called Self-Perception Theory which says that behaviors can change attitudes over time. Essentially, when we act consistently for a while, we start to see ourselves differently.
“We form attitudes about ourselves in the same way that we form attitudes about others – through observation.”
- Talk to more people, and you’ll see yourself as somebody with good social skills.
- Eat healthy foods, go to the gym, and you’ll start to believe that you are somebody who cares about their health
- When you cook and clean up after bacon-making 3x this week, you’ll see yourself as a driven, hard-working individual. Why else would you go through all that effort for a few strips of bacon?
Once we start to see ourselves in a different light, motivation is sparked over and over again. Of course you’re motivated to go to the gym because you see yourself as a weight lifter.
Step #3: Take Daily Action
- Seinfeld’s Secret: When Jerry Seinfeld was killing the comedy game, a young comedian asked him his secret. He said, to get a calendar and big red marker. Write a new joke everyday, and put a big red X on days your write a new joke. Pretty soon you’ll form a chain of red X’s. Then your only job is to not break the chain.
- For long term goals, it is essential to make daily progress.
- Take action every. single. day.
- Get stuck in the Movement-Motivation Cycle
“There isn’t anything that isn’t made easier through constant familiarity and training.” ~ Dalai Lama
The last step in the motivation model is the “top hat.” It’s the finishing factor to sustainable motivation. It’s what cements the first three steps into place, and makes success easier and easier.
The more choices we make, chunking we do, and action we take will lead us to building success habits and routines.
And once motivation becomes routine, the world is your freaking oyster.
Routines are “highly specific behaviors that become automatic over time. The more these rituals are routinized and repeated, the more they occur without conscious effort, and the less energy they require.”
This is the step that outs the Motivation Model on automatic. Once something becomes a routine, it becomes harder not to do it.
This is why so many exercisers feel weirder (?) when they don’t workout out. It’s because they’ve developed such a deep routine that going to the gym no longer require heavy start up energy.
Here are some tips to cement long-term motivation into our psyche permanently.
Step #4: Build Rituals
- Don’t try to implement more than one or two at a time – pick ONE or TWO things
- Be specific! Specificity is the key to success. What will you do? Where will you do it? What time will it take place everyday? When we have to think about whether or not to do something, we deplete our limited reservoir of will and discipline
- Focus on something we do, rather than focusing on something to resist (i.e. I will write a blog rather than I will stop watching TV)
- Expect resistance: Answer these questions before hand — what obstacles will I face? How will I handle them?
- Enlist the support of others
- Declare clear staring AND stopping times – no more than 90 minutes
- Allot no LESS than 45 min to a task because it takes some time to become mentally absorbed.
- Eliminate all distractions
  Duhigg, Charles. Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business. Print.
  Halford, Scott G. Activate Your Brain: How Understanding Your Brain Can Improve Your Work– and Your Life. Print.
  Schwartz, Tony, Jean Gomes, Catherine McCarthy, and Tony Schwartz. Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live. Print.