We all have those things we want. Goals. To lose some weight, write a book, learn a language.
I don’t know about you, but there are probably a million times in my life that I’ve started out on a path, only to abandon it a few days, weeks, or months in.
There are other things I’ve stuck with; like blogging, writing books, creating content. But yeah. There are probably way more things I meant to get done than I actually completed.
We run out of steam. We run out of inspiration. We get bored with the routine. And so maybe we skip a day, we call it a cheat day, say we’ll get back on our diet tomorrow. But then it’s been three weeks of cheeseburgers and…. yeah. Not so much.
I don’t know how you deal with this situation. I can tell you how I deal with it in two words: shame spiral.
I berate myself; what is wrong with me? Why can’t I stick to the routine? Why do I lose my motivation?
It was for all of these reasons that I recently purchased James Clear’s Atomic Habits. It had been recommended to me by my friend Mike Vardy who said it helped him (listen to Mike’s interview with James here). I was sold, and ordered right away.
I just finished reading it, and it has been an immense help to me to learn more about myself and how we form habits.
Clear’s book focuses on how to set yourself up for success. Good habits, in order for us to form them and continue to do them, have to be:
I think for a lot of us, but for me especially, part of the reason we don’t stick with something is because we get discouraged so quickly. Like, we want to write a book, for example, or lose 20 lbs. When we’ve been working at it diligently for say a week or two, but we don’t really feel like we’ve made a lot of progress, we stop because we get discouraged. We want to reach our goals, but we want to reach them like NOW.
I’m immensely impatient. I’ll admit it. Part of what Clear advocates in Atomic Habits is not setting huge goals for yourself. Rather, he advocates setting small goals for yourself. You see, if you can set and reach small goals, you string a bunch of those together and you have a big goal.
Like, if you want to write a book, write one page every day. In a year, you’ll have written 365 pages. Writing one page doesn’t seem like that much. And if it does, make it less. Make it a paragraph. The point here is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s going to take some time. But each incremental win builds on the last until, after time, you’ve made some real progress.
Don’t forget that what makes a habit is that you eventually get into a mindset where you feel like you need to do that thing. At the beginning, it’s hard. You don’t want to do it. But after a while, it becomes natural, or even needed. That’s the place you want to try to get to. The place where you feel like something is missing if you don’t do your daily pages or your walk or your Duolingo.
For me, one thing that really helps my motivation is having someone or something to be accountable to outside of myself. I can make myself loads of promises, and I won’t keep them. But if I make a commitment to someone else, you’d better believe I’m gonna keep it. So get yourself a writing buddy, or a workout buddy, or someone to practice French with.
I bought myself an Apple Watch for my birthday on August 14, and every single day since I’ve had it, I’ve closed my rings. I don’t know if I’ll keep doing this forever, but I have been singleminded in doing it every day. I have my “tiny apple overlord” bossing me around. And yes, there are days when I resent it, and yes, there are days when I didn’t want to go, and I had to drag my sad butt out the door. But I’d tell myself, “just 10 minutes. Walk for 10 minutes,” and inevitably once I got out there, I’d do 30.
Another thing that makes us abandon our goals is boredom. I feel this a lot. I mapped out a couple of routes around Stanley Park, and I’d try to take a different one every day so I didn’t get too bored with my walk. I listened to different Spotify playlists or podcasts. Clear says “really successful people feel the same lack of motivation as everyone else. The difference is, they still find a way to show up despite feelings of boredom.” Realistically, you just gotta push through. Just. Keep. Going.
I’m 37 days in.
Will I keep going? I don’t know.
But according to Clear, here’s the key to when you fall off the wagon: get back on as soon as possible. Don’t spend a lot of time beating yourself up about it. Just take it, move on, get going again.
So this has been really useful to me in terms of working on my fitness. Now that I have this system, I can see myself applying it to other things: like redesigning my website, or saving for a trip (ha! when we can take trips again).
So for me, finding motivation has worked by:
- Having a “why” for my goal. In my case, I want to be healthy as I head into middle age and not be gasping for breath every time I climb a hill. Oh, and my pants. I want to fit into my pants.
- Not focusing on the end goal, just focusing on very small “snackable” daily tasks
- Having someone or something outside of myself to be accountable to
- Getting back on the horse as soon as possible after I fall off
Have you read Atomic Habits (PS his newsletter is free and awesome)? How do you stay motivated? Comment below and let me know.