How do I stay motivated to achieve long term goals?

Ever ask yourself, how do I stay motivated to achieve my long term goals? I am sure you have. Unfortunately, our brain does not like pursuing long term goals.

The Brain is Focused on Instant Gratification

When it comes to pursuing long term goals, we run into problems because our brain is focused on instant gratification. It is motivated to seek out any goal or activity that promises a more or less immediate reward.

When you consciously desire something that is truly meaningful and valuable – even if it is a fantasy – this too will stimulate the motivational center in your brain. Dopamine is released and this increases your conscious ability to plan a strategy to achieve that goal.

However, if the the goal is long range, you need to “reward” yourself daily, weekly, and monthly as you progress. Holding your vision starts the motivation process and pleasurably rewarding yourself along the way keeps those motivational “juices” flowing.

How Do I Stay Motivated

Part of this motivation will come from achieving small incremental goals along the way to your longer term goal. Additional motivation will come from the following Pleasure Board exercise that I am about to introduce. The combination will keep you motivated towards pursuing your long term goals.

The Pleasure Board Exercise

The Pleasure Board is an idea pioneered by noted neuroscience researcher, Mark Robert Waldman.

To make a pleasure board, write down every pleasure – large and small – that brought you deep joy and happiness in the past. Write down your most powerful pleasant memories. List all the experiences that make you smile, either now or in the past.

Mindfully meditate on this list and circle all of the small pleasures you still enjoy.

Commit to Giving Yourself Pleasure Every Day

Once you have identified what still gives you pleasure, commit to consciously add pleasure to your work day. Set a mindfulness clock to go off once an hour. Stop for 10-60 seconds and do something pleasurable from your list.

Additional Resources

If you found value in this post, you will likely also enjoy these two other similar posts:  How Can I Motivate Myself, and Savor Your Achievements

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More on the importance of self-talk

Several weeks ago I wrote a post on the importance of self-talk. It addressed research reported by Jeff Hadon in The Motivation Myth. You can find that post here.  Today, I would like to expand on that post and give some additional examples of how self-talk impacts our lives.

Eliminate choice in your speech

Believing that we have a choice presents a huge obstacle to achieving our objectives, because having choices forces us to decide what we want to do. The brain is naturally lazy and it doesn’t want to waste its limited energy making these kinds of decisions. Your brain would much rather follow a rule that has been converted into a habit.

For example, if you say, “I want to” rather than “I have to,” you are much more likely to get to work on time, workout, and eat the right foods. By changing what you say to yourself, you have eliminated choice. The task is now nonnegotiable, and you do it.

Another example. Stop saying “can’t” and start saying “don’t.”

How to use self-talk to overcome temptation

Can we use self-talk to overcome temptation? We most certainly can.

When we tell participants to say “I can’t, they give in to temptation 61% of the time. When we tell them to say “I don’t” , they only give in only 36% of the time.

In another experiment, participants were told to set a personal long-term health and wellness goal. When their motivation flagged, one group was told to say, “I can’t miss my workout”. Another group was told to say, “I don’t miss my workout”. A control group was not given a strategy.

Ten days later the researchers found:

• Three out of ten control group members stuck to their goal.
• Only one out of ten told to say “I can’t” stuck to their goal.
• Eight out of ten “I don’t” group members stuck to their goal.

Not only was “I can’t” less effective than “I don’t”; “I can’t” was less effective than using no strategy at all.

Why does this occur? If we say, “I can’t”, we give ourselves a way out. When you “I can’t,” you automatically start to look for excuses, reasons why you can.  Saying “I don’t” encourages the brain to find ways to ensure that you do because that is the person you have become.

The morale of this story

The morale of this story. Be careful what you tell yourself. Someone important is listening. Eliminate choice. Make it clear to your brain what you will do.

Next Steps

If you enjoyed this post, make sure that you check out some of our other posts on this website. Here are some posts that may be of interest.

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Also, be sure to let us know what you think. We really do care. Let us know what topics you would like us to address.

Comment below and please share this post with others.

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Tips for Improving Willpower

Here are some brief tips for improving willpower from Jeff Hayden’s excellent book, The Motivation Myth . These will help you accomplish your goals without needing to depend on willpower, a resource that dwindles throughout your day.

What is Willpower?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Willpower is the ability to control yourself . It’s a strong determination that allows you to do something difficult (such as to lose weight or quit smoking). At its essence, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.

Willpower is a limited resource

However you define it, willpower is a limited and dwindling resource.  You start the day with a certain amount and it fluctuates throughout the day and generally declines over time.

Willpower can be compared to a muscle that becomes fatigued with overuse. Studies show that repeatedly resisting temptation drains your ability to withstand future enticements.

Exceptional willpower is not a quality you are born with. Rather they’ve found ways to make decisions that don’t require willpower and determination.

Six Tips For Improving Willpower

Step 1: Eliminate as many choices as possible.

Choice is a problem because it forces you to decide what it is that you want to do. The more choices we need to make during the day, the harder each one is on our brain and the more it depletes your willpower.

The best way to eliminate choice is to develop good habits so that your brain can operate on automatic. This is what the brain does by default. Whenever it finds that it needs to so something again and again, it creates a new neural network to make repetition more efficient. Your job is to oversee your brain and make sure that this new habit supports you in the pursuit of your objectives.

Step 2: Make decisions at night so you need to make them tomorrow.

Pick easy decisions that will drain your store of willpower and make them at night before you go to bed.

The idea is to take as many decisions off the board as you can the night before, because that will allow you to conserve tomorrows mental energy for making decisions that really matter.

For example, lay out your clothes for tomorrow so you don’t have to decide or look for what you need. Also, if you want to workout first thing in the morning, have your workout clothes and shoes set out so they will remind you. Also make your to do list before going to bed. This will get the needs of tomorrow off your mind as well as set your priorities in advance.

Step 3: Do the hardest things you need to do first.

You have the greatest mental energy early in the day so focus on doing your most difficult challenges first. Don’t waste time reading email or the newspaper. Save your willpower for the crucial things.

Dive right into one of your highest impact activities and complete it. The feeling of getting it done will motivate you to accomplish even more.

Step 4: Refuel Often. 

Your willpower is tied to your blood glucose levels.

Maintaining steady blood-glucose levels, such as by eating regular healthy meals and snacks, may help prevent the effects of willpower depletion. So take periodic breaks to eat or snack.

Step 5: Create reminders of your long-term goals. 

Create tangible reminders designed to pull you back from the impulse brink. Post little stickup note on the refrigerator reminding you that you are not the kind of person who eats late night snacks.

Step 6: Remove temptation altogether.  

Control your environment to help your self-control. Make it automatic to follow the right routines.

If you are trying to lose weight, get high caloric snacks and deserts out of the house. Similarly, if you are attempting to eliminate alcohol or tobacco from your life, get them out of the house. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Don’t leave temptations around to “tempt” you.

Additional Information

For more information on Willpower check out this excellent resource from the American Psychological Association.