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Feb07

Understanding the Science Behind Motivation and Willpower


Anyone who’s ever tried to accomplish a goal – whether to grow a business, lose weight or achieve some other purpose – knows how difficult it can be to stay motivated.  While you might start out excited, the struggle of working towards a larger goal day-in and day-out can take a serious toll on your mood and energy levels.

So if you find yourself feeling challenged to keep up the motivation for a goal you once felt passionate about, consider the following tips on how to keep up your progress:

Start by Looking Inward

Self-assessment is the first step towards successfully changing your ability to stay motivated.

So take a step back and start evaluating. Are you the kind of person that flits from one thing to another, never quite making an objective stick? Do you give up before accomplishing your goals? Or do you find yourself struggling with boredom and routine once your initial goal-related excitement wears off?

The only way to start changing your ability to motivate yourself to success is to realize that something needs to be changed in the first place. Both your business and personal goals are important – and taking steps towards accomplishing them can be difficult when motivation and willpower are nowhere to be found.

Studies show that willpower and motivation are both – unfortunately – finite resources, which means that you can run out of these important reserves. Because of this limitation, you must look at willpower and motivation in a different way and actively work to keep them both at a high level.

Once you recognize that you must work on honing your personal motivation skills, you’ll find that your overall mindset changes. You’ll stop yourself from giving in and giving up, simply because you recognize how motivation truly works. You’ll feel a twinge of guilt if your mind strays – that’s good, as that is self-evaluation beginning to work.

Once you’ve started on the path towards building willpower and motivation, you can strengthen yourself using the following techniques…

Acknowledge the Achievement of Small Goals

Start small. You can’t climb a mountain without first taking a hike up a paved trail. Don’t beat yourself up for starting small – congratulate yourself for starting at all. Set tiny goals to accomplish and then allow yourself to feel great once you’ve accomplished them.

Perhaps your new goal is to keep track of what you eat or to finish your daily reports before your first break. These aren’t hard goals, but they do require attention and run the risk of being dismissed because they’re “boring.” However, if you allow yourself to feel a little joy at these accomplishments, you’ll be more inclined to complete them – and more likely to complete your overarching goals.

Accept That Failure Is Possible

Failure isn’t the end of the world – it’s the beginning of a lesson. When you fail, you also learn. What many people do not realize is that by accepting failure as a possibility, you cushion the blow of any failures you may encounter along your path.

Three out of four startups fail. Everyone who decides to launch a business knows this statistic, yet they do it anyway. This is because entrepreneurs recognize that failure isn’t the worst thing that can happen – missing out on a great opportunity because you were too scared to risk bruising your fragile ego is.

We learn from failure, and once you accept this, you can remove one of the roadblocks that keeps you from staying motivated.

Maintain a Positive Outlook

Despite the fact that failure is possible and that willpower is wavering, you must maintain a positive attitude. Doing so will help you to achieve your goals by stirring your motivation – if you have a positive outlook, why not move forward? Why not try as hard as you can?

Overall, maintaining a positive outlook will help you to reach long term goals faster, with plenty of motivation to spare for your next personal or business project.

Take a Break

If you need a break, take it. Just make sure it actually a break – don’t let your mind wander or go off on a tangent instead of actually resting!

A real break is something that’s completely unrelated to the goal you are trying to stay motivated for.  For example, if you’re stuck on a business project, you could go to the gym, meet up with friends or take a walk outside. Switching gears for a while helps you to return to your task with the high willpower reserves needed to continue working towards your goal.

Think Long Term

Above all, thinking long term is the most sure-fire way to cultivate willpower and motivation. One recent study, co-authored by Vanderbilt management and sociology professor Bruce Barry, shows that there are different kinds of thinking that aid in accomplishing goals – and each will help propel you forward in your professional or personal achievements.

For example, you can think about your work in terms of how it will affect future generations, which will be especially motivating for those who have children. You can also picture your goal in the context of solving a puzzle – this will appeal to the analytical brains. A third way to concentrate on accomplishing your aim is to think of your work as one piece in a grander scheme, which – in turn – contributes to some future, higher goal.

So, yes, it’s definitely challenging to try to stay motivated in our busy, distracting world. But by implementing the techniques described above, willpower and motivation will come to your aid and help you to accomplish whatever personal and business goals you set your mind to.

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