green lightThere is one type request that I get more than any other and that is to provide strategies for generating and maintaining motivation, some people call this ‘self-discipline’. It’s actually not that common for people to ask me for step-by-step instructions on what they need do to get a task completed. You see, most often people already know what they need to do to achieve a particular goal. They know which actions are likely to lead them towards the outcome of their desire.

Those who want to lose weight usually don’t need me to tell them to moderate their calorie intake, eat a varied and balanced selection of healthy foods and to get a good amount of exercise.

Someone who wants to get their finances into check isn’t necessarily looking for me to point out that they should spend less than they earn and cut back on the unnecessary expenses that don’t add any real value to their life.

Every smoker I’ve ever met has been intelligent enough to know that quitting cigarettes is a lot easier when you stop putting them in your mouth and lighting them.

In theory, putting into practice those actions we know will bring us success should be easy. But in practice, as we know, that is not always the case. In my experience, the one thing that prevents people from following through with their well intentioned plans, more than any other obstacle, is their own willingness to keep taking the actions they know they need to take.

I’m sure at some time or other you will have had the experience of deciding to make a positive change in your life, launching into a flurry of enthusiastic activity, only to find that no sooner have you started that you just seem to lose your appetite to continue. Your “I want to” rapidly switched to “Do I really have to?”

Surely we are not so indecisive about what we want that we can’t hold one fixed goal in our minds for long enough to build a bit of momentum around it? In the example of the person who wants to be fitter and healthier, there is no denying that they would love to have that become their reality, but if it feels so good to imagine what the outcome would be like, why are they so reluctant to play a part in making it happen?

It is because the key to unlocking your motivation in any area actually has nothing to do with how much you want the result, but what you imagine it is going take to get there.

Here’s a little thought experiment for you:

Let’s say that I wanted to give you a gift of £10 and that all you needed to do is cross over the street to collect it. If you are like most people you would probably be quite happy to take the short trip to get the money, because your focus would be on the benefit of the outcome. As you make the journey you might be thinking about what you’d like to spend the £10 on.

But let’s now rewind the experiment and start again, only this time rather than crossing the street, you’d have to walk to the other side of town.

Now, while you might still want the money, your decision as to whether or not you can be bothered to go and collect it will not be as automatic. This is because your focus will have shifted from the benefit or value you’d gain from the money, to the inconvenience of walking across town. You are more likely to be thinking about the time it is going to take you to get there and the energy you’d need to exert, rather than what having an extra £10 will do for you. You may still decide to go, but you will certainly be less motivated to do so than had the money been waiting for you just across the street.

This imaginary exercise highlights the law that underpins our motivation to do just about anything in life. It’s the good old Pain / Pleasure Principle.

Behind all human behaviour is the inbuilt desire to move away from pain and towards pleasure. Everything from getting up in the morning in order to make it to work on time, through to planning a family or going on holiday, is driven by the motivation to either avoid something that we perceive will bring us pain, or move towards something that will bring us pleasure. While some people are motivated to get up and go to work because they love their job, others are motivated to get up and go to work because they don’t want to get fired and lose the house!

The Pain / Pleasure Principle is such an integral part of being Human that without it we literally wouldn’t and couldn’t get anything done. If you’re not being moved away from or towards something then you must be standing still; not a great way for a species to evolve, I’m sure you’ll agree.

So what does this have to do with motivating ourselves to reach our goals? Well think of it this way. Imagine that ‘motivation’ is a set of balancing scales where one side represents doing the actions that lead towards the fulfilment of a goal and the other side represents avoiding doing those actions. For the purpose of this exercise let’s assume the action concerned is to going to the gym. Now, let’s also imagine that in your hand you have a heavy weight that I’m going to refer to as your “pleasure token”.

If, as you consider the possibility of going to the gym, you start associating with all the good things that would happen as a result, i.e. the endorphin release from working out; the sense of satisfaction you’ll have as you notice how much better you look and feel; the anticipation of being able to get into those smaller clothes; the compliments you’ll get; then its obvious that you’re inclined to place your heavy pleasure token on the “take action” side of the scales. When you think in these terms, motivation is not an issue, it is just a natural desire to go and exercise.

If, on the other hand, you find yourself thinking of why going to the gym might just be inconvenient or not enjoyable, i.e. it’ll be hard work; you might be sore the next day; you have to rush to get there in time; you’ll have to forego the sofa and miss some good stuff on TV; then its not surprising that you’ll place your pleasure token on the “Don’t take action” side of the scales. In this case the pleasure comes from doing nothing and choosing comfort.

Don’t forget, at our core we are just pleasure seekers! If we perceive that going to the gym has pain attached it then it must come as no shock that we’ll buy into any lame excuse as to why we don’t get around to working out.

But all is not lost. It is far easier to begin generating the motivation to do those previously “painful” activities than you might think. The secret is to practice attaching massive amounts of pleasure to getting them done, and recognising the painful consequences of not doing them.

So that leads us onto…


HOMEWORK


1, Think about something you have been putting off doing that you know if you did get around to doing would amount to a positive change in your life, and that left undone would gradually lead to negative consequences.

2, Now take a moment to relax with a few deep breaths to get yourself into a settled and creative state.

3, Close your eyes and imagine that in front of you are two paths running away from you and parallel to each other. The path on your left represents a future where you continue to choose to do nothing about working towards the outcome you’d like to have happen. The path on the right represents the future where you do take the necessary actions to achieve that goal.

[For this demonstration we’re going to be travelling along each path one year into the future, but when you do this for yourself you might want to adjust the timeframe shorter or longer depending on what feels most realistic for your goal]

4, So, here we are today [what ever today’s date is], and we have a choice. We can either choose action or inaction for our future path, so let try each one out. Imagine that you have walked along the left hand path of inaction and you arrive one month into the future. As you think about the consequence of another month of inaction, what’s going on for you? Make it as if it is actually happening right now by seeing it through your own eyes, hearing what you hear and really feeling what it feels like. What have you been missing out on? Has anything got worse? How does this affect things like your relationships and your own happiness? Linger on it for a while before moving on.

5, Now travel further along the path to the 6 month milestone. Another six months of avoiding making that goal happen. What does that feel like? As if it’s happening, really consider what life is like now. What are all the consequences of your inaction; of choosing what you thought is the “comfortable” path? How about your relationships? Happiness? Health? Wealth? Remember to see it through your own eyes and really go with the feelings.

6, Next, go to the one year anniversary of your travels long this inaction path. As you think back to the beginning, when you had the choice to start making things happen, how does it feel to know you’ve let another entire year slip by with no change whatsoever? How did you get here? You did it one day at a time! What have been the effects of that? If you could symbolise the negative consequences into objects [e.g. piles of wasted money, mountains of junk food, bills up to your eyeballs, a ‘goodbye’ letter from someone who left you!! etc.] then imagine a years worth of those accumulated items all around you. Even thought it probably feels uncomfortable to do so, really feel it like its happening now.

7, Ok, relax for a moment. Let’s travel back to the present day and see what the other path has to offer.

8, Imagine that you’ve travelled one month along the action path, having done all the things you know to do to work towards that desired outcome. What positive benefits are you already noticing? See it, hear it and feel it through your own senses and experience how good it feels? Remember to congratulate yourself on a job well done.

9, Now go to the six month marker. Half a year of making your life better through those positive actions. What are you able to do now that you couldn’t have done six months ago? How does this affect your experience of life? Your relationships? Your health? Your finances? Let yourself really exaggerate that good feeling and stay with it for a while before moving along the path even further.

9, Right, now let’s travel to the one year anniversary of making that positive change in your life. Fully associate into how wonderful it feels to be celebrating this milestone. You did it. You made it happen. What are all the great things that you get to experience because of the steps you’ve taken over the last year? How much have things improved in terms of your happiness, relationships, health, money, direction, optimism for the future? Hold your body as you would in this situation and let the feeling radiate up to the top of your head and down the tips of your toes. Double it! Make it feel as real and as wonderful as you can. And then relax and return to the present day.

If you’ve allowed yourself to get into the spirit of this exercise and have fully associated into each step, then there is no doubt which path you’ll want to choose. Practice this as often as you like and the motivation to make those goals become your reality will just flow naturally to you!


Take great care. Namaste. 

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