Keeping Yourself Motivated
Keeping Yourself Motivated
By Justin Wright
Motivation is an interesting term, and one that gets brought up often. While I generally believe that seeking motivation is a less-than-ideal strategy for long-term success, I do understand and appreciate its power for instigating change. While I have discussed developing discipline in place of motivation in the past, I want to take a slightly different approach this time around. Let’s discuss motivation through the lens of Neuro-linguistic Programming, or NLP.
NLP was created by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in the 1970’s. This practice attempts to change behaviors quickly, often in an instant, that have taken years of traditional therapy to address. While the practice itself is somewhat outdated, a combination of its methodologies with modern neuroscience can be an effective tool for understanding and bolstering motivation.
New or improved behaviors
Motivation entails some urge to change, some desire for continued growth. It either applies to new behaviors or to increased levels of current behaviors. Think about the following: you gain the motivation to finally get back into the gym and take control of your health and wellness. Once you get into a routine, and going to the gym becomes habitual, it is just something that you do. Barring disruptions to your routine, exercise is a regular part of your weekly schedule.
Motivation was required to start this new habit but, once it passes into the realm of the subconscious, little to no additional motivation is required. If, however, you want to train for a specific event or challenge then you are upgrading your routine. Motivation may now be required to reinforce the increased discipline associated with your new goal. The good thing is that motivation compounds when we utilize it to push into new territory. Feelings of excitement and hope that are associated with developing new habits fuels our motivation in the short term.
We must take advantage of this fuel in order to drive behavioral change. If we are content with our current lot in life, it is easy to become complacent. The benefit of motivation is that it can disrupt this complacent behavior. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand how to actually create behavioral change in order to rekindle our motivation and drive forward progress.
Pleasure and pain lead to behavioral change
There are two motivating factors behind any behavior in life: we are either pursuing pleasure or fleeing from pain. All emotional states, likewise, can be associated with pleasure or pain. Happiness? Pleasure. Embarrassment? Pain. Love? Pleasure. Fear? Pain.
Our current behaviors tend to be hard-wired based on these two poles. Watching television, for example, is a pleasurable experience for many people. After a long day at work, the external stimulation provides entertainment and a brief escape from reality. There are a number of habits that are more beneficial than television, but breaking this behavior requires us to alter our neuro-associations. This is where NLP and modern neuroscience can work together to provide us with a solution.
Many behaviors are associated with short-term pleasure or the aversion of short-term pain. As human beings, it is difficult to for us to find motivation in long-term rewards. It is challenging to resist eating a piece of chocolate now, knowing that the experience will be pleasurable, for the promise of a better physique tomorrow. Addiction is such a crippling disease because it is amplified by these short-term pain and pleasure receptors. While this may seem like an insurmountable challenge when it comes to rekindling motivation, the reality is that we can use this to our advantage.
Reliving the past
The next time you find it difficult to gain motivation for a new change or new pursuit, you must learn to manipulate your neuro-associations of pain and pleasure around that desired behavior. For those seeking motivation to get back in the gym, think back to the last bad memory you have about being overweight or out of shape. Relive all of those sensations and emotions. Focus on the extreme pain of that situation, and associate those feelings of pain with skipping out on the gym or eating that cheeseburger. Due to our human inclination to avoid pain, you will actually find that your urge to exercise and eat healthier foods instantly increases.
When it comes to rekindling lost motivation, perhaps after falling off the wagon, think back to a positive experience. Focus on the feelings and emotions when you were at your healthiest, when you had been consistent with your routine. Think back to the happiness, the joy, and the pride you had in that state. Be as vivid as possible. Associate this extreme pleasure with the act of getting back into your fitness routine.
By manipulating the neurological signals of pain and pleasure surrounding these activities, it can become relatively easy to find motivation once it has been lost. In fact, our desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain is so strong that these changes can happen instantaneously. These neuro-associations are hard-wired into our DNA; the essence of what makes us human also gives us a secret weapon when it comes to rekindling motivation!
Once you have gone through the process of changing your neuro-associations, once you have associated extreme pain with avoiding your desired activity and extreme pleasure with pursuing it, the final step is reinforcing those associations. It is not enough to just go through this exercise once. While that will work initially, there is a reason that motivation tends to fade quickly. Our old habits became habits in the first place because they were deeply associated with our pain and pleasure centers!
Every time you perform the desired activity, whether it is going to the gym, eating healthy, getting work done on time, getting to bed early, etc. you must reward yourself for that behavior. The reward should be pleasurable but should also be in line with the type of person you want to become. If your goal is to lose weight, for example, your reward for exercising shouldn’t be a piece of chocolate. Find something positive that you enjoy, and indulge in that behavior when you successfully find the motivation to make forward progress.
If you don’t know what things or activities you enjoy, start by making a list. Find the activities that bring you pleasure while also being aligned with your current goals. Maybe you enjoy reading and learning new things, so you make time in your schedule to open a new book. Maybe you enjoy being outside, so you take a long walk after lunch when you have had a productive day. The goal is to consistently reinforce our new, learned behavior, so that it becomes habitual. Rewards are a highly effective way to do this.
Motivation is temporary
No matter what you do, no matter what positive habits you develop, understand that motivation is a temporary phenomenon. While the above strategies will provide new sources of motivation, the more important thing is that you now have a framework for breaking bad habits and forming new ones. By using the neuro-associations of pain and pleasure, it is possible to instantly change chronic, bad behaviors by replacing them with new, positive ones. Once you go through this process, it must be reinforced in order for the learned behaviors to become deeply ingrained into your subconscious.
The important thing to understand is that all motivation, and all sources of change, must come from within. No one else can take the steps necessary to change your life for you. When you find motivation lacking, when you find it hard to change, take stock of your current behaviors and disrupt the cycle to experience continued growth.