Motivation, habits and willpower- what you need to know to change your life

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In my last post "5 steps that you can take today which will help you to start new, healthy habits this year", I had written about 5 steps that you can take to inculcate healthy habits in the new year. In this follow up post, I delve a bit deeper into what actually drives us to take action, create new habits and make changes in our lives. 

“At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it.”

-Steven Pressfield

I have noticed that for many of us what drives us to take action is ultimately our suffering that finally becomes too much to ignore any longer. This is not to judge anyone for doing this since pretty much all of us tend to do this at some time or the other. We procrastinate till either a looming deadline or some other incentive comes along prompting us to take that much needed action.

However, this becomes a big issue only when it permeates every aspect of our decision making, becomes a habit and starts affecting our health, career and relationships. In fact, many chronic health issues could be prevented or at the very least managed much better if we knew how to motivate ourselves to take action on a consistent basis. In my coaching practice, a major part of my work as a Health Coach is to use motivational interviewing techniques with my clients. This is a client centred discussion using open ended questions which helps them uncover their own reasons to change while at the same time providing a safe, non judgemental and compassionate environment for them to do so.

The good thing is that we can learn to be self motivated and that self motivation is a skill which can be learned and developed through practice. However, it does require a certain degree of self awareness and self exploration. I have written several posts on this topic and you can read them here and here

"The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change"

-Carl Rogers

Take some time and reflect upon some changes that you know you need to make but are unable to find the energy or the motivation to do so. Given below are a few of questions that you may want to ask yourself at this point to gain more clarity in terms of uncovering your reasons for making these changes in your life.

(reflect on these questions and write them down in your journal)

What makes you think you need to change?

What will happen if you don’t change?

What will be different in your life if you do make these changes?

Waiting for the right moment

Too many of us wait for external circumstances to change before we make any changes. The “right time” or the “right moment” to take action somehow never seems to arrive and sadly we end up waiting till the end of their lives without taking that action. This kind of thought process is applicable to starting a new business, creating art, writing a book, creating a new habit or for that matter any other endeavour.

Intrinsic motivation is necessary for making sure that we take action on a consistent basis. This is because intrinsic motivation is based on personal values and self awareness that leads to enjoyment, satisfaction and interest in the action being taken. As you may have realised by now, this kind of self motivation is the difference between our feeling that “we have to” do something as opposed to our feeling that “we get to” do something. It is thus the difference between feeling forced, unsatisfied and unhappy in contrast to feeling satisfied, fulfilled and energised. 

Decision fatigue is real

We also tend to have a lot of faith in our willpower in creating new habits and achieving our goals. We wrongly believe that successful people have more of it than others. However, research now shows that willpower is like a muscle and gets used up and fatigued as we keep using it time and again. This has major implications for many of the decisions that we take on a regular basis and in particular those decisions which affect major parts of our life.

Knowing this, we can prioritise and schedule our most important work first thing in the day when our willpower is at its highest. We can also plan our day ahead and automate decisions that we take every single day- what to eat; what to wear; which project to work on first etc. This leaves us with enough willpower to put apply our minds to the work that is important for us. This is so important for productivity that I have written an entire post about it here. rather than leaving it to our willpower we can learn ways to prevent this from taking place.

This strategy is something that has enabled me to be productive as a mother, full time entrepreneur and a health coach. 

 Our environment matters

Our environment is another factor which can either undermine or support our decision to take action. While it is very easy to blame the environment when things go wrong we forget that the environment that we live in drives both our good and bad behaviours. We can thus learn how to design our environment so that it supports rather than undermine our efforts in making changes in our lives and then sustaining them. 

According to James Clear (an author, entrepreneur who writes about self improvement ) there are 3 main ways to do this. 

Automating good decisions so that we can overcome procrastination by making it easier for us to take action. For eg. scheduling and using a social media blocking app at certain times in the day to reduce procrastination and distractions

Making the cues of good habits stand out in our environment so that we are more likely to notice them and act on them. Eg. keeping our workout clothes and shoes right next to our bed so that it is the first thing we see when we wake up.

Subtracting the negative influences in our environment by making them invisible. For eg. I rarely get those foods at home which I do not want my children (and family) to consume since I know it is not good for our health. 

Clarity, not chance

Many of us are also not very clear about exactly what we will be doing in order to achieve the goals that we set for ourselves. For eg. if we are planning to eat a healthy diet, are we clear on the following?  What type of meals are we going to make? Salads or soups? Which days are we planning to have these? Every single day or on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays? Are we going to cook these meals or outsource them?

The more clarity we have on how we plan to implement a new habit or reach a goal the more likely it is that we will be able to achieve it. If it is not very obvious when and where we need to take action it becomes difficult for us to implement it. (In my last post I had shared with you 5 steps that you can take to start new habits, you can read it here)

And last but not least, I have also shared with you some steps to help you feel more motivated today

  • Setting realistic, specific goals for yourself
  • Assessing and being able to take the right level of risk
  • Developing a constant love of learning to acquire new skills and knowledge
  • Being committed to personal and professional growth as opposed to merely wishing something would happen
  • Learning to become resilient by accepting and dealing with failure and moving on 
  • Reminding yourself often of your “why”
  • Taking the time to rest and recharge regularly
  • Getting help when needed

The bottom line is that there is no ONE particular thing that you can do which will help you to make these changes. The decisions that we take and the choices that we make every single day matter much more than you think and have long term consequences. 

As the famed philosopher, Socrates had said "The secret to change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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