As we near the halfway point of the year, I’ve heard from a few people who fear that they might not get as far as they wanted on their goals this year. This is not due to a lack of desire on their part; they just can’t seem to find the inspiration to do what it takes to fully achieve their objectives.
As a mid-year panic sets in for these people, I feel inspired to dispel the myth of inspiration, to share the plain truth about procrastination and outline a few mechanisms behind motivation.
The Myth of Inspiration
No matter what your goals are, there are bound to be days when you don’t feel like showing up. There will be cold calls you don’t feel like making; exercises you don’t feel like doing; and projects you don’t feel like working on. We all have our “off days.” They are natural and unavoidable, and are not in and of themselves problematic. The problem comes when we wait around for our “on days” for when we feel inspired before we take action to get anything done.
Often people think that when inspiration shows up, it’s a signal that the timing is right for us to work towards our goals. Or, they think they need inspiration to put them in the right frame of mind. Left unchecked, this dependence on the muse of inspiration can become like an addiction. Instead of developing the habits required to take action when inspiration can’t be found, a person may find that they can’t make any progress towards their goals without it.
When we wait for inspiration, we are giving up control of what we want in life to a fleeting feeling. And, in fact, the challenges involved with achieving many goals can create feelings of frustration and discouragement – feelings that are unlikely to inspire or motivate. When our emotional state dictates our ability to accomplish what we want, we often find it difficult or impossible to build the momentum needed to reach our long-term goals.
Clearly this tactic is unsustainable if you want to maintain the level of commitment needed for significant achievement. In reality, there isn’t any threshold of excitement after which you will automatically start working on your goals. There will be days you feel inspired and days you don’t. Those of us who take action anyway are the ones more likely to make the changes in our lives we want to see.
Procrastination: the Dark Side of Inspiration
When you wait around for inspiration to hit you, you can fall prey to procrastination. Even though your Future Self has set up a goal (such as losing weight or earning half a million dollars in sales), it’s your Present Self that is responsible for taking the action. This Present Self is also predisposed to actions that provide you instant gratification — not a few months or year from now. Thus, the brain sees the value of long-term benefits when they are in the future, but in the present moment, it rates the immediate wants higher. So, it is more likely to push to achieve those short-term goals above the long-term ones.
Knowing that long-term consequences and rewards will not motivate the Present Self, we get to find ways to make our desires for future rewards become as relevant as our present rewards. Often the true value of a goal isn’t even that end point anyway – it’s what we experience along the journey.
Rather than focusing too much on the end goal, consider how the act of pursuing that goal – in and of itself – can improve your life. We might have a long-term goal of losing 20 pounds, but exercise and improved eating habits can positively impact our lives today. We might have a goal of attracting 10 new clients, but a single positive networking experience can itself give us a huge confidence boost.
When we do this, suddenly the desire to take action feels easier and more valuable to the Present Self. And when our Present Self finds value in an activity, the desire to procrastinate falls away.
The Mechanisms of Motivation
Motivation, (also referred to as inspiration) is the emotional byproduct of taking action. Once you start doing an activity, and see some rewards from it, motivation floods through you to propel you forward. It’s a response to activity and seeing tangible result – no matter how small.
Take the exhausted salesperson, as an example. This person may have a list of 20 people to call in a day, with no desire to talk to anyone. But, they manage to dial the first number and have a pleasant conversation. Even if the person on the other line doesn’t buy what they are offering, the action of making the call and enjoying the conversation helps to propel the salesperson to call the next person on the list. After a few calls and a few wins, they feel motivated to finish the list.
Since getting yourself to simply take action can be the toughest part of all, here are some of my top tricks for getting things started:
• Break down your goal into smaller, more manageable mini-goals. “Chunking down” your goals into smaller tasks makes them feel more attainable. The rewards is also closer to the present moment, rather than too big to achieve, or far off in the future.
• Set up a “pre-game” routine to help you get in the mood. This is where you do the same thing every time before you start working on your goal tasks. After doing this for a while, this routine puts you in the right frame of mind no matter how “off” you feel. By the time you are ready to get to work, you feel better about doing it.
• Implement the 2-minute rule. If you find yourself resistant to doing something, commit to the activity for at least two minutes. You might just find that you end up feeling motivated to continue the activity longer.
While inspiration comes and goes, each of these tactics will help you take consistent action into your daily practice and garner the results that birth real motivation. Within a short while, you may notice your momentum building. The excitement you’ll feel to achieve your goals will generate its own inspiration – no waiting required!
What’s a goal you have for the year, that you’re not taking enough action on? Are you waiting around to feel inspired or motivated? Of the above tricks for taking action, which can you try out this week?
“My advice is to never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.” – Charles Dickens