If you’ve ever gone for a long hike, you know you go through certain phases. Starting out, the spring in your step keeps you moving fast, up hill and over dale. You may have a smile on your face and enjoy taking in the sights. You can’t be stopped. Further down the trail, your stride is smaller and you begin to slow down. You still have energy, and yet your head bends ever more toward the ground. Thank goodness for that because your tired feet don’t lift quite as high and you’re more apt to stumble. The load on your back may start to get heavy. Eventually, you may find a spot to rest and cool off, and when you do, it can be difficult to get back up and moving. By the end of the hike, you’re warm, tired, and dragging your feet. It feels so good to get back to where you started, and you sit down with relief.
Motivation with a long-term goal follows a similar pattern. It’s a tricky thing!
When we start a project, we’re focused. We have energy to burn, ideas, creative strategies. It’s later, when our excitement begins to wane and we’re slogging through the hip-deep swamps of our goal that we need the motivation the most. Finally, even with a light at the end of the tunnel, we might feel the urge to break into a sprint and run those last few steps. Yet, if our energy or motivation is low, we may struggle to keep moving forward.
So, how can a motivation plan help?
A little over a year ago, I realized that my friends were achieving their dreams in a variety of ways, and I still had a big dream sitting out there. It was like a hot air balloon laying flat in a field – bright, colorful, madly exciting with potential, and going nowhere.
That was when I decided I needed to get moving on my dream of writing a novel. Otherwise, I worried I’d find myself sitting someday in a nursing home wondering where the years had gone and feeling I’d missed my opportunity.
The motivation to begin came from down deep, and still that first attempt failed. I ran out of steam in only a few weeks and became distracted by other (seemingly) more pressing matters. Finally, after a stressful summer had mostly passed, I noticed the loss of my motivation, re-energized myself, and began again. I learned a lot from the mistakes of my first attempt and built a lot of those lessons into the preparation phases for the 280 Day Challenge. By preparing more fully for the challenge of writing my novel in 9 months, I was better able to harness my motivation.
What do I mean by that? I mean, I dug deeper. I defined the motivation more clearly for myself. For me, writing is something I have always been meant to do. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have fallen in love with it at such a young age. The characters in my novel have something important to say about life and they’ve hung on for a long time to get the chance to say it. My role is to write their story, and that is at the heart of my motivation. This is the thought that keeps me going. I don’t think I knew that before I started this challenge in August.
Knowing the source of my motivation keeps me overcoming obstacles when I experience them along the way.
A few years ago, my household found ourselves in a situation where we needed to tighten our belts financially. Change can be difficult under the best of circumstances, and this situation created stress and tension. We agreed on a strategy to make saving fun – a system of point values for making choices that saved us money. For example, eating all of our meals from our own pantry (not eating out) for a day was worth 5 points, keeping our grocery bill under a certain limit for the week was worth 10 points, and so on. We kept a list of point values and tracked our progress on a calendar posted in the bedroom. For every 50 points earned, we got $10 of money to “play” with.
What we learned through the process was that we loved seeing our point values grow; that alone was exciting. Also, when we reached enough points to get fun money, we were a lot less likely to use it because we had worked so hard to earn it. Yet, when we did use it, we didn’t feel guilty, and it created a release. We were saving money, and we could still do fun things without being extravagant.
The “carrot vs. stick” model has been out there for a long time. The question is… Is it most effective to reward good behavior or punish poor choices? Neither really. The research says intrinsic motivation is most important. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t reinforce our internal desires to succeed with a little external boost, especially for practices that are simple and straightforward in nature.
I built several reinforcements into my personal 280 Day Challenge. For instance, I created a daily check-in for myself where I post my progress for the world to see. I’m still ultimately responsible to myself, and yet the fact that it’s out there – public – adds just a little extra accountability.
Checkpoints in the process help too. I broke down the 280 days to smaller, more achievable blocks – trimesters – that act as stepping stones toward the larger goal. My daily goals work that way too, and now, it feels strange and uncomfortable to me if I don’t work on my novel every single day.
Life is boundlessly distracting. There are so many shiny things in the world, and I am like a raccoon with a penchant for collecting them. So, it can be difficult (to say the least) to stay focused on one thing for nine months or longer.
That’s why I post printed reminders (like the ones on this page… They are free to download, so please use them and enjoy!) around my home to help me turn daily practice into a positive habit. I keep one in the bedroom to read while I’m getting dressed. One is posted on the bathroom mirror for regular reminders throughout the day. Another is visible from the seat where I write. And still another resides in my kitchen, where I see it in the morning and evening while I prepare food and clean up.
Over time these reminders become part of the backdrop of my home, and I have to be careful that I don’t stop noticing them. So I switch them around every so often and make a conscious effort to read them regularly. The people quoted inspire me as much as their words, so it’s an easy practice.
Touchstones & Other Supporters
I’m fortunate to have a number of friends – touchstones – who check on my writing progress periodically. As I said earlier, we’re really only accountable to ourselves. However, if we need to look someone else in the eye and explain why we may not be achieving our particular goals, the excuses that work to convince ourselves begin to look weak when they’re reflected in someone else’s opinion, especially when they’re a person we really respect.
Discovering, Harnessing, and Maintaining Our Motivation
I encourage you to think through and develop a motivation plan. It doesn’t take much time and it will pay dividends over the long haul of your goal. Follow these few simple steps:
- Think through and/or write down what motivates you internally. Dig beneath the surface and discover the heart of your motivation. That’s where your long-term power lies.
- Determine what external motivators might support your goal. Keep them fun and engaging. Be flexible and change them as needed. Remember, your internal motivation is first and foremost. A goal that relies too heavily on external motivators will (most likely) fail.
- Build in some distraction-busters that work for you. Print and post the quotes on this page or add some messages to your calendar so they crop up when you least expect them and need them most. Or keep a memento of your goal handy. Whatever it is, your distraction-buster(s) must be something you see at regular intervals.
- Get your touchstones on board, and ask them to help you stay accountable to yourself.
Understanding ourselves, our motivation, and how our minds might stray from the goal can lead to unstoppable determination. If you’ve committed to a goal, creating a motivation plan will help keep you hiking through to the end with energy and focus.
What internal and external motivators keep you moving toward your goal?