You know those mornings where you have a workout planned, but you wake up completely unmotivated and say “No way, not today”?
We’ve all been there.
But haven’t you also had mornings where you put on your workout clothes, laced up your shoes, got on the treadmill, and had a great workout – despite feeling unmotivated?
We’ve all been there, too.
What made the difference? How did you manage to motivate yourself one day and not the other?
The answer is . . . you didn’t.
The day you were successful, you eliminated the need for motivation altogether – and you used momentum instead.
Our culture celebrates motivation. We congratulate high achievers on their ability to be self-motivated, and we hear the less accomplished of us saying that they need more motivation. “I need to get motivated” is a constant refrain.
But inherent in the concept of motivation is that a certain amount of energy is required to do whatever it is you’re trying to do – which means that it isn’t something you really want to do.
Anything you need motivation for has three things in common: 1) it’s something you think you’re supposed to do, 2) it’s hard to do it, and 3) you don’t want to do it.
All of these are, of course, connected. Thinking you need to do something (as opposed to wanting to do it) automatically makes it harder to do – and, therefore, makes you not want to do it.
In order to change all this, the first thing you need to do is eliminate the need for motivation. You need to reframe the whole situation so that motivation isn’t required. The second thing you need to do is get momentum.
Before we talk about the steps to getting momentum, let’s look at motivation in terms of dieting and weight loss.
Motivation is tough to come by in most circumstances but even more so if you’ve spent years dieting and failing.
Dieting and failing means you didn’t eat the right foods, you didn’t stick to a workout routine, you couldn’t stop yourself from bingeing. When you feel like a failure, motivation is in seriously short supply.
Dieting is basically one big “should” – you should eat fruits and vegetables, you should take 10,000 steps a day, you should drink more water. Feeling like you “need to” or that you’re “supposed to” sets up these healthy actions as hard or painful to do. In other words, you need to motivate yourself to do them.
And this is why diets don’t work.
So here’s where the first step comes in. Instead of thinking of eating fruits and vegetables as something you “need” to do, reframe it and see it as something you want to do.
You want to eat fruits and vegetables because they make you feel vibrant and alive. You want to exercise because it gives you energy. You want to drink more water because it makes your skin glow.
Needing to do something requires motivation. Wanting to do something doesn’t.
After you’ve reframed how you see things, the next thing you want to do is get momentum. And the way you get momentum is by taking action.
Fortunately, whereas motivation requires a huge leap, momentum comes from taking small, consecutive steps. The initial action required to set off the chain reaction that becomes momentum is easy. All you have to do is take a few baby steps.
Let’s look at a typical goal and change it so that motivation isn’t required and that momentum is easy to get.
Let’s say you’ve got a morning workout planned – you’re going to get on the treadmill for one hour because (no surprise here) you want to burn a certain number of calories so you can lose weight.
The first thing wrong with this goal is that it seems like climbing Mt. Everest. Who would look forward to getting on the treadmill for an hour first thing in the morning – just to do sprints and burn X number of calories?
Step one is to reframe your “why.” You could see this workout as revving up your energy for a busy day ahead. You could think about how breaking a sweat boosts your metabolism. Or you could think about how running makes you more calm throughout the day.
Step two is to break your goal down into smaller steps. In order to be ready to run, you need to wake up early, put on workout clothes, get in your car, drive to the gym, and get on the treadmill. These steps seem obvious but breaking down the larger goal into pieces gives you the baby steps you need to get momentum.
Step three is to take one step after another – but as you take them, see each one as its own goal. There’s no pressure to even achieve the next goal.
Pretend that you don’t have anything else to do all day but get up early and get moving. All you have to do is set your alarm and put your feet on the floor.
Next, all you have to do is put on workout clothes. Take the pressure off – you don’t even have to work out. You’re just going to the kitchen to make coffee, and this is what you’re going to wear.
Next, you’re going to get in your car and drive to the gym – even if it’s just to walk in the door. Then you’re going to get on the treadmill to walk for a few minutes. And so on. You get the picture.
Because you eliminated the pressure of “having” to work out, you no longer needed motivation. And once you broke your goal down into baby steps that were easy to achieve, you found yourself on the treadmill ready to work out, even when you initially didn’t feel like it.
What will probably happen is that not only will you successfully complete your hour-long workout, you’ll have the energy to do more, like lift weights or do lunges.
Who knows? You may even have the best workout of your life.
One caveat to momentum: if you don’t find yourself working your way into it, stop whatever it is you’re doing. Don’t force yourself to have a kick-ass workout if you’re exhausted. Try again tomorrow.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t push yourself or that you should allow yourself to do whatever you feel like. It’s to point out the danger of using willpower and trying to force yourself to do something.
It’s always better to take the pressure off, be kind to yourself, and then try again later than it is to give up, feel like a failure, and have to start all over again.
All small steps – no matter how small they are – count. And when you add them up, they give you momentum.
If you wait for motivation you’ll be waiting forever. So stop waiting for it and get momentum instead.
Not only will you easily achieve your goals – you may even exceed them.