Everyone, at some point in their life, has experienced the cruel reality that motivation is nothing more than a fleeting experience.
A flash in the pan.
Unfortunately, the emotional charge you experience when you feel highly motivated to complete a task or reach a goal is an extremely convincing lie.
So convincing in fact that it’s quite common for people to invest large sums of financial and emotional capital upfront to support their new goal or behavior.
I’m 100% running that marathon this year… I need some new trainers.
This year is the year I’m learning to cook…better re-fit the kitchen.
I’ve always wanted to start a blog … I’ll need to spend at least £10,000 on a good website… might as well quit my job.
The sad reality is that the motivation to achieve said behaviour tends to wane when the reality of the repeated (often challenging) action that is required every single day becomes apparent.
Give me an ambitious goal and I’ll provide the equally (if not greater) painful counterbalance required to leverage the results.
See, the assumption is that change occurs like firing up the propeller on a boat and setting the course, we believe we’ll have the power and fuel to reach where we want to go.
You have a thought.
This creates a feeling.
The experience is often significant and, for a short time after, no obstacle seems too great, no mountain too high.
You set your targets based on this feeling of invincibility.
Raise the bar to what you feel like you could achieve at your best, what the motivated you could do.
The reality (and forgive the obscure analogy) is that motivation is more akin to the oars on the boat
One strong rowing stroke propels you forward, sometimes a long way, but eventually the momentum ceases and another stroke is required to continue.
Obviously, the ideal scenario would be to maintain a constant stroke rate, reducing the friction placed on the boat’s hull.
Ideally, we need a drip-fed source of motivation to uphold our ability to take action and do what’s needed day in, day out.
What’s the take home message here?
Firstly, recognise that when you’re feeling motivated, this is an exceptional circumstance. Don’t set the required action based on that feeling. Base your goals on how you think you’ll feel at 6am on Friday morning when you need to wake up, throw on your trainers and head to the gym.
Be pessimistic and assume that you’ll likely have to dig deep to even wake up that early.
I spoke about this here.
Second, we need a way to achieve a regular dose of motivation to keep the momentum, to maintain the course. We need some way of gaming our reality, keeping us in tune with progress.
A common scenario we see with our clients is the mid-week derailment.
Progress starts off strong, the week begins with a string of successful days of sticking to nutrition targets, training and ensuring a solid night’s sleep.
Wednesday throws an unexpected lunch date with a friend, followed by a dinner to entertain clients.
That’s it, another week failed. Might as well re-start Monday.
This is the point where the boat stops moving. We feel like we want to sit in the boat and cry, confused as to why motivation failed us.
We need some way to re-spark motivation when we fail in order to get back on the bandwagon.
After-all, one bad day is only a problem if it leads to two.
Something I like to suggest with clients who struggle with the above scenario is to use a traffic light system to score their days.
Green would be a home run. All elements of nutrition nailed (you can get some guidelines here), training session completed with progression, 8 hours sleep, meditated – whatever you’re trying to hit. If you had say 10 tasks to do on a day, a green day might be 8 or more.
For a green day, score +1
Amber could be a day where you miss the finer details (fruit, veg, maybe slightly less sleep than optimal) this might be a typical busy day. Crucially, you’ve still hit protein, calories and got a training session in and maintained the core themes.
For amber days, no score.
Red would be a day that catches you off guard or when motivation has left you for dead. This could be anything from a complete derailment to maybe only hitting your calorie range, skipping training, 5 hours sleep or undershooting on protein.
A red day is scored as -2.
Initially, get a positive score at the end of each week. Simple.
The result of this kind of process?
After a terrible day you run down your checklist and realise you scored negative 2.
You feel frustrated and a little lost, normally the thought patterns ensue that the week is ruined, you’re not cut out for this, you’re hopeless and pathetic. It’s not uncommon to get quite catastrophic with your thinking here and this is where the real difficulties with failing to acknowledge that sometimes, you just won’t have the motivation to follow through will arise.
What this process should instigate is the reminder that you need 2-3 green days in a row now to still make this week a success, you can still redeem this.
What’s more, “redeeming” the week isn’t just some abstract idea that means you just have to try a bit harder.
There are concrete, steadfast criteria to hit. Actions to take that you can measure. Boxes to tick.
If you’re finding you have more than 2 red days in a week, average it out to a fortnight and try to score more than +1.
Once you’re scoring 7 for more than 2 or three weeks in a row, you can up your standards. Maybe you want to try adding 2-3 stretches after your training session to assist with recovery?
Maybe you’re going to start ensuring 4 meals per day to maximise the anabolic response?
The progression opportunities are endless with this.
Some people may consider this too much micro-management and an anal process to do every day.
I like to retort with the example of a swan, gliding across a lake.
To the by-stander, this looks effortless.
Beneath the surface, the swan is putting in the work to create this appearance.
To truly avoid the pitfalls of fleeting motivation you need to game the process, trick your own psychology.
Sometimes, in order to be the enigma that is always on track and achieving goals while also enjoying themselves every week, it takes a detail orientated mind-set and some work behind the scenes.
Ultimately, over time we are the average of the actions and habits we take every day.
If we have a way to ensure that the majority of our days are in line with our goals and we have a way to pick ourselves out of the negative spirals that life can throw our way, doing what you told yourself you would do should become an inevitability rather than a dream.