- Motivation isn’t just the solution; motivation is the problem. The belief that you need motivation to take action is going to prevent you from forming any good habits. ZzMotivation isn’t an effective strategy for long-term behavior change for two reasons. First, motivation fluctuates from day to day, and second, it tends to decrease over time. Habits not only fly under the radar of our consciousness, but they also fly under the radar of our emotions. Just like we savor the first bite of our meal more than the last, we tend to be less motivated the more times we repeat a routine. Boredom is the biggest obstaclekmm m y to excellence. Many people hit the gym for two or three weeks, then lose their motivation to go and quit. They blame their lack of motivation, but it’s the idea that they need to be motivated to go that is the problem. So, if motivation isn’t the solution, what is?
Before I answer that question, let me ask you a question. Are you motivated to go to work every day? Probably not, so why do you go? What compels you to push through those doors every day to start your daily grind? It isn’t motivation. It’s discipline that keeps you going. Discipline is doing what you know needs to be done when it needs to be done, whether you feel like it or not. Willpower is more reliable than motivation, and unlike motivation, it is developed, not diluted, through repetition. Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist and foremost expert on self-control, has demonstrated that willpower can be developed like a muscle, making it a more solid foundation for establishing habits.[i]
Many people already know what they need to do to transform their bodies, but they struggle to change. That’s because creating new habits can be difficult. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be. Applying an approach that understands human tendencies and behavioral psychology can make a huge difference. Too many motivational speakers tell us, “You’ve got to want it.” That isn’t a strategy; it’s an ultimatum. While I believe we should take ownership of our results, where is their ownership? If you fail, they’ll blame your lack of motivation.
I am going to assume you want to transform your body because you’re reading this. I don’t know how bad you want it, but I don’t need to know. Any effective habit-building strategy isn’t going to rely too heavily on motivation. It’s too capricious. Consistency builds habits. Our subconscious brain learns through repetition. We condition it as we would an animal. After all, it’s the primitive part of our brain, sometimes called the reptilian brain. Like an animal, it is powerful and intuitive, but it can be impulsive and prone to making decisions that sacrifice what we want MOST for what we want NOW.
You’ll learn a variety of techniques to help you establish healthy habits. The two most powerful strategies for behavior change are environmental design and shrinking the commitment. Our behavior is powerfully influenced by our environment. Grocery stores know that product placement is their most powerful tool for altering our purchasing behavior. Unlike willpower and motivation, once we design our environment, it becomes constant. This consistency is a necessity for habit-formation.
The mini habit strategy focuses on shrinking down the habit so small that even on your worst day, you’ll have enough willpower and motivation to keep the habit alive. When it comes to habits, repetition is more important than duration. First, we need to establish the habit – then we can build on it. Making the habit so small we cannot fail means we will rack up win after win. Small wins are an excellent strategy for sustained motivation. If we do more than the mini habit requires, that’s wonderful, but it isn’t necessary. Mini habits are focused on building momentum and accumulating the compounding benefits of small repeated actions.
The principle of momentum applies to habits as much as it does to physics. It requires a lot more energy to put an object in motion than to keep it in motion. We struggle to get that initial momentum because we are too ambitious. Instead of starting with a daily 10-minute walk, we commit to going to the gym two hours a day which causes us to feel overwhelmed.
If you happen to be extra motivated, perhaps you just listened to Tony Robbins or your favorite song, you might walk for an hour, but what about the next day when you aren’t so motivated? Could you do a 10-minute walk that keeps your streak alive? Of course. Nothing motivates us better than progress. Creating an unbroken chain of X’s in your habit tracker will cause your motivation to soar and lead to a host of better habits because daily exercise has been shown to improve our mood and self-control.[ii] You are not going to want to see your perfect streak end. If you make your scorecard public, you will be even more motivated to keep your streak alive. The more you do, the more you will want to do.
You can download our FREE Habit Tracker and Weight Loss Score Card with Habit Tracker here.
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[i] Muraven, Mark, Roy F. Baumeister, and Dianne M. Tice. “Longitudinal Improvement of Self-Regulation Through Practice: Building Self-Control Strength Through Repeated Exercise.” The Journal of Social Psychology 139.4 (1999): 446-57.
[ii] Oaten, M. & K. Cheng. Longitudinal gains in self-regulation from regular physical exercise. Br J Health Psychol. (Nov 2006). v 11( Pt 4), 717-33. http:// http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ PubMed/ 17032494