Essentials for Change: How to Maximize your Motivation

The past year has completely reshaped the way we live. As more people get vaccinated, life will slowly return to ‘normal.’ Schedules will fill up again. Soon we will rebuild our lives by doing everything we have been waiting to do. Before we jump in headfirst, let’s take this opportunity to carefully consider what we add things back into our schedules, and why.

Here are five science-backed tips to inspire change so you can create a rewarding and happy life.

1. What are your values?

Change is easier to maintain when it aligns with our values. Values are things we believe are important, rewarding, or fulfilling. Common values are intimate relationships, health, family, work/career, personal growth/education, friendships/socializing, religion/spirituality, community, and leisure.

Rank your values in order, #1 being the most important and so on down the list. Ask yourself, does how I spend my time reflect my values? For instance, if health and family are top values, you may choose spend time with your family over another activity. Perhaps you might feel guilty when time is spent on devices instead of on your health. 

Connect your daily schedule with your most important values. This link is called value-oriented living. People who live according to their values experience more happiness and life satisfaction.

It can be tricky to make changes when they conflict with our values. This kind of change affects motivation. For example, a parent may struggle to exercise if family values are prioritized over health values. If this resonates, make statement that honours both values. For instance, “by prioritizing exercise today, I am becoming a healthier & fitter parent.”

2. What is your why?

Write a mission statement for your life. What kind of life do you want to lead? What kind of person do you wish to be? What would you like to achieve?

When you have answers to such big questions, you will make better choices that support your ideal life and ideal self. 

If you’re drawing blanks for those big questions, ask yourself, “why is this new activity/goal important to me?” Whatever you come up with is important, so write it down. Let’s call it the “this is my why” statement. When you feel a dip in motivation, re-read “this is my why.” You might need a few of these, one for each goal or one for each value.  

3. Be Specific & Realistic

How are you going to integrate this change into your weekly schedule? SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time Bound) goals help us move from desired ideas of change (e.g., I’d like to be fitter), to specific tasks that Siri or Alexa can organize. If Alexa cannot help you, it’s a sign that your goal is too obscure. 

Try it. Say, “Alexa, remind me to go to the gym.” Instead ask Alexa, “please add Pilates 6:45pm Tuesday, recurring for 12 weeks.”

Be realistic. We usually set unachievable goals. These goals lead to burnout and frustration. When we can’t reach our goals, we give up. It’s the reason most plans fail.

Instead, set easy goals that you can reach day after day. Small achievable goals create lasting change. When we consistently achieve our goals, we feel proud and that is motivating. Aim for a goal you’re 150% sure you can accomplish and scale it back again. You might also consider a two-part goal, which provides flexibility. For example, my first goal is running 3 miles. But on days I’m not feeling up for running, I can still meet my goal with 20 minutes of yoga. This modification allows you to honour your needs and still reach your goals. 

4. Accountability & Reward

Achieving a goal is satisfying in and of itself. But extra motivation boosts are helpful. Invite a friend if that helps with motivation and accountability. Or consider tracking your progress on a reward chart. Create a reward chart using a calendar where 1 star sticker = daily goal reached and 10 stars = something you want/need.

Hold yourself accountable and it will help prevent thoughts like “I can skip today.” Remember, your mind will convince you to stay the same. You will always find a reason not to change.

5. Self-Compassion

Be compassionate with yourself as you try new things. Motivation to reach your goal will fluctuate. It is important to talk to yourself in a way that inspires and encourages.

Pay attention to self-shame and guilt trips. When we shame ourselves into behaving differently or make ourselves feel guilty for not changing as quickly as we want, we are making it harder to change. Be gentle and forgiving with yourself.

Take breaks. Honour your daily needs and you will lay the groundwork for healthy and sustainable change.

There will be lapses and setbacks along the way. That’s ok. Have tons of self-compassion ready for when it happens. Pay attention when (not IF!) you start to burnout on your original plan. Burnout is a signal to mix up the activity and/or modify the goal. That’s ok. The idea is that you want to keep going. Modify, don’t quit.

It takes time and energy to get new habits going. Just keep going, feel proud of your efforts, and you will get there. I promise.

Meet the Author

Dr M is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Psychology based in London, UK. Dr M has authored numerous peer-reviewed research articles and book chapters on behaviour change, addiction, and anxiety. Dr M is a member of the British Psychological Society, Division of Clinical Psychology’s Faculty of Addictions. She is an honorary Clinical Psychologist for the NHS. She has a private clinic in London where she specializes in the treatment of mood, anxiety, addiction, & trauma.
Find her on Instagram and TikTok @thepsychologistandme where she creates free mental health awareness content, reflective journal prompts, and tips for living your best life. She is passionate about using social media platforms to destigmatize mental health conditions and increase public awareness of the benefits of psychotherapy.
Instagram:  @thepsychologistandme

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