Motivation is a powerful, yet tricky beast. Sometimes it is really easy to get motivated, and you find yourself wrapped up in a whirlwind of excitement. Other times, it is nearly impossible to figure out how to motivate yourself and you’re trapped in a death spiral of procrastination.
One of the most surprising things about motivation is that it often comes after starting a new behavior, not before. We have this common misconception that motivation arrives as a result of passively consuming a motivational video or reading an inspirational book. However, active inspiration can be a far more powerful motivator.
Motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Getting started, even in very small ways, is a form of active inspiration that naturally produces momentum.
- If your workout doesn’t have a time when it usually occurs, then each day you’ll wake up thinking, “I hope I feel motivated to exercise today.”
- If your business doesn’t have a system for marketing, then you’ll show up at work crossing your fingers that you’ll find a way to get the word out (in addition to everything else you have to do).
- If you don’t have a scheduled time when you write every week, then you’ll find yourself saying things like, “I just need to find the willpower to do it.”
Here are some examples of how you can apply ritual and routine to get motivated:
- Exercise more consistently: Use the same warm up routine in the gym.
- Become more creative: Follow a creative ritual before you start writing or painting or singing.
- Start each day stress-free: Create a five-minute morning meditation ritual.
- Sleep better: Follow a “power down” routine before bed.
Human beings love challenges, but only if they are within the optimal zone of difficulty. Tasks that are significantly below your current abilities are boring. Tasks that are significantly beyond your current abilities are discouraging. But tasks that are right on the border of success and failure are incredibly motivating to our human brains. We want nothing more than to master a skill just beyond our current horizon.
We can call this phenomenon The Goldilocks Rule. The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.
Working on tasks that adhere to the Goldilocks Rule is one of the keys to maintaining long-term motivation. If you find yourself feeling unmotivated to work on a task, it is often because it has drifted into an area of boredom or been shoved into an area of great difficulty. You need to find a way to pull your tasks back to the border of your abilities where you feel challenged, but capable.
Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” So often it seems that we want to work easily at work worth doing. We want our work to be helpful and respected, but we do not want to struggle through our work. We want our stomachs to be flat and our arms to be strong, but we do not want to grind through another workout. We want the final result, but not the failed attempts that precede it. We want the gold, but not the grind.