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We’re experts at setting goals. Today we’ll do 12 different things. And by the end of the month, we’ll nail all those, plus one million more. Sounds like a plan, right?
Truth is, it’s much easier to set goals than to actually get ‘em done. It all comes down to motivation, and we’ll be honest: We have trouble keeping the fire lit. It’s so much easier to sit back and think about all the things we’re going to do… eventually.
To stay motivated, we knew we needed some outside help. That’s why we went to the pros to find 15 new ways to reach your goals, whatever those may be.
We’re not saying it’ll be easy, and we’re not saying it’ll be quick. But we’re willing to bet it’ll be worth it. And the satisfaction that comes from accomplishing just one of our goals? It’s enough to keep us taking baby steps toward everything else on our list.
1. Figure out your ‘why’
To keep that clear-eyed outlook, write down a few reasons you want to get fit (or whatever your goal is), suggests Michelle Segar, PhD, behavior expert and author of “No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness.”
While that may sound obvious, naming concrete things you want — like getting to the third floor without panting, sleeping better, or turning down junk food — will make it easier to track your progress and stay motivated, rather than aiming for an abstract goal like “get healthy.”
“We want people to anchor physical activity to something that’s actually going to motivate long-term behavior,” Segar says. “It’s important for people to figure out whether the reasons they’ve been trying to do it in the past actually set them up for failure or success.”
2. Keep a running list of what makes you smile
Believe it or not, one of the best ways to keep yourself motivated comes auto-installed on your smartphone. No, not Apple Health or the hundreds of Instagram fitness influencers out there — we’re talking about the Notes app.
Say you don’t know exactly what you want. If you just know you want to start living better, keep a running list of the moments that make you smile, suggests Lindi Duesenberg, founder and executive director of DMF Youth.
“For a while, I would just write down moments in my day that really brought me joy — what I was excited about — and that led me to where I am now.” If you’re not entirely sure what your endgame is, try tracking what makes you happy.
Love seeing your silhouette in Warrior II or that feeling when you hit mile 2.9 of a 5K? Add it to your list, then take a peek and let it motivate you when it’s drizzling outside and working out sounds like the worst idea ever.
Stoked to get home from work and cook dinner? Maybe think about enrolling in a cooking class.
3. Look your excuses in the eye
Excuses are man’s best friend and greatest enemy, says Bernie Roth, a professor at Stanford University and author of “The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life.”
The trick is to look at your excuses straight on. For example, are you really too tired to work out, or do you just want to watch the new season of Queer Eye? Get super honest with yourself and go from there.
“If you see you’re using an excuse, just correct yourself. Next time it comes up, you’ll probably do it again — but after a few times, you’ll stop,” Roth says.
“If you believe your own baloney reasons, you’ll never change your behavior. It’s really a matter of telling yourself the truth.”
4. Develop a gratitude practice
The moment we open our eyes, we’re aware of everything we have to do that day. To stay motivated, tick off a few things you’re grateful for while still in bed, says Duesenberg.
“When we wake up, we’re often overwhelmed with what we have to do and what we have to fix, and our focus becomes that,” Duesenberg says. “So, shifting that focus right away, just acknowledging what is good, puts you in a better mind frame to tackle the day.”
5. Don’t let fear stop you
If you haven’t heard of Jason Comely, the creator of the Rejection Therapy game, tune in to this NPR podcast. In brief, his fear of rejection was so strong, he became totally isolated in his home.
To face his fear, he decided to turn it into a game: Try and get rejected at least once a day, every day. Eventually, he turned his ideas into a deck, each card with phrases like “Before purchasing something, ask for a discount.” He sold them online and now people play across the globe.
In taking rejection’s power away, Comely was able to beat it, and Duesenberg says the same technique can apply to anything that intimidates you. Aim for — or at least expect — failure, and eventually it’ll happen less and less.
“Just jump in and be okay with failing and totally losing face. We get paralyzed by fear. We feel like we have to be good at everything before we start it, which is counterintuitive, but we live in such an instant gratification kind of world,” Duesenberg says.
So, if you aim for the bottom rung, you’re still a step above not trying at all — and a step closer toward your eventual goal.
6. Take 20 seconds
While we’ve always associated the “20-second rule” with the amount of time it’s acceptable to eat something after it’s hit the floor, Duesenberg likes to give it another, slightly more motivational meaning.
“You just need 20 seconds of insane courage to do something. Just be bold and do it, and whatever happens, happens. The outcome might not be perfect, but at least you took that step and that’s one step closer,” Duesenberg says.
It’s all about baby steps, even if you need to close your eyes and take a deep breath to do them — like the one you’d take as a little kid before jumping in a pool.
In the same way, work up the 20 seconds of courage it takes to press send on an email to a new business contact or jog for 10 minutes today — your “20 seconds” doesn’t have to be literal. After pressing send or kicking off a run, it’s likely you’ll want to do it again and again.
7. Start small
All of the experts we spoke to recommended establishing a baseline of what your reality is so you can aim for progress you can actually make happen. For example, not saying you’ll get up at 6 a.m. when you hate mornings.
Instead, try setting your alarm clock for 15 minutes earlier than you usually wake up, walking an extra quarter of a mile every day, or adding a new vegetable to your dinner. Slow and steady wins the race, friends.
8. Reward yourself
Don’t force yourself to do something you don’t actually enjoy, because it’ll be nearly impossible to work it into your lifestyle long-term, Segar says. But if you’re ambivalent about an activity like running or going to the gym, she suggests linking it to something you genuinely like.
“Feeling good could come from who you’re walking with; it doesn’t have to be from the walk itself,” says Segar.
The key is to connect it to something you really want to do, whether that means listening to your favorite podcast on your run or treating yourself to a homemade smoothie after a tough workout.
9. Get outside
Segar says one of the most underrated motivational tricks is simply taking a walk. Although running can seem like the gold standard, walking is a respectable form of exercise in itself.
Need some convincing? A 2017 study found that a brief walk up the stairs was more energizing than 50 milligrams of caffeine.
10. Schedule weekly check-ins
For those trying to up their fitness game, not seeing results can be one of the most frustrating parts of working out. When it feels like nothing you’re doing makes a difference, it’s easy to want to give up, Duesenberg says.
Segar recommends scheduling weekly check-ins with yourself, as weirdly formal as it may feel. Give yourself an hour or two to evaluate what’s helping you reach your goals and what you’re just not excited about.
Reflection is crucial to sticking with your goals. So, if you want to start cooking more but you’re still ordering Uber Eats every night, take stock of why you’re doing it — and whether your goal is worth more to you than queso fries.
11. Turn to social media
In 2017, researchers discovered that exercise patterns are contagious on social media. If you’re a woman looking for motivation, you’re more likely to be inspired by other women you’re friends with. If you’re a man, fit folk of any gender will help you get moving.
Social media is also a way to go public with your goals and stay accountable. There’s nothing like the feeling of validation, so if Snapchatting selfies of yourself at the gym keeps you motivated, Duesenberg says go for it.
It’s basically the modern equivalent of kids saying, “I did it! I did it!” says Duesenberg. Just taking that minute to appreciate your accomplishments will motivate you to keep moving forward. Hey, whatever works.
12. Phone a friend
One tried-and-true trick to stay motivated is the ever-popular “phone a friend” option, by which we mean, buddy up to get yourself to a workout class, Duesenberg says.
Even better, going to the gym or a yoga class with a pal means you have someone to make sympathizing eye contact with during the more advanced moves, instead of watching everyone else execute them perfectly.
If it’s a creative project or studying you’re after, grab your laptop, meet a friend, and have a work date. Even if you’re working on separate projects, you’ve got a pal there for support and those “I hate everything” moments.
13. Tune into an inspirational playlist
This trick may seem a bit counterintuitive, but it’s a good one: Sit back and listen to some jams. Find your favorite playlist on Spotify, Amazon Music, Pandora, good ole YouTube, or other streaming services. In minutes, you’ll get you off your butt and get moving toward your goals.
Research shows that music motivates us, especially when it comes to fitness. A 2017 study found that participants had a better attitude about working out and enjoyed it more if they had music, compared to the participants who worked out in silence.
For some inspiration, check out our favorite playlists on 8Tracks, including “Your Executive Minute” for some tough love, “Get Pumped” for more of the same with a hip-hop twist, and “Motivation” for some quality time with the Arnold (and others).
14. Block it into your calendar
By the time 5 p.m. rolls around, we’re usually too tired to work out, and morning workouts are… good for morning people. But if you can find a few moments of “goal time” here and there, it’ll add up.
Segar recommends going old-school with a planner and taking a look at the little gaps in your day. Sometimes, five extra minutes is all it takes.
If you’re exercise-oriented, we especially love Sworkit, a free app that lets you set how long you want a workout to last (one minute, please).
Grad school on the back burner? No problem. Block out five minutes on Sunday morning to work on your application. Even if all you do is fill out the name box, it’s better than nada.
15. Watch inspiring speeches
Whenever we need a quick boost of inspiration, we head on over to YouTube to watch award acceptance speeches, like that epic moment in TV history when Leonardo DiCaprio finally won Best Actor at the Oscars. We cry a little every time.
16. Say no to snoozing
If your goal involves getting up earlier, whether it’s to work out or to work on that application essay, this could be the final (but effective) straw: The Clocky alarm clock runs around when it’s time to wake up, so you’ll have to chase it to turn it off.
Not very nice, but when we want to work out and our sleep-self says otherwise, sometimes tough love comes in handy.
17. Use Coffivity
Ever notice how you’re crazy productive in a coffee shop? Us too. A study from a few years back showed why this might be.
It turns out, when we’re a teensy bit distracted by background noise, it may enhance our creative cognition. So, if you’re in a productivity slump, turn on Coffivity for ambient background noises of a coffee shop (espresso not included).
18. Set a timer
This is a little mind game we’re quite fond of. Set a timer for 30 minutes and do whatever it is you’re avoiding, full throttle. No matter what, keep plugging away at that task. It’s best to silence your phone, lest you get distracted.
When the timer goes off, take a 10-minute break and do whatever the heck you want. We don’t care, just make it luxurious. Then, when those 10 minutes are up, get back at it.
Keep working away for 30 minutes on then 10 minutes off, until you get the workout, the essay, or the spreadsheet done, son.