[This post from Happify Daily arrived in my inbox just hours after I scheduled next Monday’s post, my April 2015 e-newsletter “The Willpower Instinct.” [Which will be archived soon after posting on my website. Perfect timing. And the first suggestion – to practice self- compassion – is what I teach everywhere these days to tame the inner critic and strengthen our resolve to move forward. [See today’s accompanying post on Self-Compassion Is a More Powerful Motivator than Self-Esteem.] May these tools prove immediately helpful in strengthening your own motivation and resilience in the face of life’s daily challenges.]
[P.S. The links in this Happify Daily post lead to other great posts and research; enjoy your explorations!]
You may have started setting your goals (congrats!)-and perhaps you’ve even begun the journey. But now, somewhere between the alluring summit and your current progress, you’re experiencing zigzags and hurdles that you never predicted. Your motivation begins to dwindle. Your dreams seem less enticing. You doubt not only your goals but your own ability to reach them. A downward spiral has begun…
Here are 8 practices to the rescue! Based on scientific research, they’ll help you ground yourself, muster the energy, and make the journey as enjoyable as the summit.
Our inherent tendency for social comparison and society’s pursuit of perfection can make our goals seem like a mirage. The fear of failure looms large in our minds, sabotaging our motivation to move ahead. But there’s a solution! Research has shown that being kind to ourselves gives us the strength to face our fears, both real and imagined. Placing your hand on your chest and reassuring yourself with a few kind words can go a long way towards grounding you in the moment and stopping the inner critic right in its tracks.
Reach Out to Others
Studies have shown time and again that the strength of our social support system is the greatest source of resilience, success, and happiness that we have. When we begin to lose sight of our goals, having a trusted “other” to guide us and remind us of those goals gives us the strength to get back in the game. By nurturing strengths such as love and gratitude, you can open yourself to constructive feedback and support, both of which are essential drivers in reaching your goals.
Manage Your Energies
Performance psychologist Jim Loehr believes that to go after what we desire, we have to focus on maximizing our energies, not our time. Multi-tasking in order to save time saps us of energy, overwhelms us, and-not surprisingly-results in poor performance. Instead, if we were to focus on maximizing our four sources of energy, we would reach the summit with zest and gusto. This includes looking after your body (physical energy), calming an emotional meltdown (emotional energy), controlling your attention (mental energy) and connecting to the purpose that drives your goals (spiritual energy).
Tweak Your Habits
Ellen Langer, a psychology professor at Harvard, warns us that we live most of our lives “mindlessly”. We do so as a result of childhood programming, or because behaviors that now run on automatic served us well at some point in our lives. However, when we take on something new, old habits may no longer help us – even actively work against us. Watching late night reruns of my favorite sitcom was fine when the kids were babies and I had to be up until midnight for their final feed. But it has turned into a habit that keeps me from getting up early for my morning run and leads to exhaustion, guilt and failed resolutions. Are there old habits that are pulling you back and weakening your motivation? If so, think of behaviors that will help you in your journey and transform them into habits-that way, they don’t waste your brain’s limited supply of energy.
Rethink Your Roadblocks
The same applies for thought patterns. Humans are all wired to spot the negative (blame it on evolution), some of us even more so than others. Fortunately, this first draft of our mental architecture is malleable through conscious effort. When the going gets tough, do you begin to doubt your own abilities and allow the roadblocks to increase before your very eyes? This is the time to think about your explanatory style – your way of explaining the roadblocks in your journey. Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the father of positive psychology, breaks down explanatory style into the 3 “Ps”. If your explanation for your setback is that you are the problem (Personal), nothing seems to work (Pervasive) and there is no chance it will ever get better (Permanent), it is time for a rethink.
Break Down Goals
Our motivations are highly dependent on the dopamine system. When we take on a goal, we need to pump ourselves with dopamine along the way. Reassuring ourselves that we will feel rewarded at the end of our pursuit is like driving with no fuel. Luckily, even physically ticking off the task we set out to complete gives us enough of a dopamine surge to make us want to continue our pursuit. Don’t make the tasks so monumental that you have to go a long way before feeling rewarded. Break them down, do them whether you feel like it or not, and keep rewarding yourself with variety and aplomb as you go!
Laugh out Loud
There may be more to the current infatuation with “LOLs” than we give it credit for! Laughing out loud releases stress hormones and reharmonizes our physiological and psychological states. It shows us the insignificance of things and distances us from the fear of failure that immobilizes us. Rick Snyder, the late professor of positive psychology credited with the development of Hope Theory, used to say “If you can’t laugh at yourself, you have missed the biggest joke of all”. His words make me smile and remind me of the famous “Rule #6,” which Benjamin Zander, the charismatic conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, says is the only rule we’ll ever need to know: “Don’t take yourself so goddamn seriously!”
Don’t forget to savor your success and take in the good around you as you progress. Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson says that the brain is like Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive. Unless we take the time to sit back and relive our achievements, applaud our efforts, and allow the warm glow of a job well done to trickle down into the deep recesses of our neural structure, we will not be able to build the kind of memories that give rise to competence and resilience. Instead, we’ll obsess about everything that went wrong and build a memory bank that has ‘failure’ writ large all over.
And finally, here’s a motivating thought. We all have it within us to find the determination for sustained goal pursuit. Think of how you or your child learned to walk as a toddler. Neither deterred by failure, nor swayed by challenge, you stayed present in the moment, your singular focus on the task. No beating on yourself for the bumps and falls, no expectations of yourself for the perfect stride. Just a goal in the distance, an infectious smile that garnered support and the relentless urge to get there, one baby step at a time. Wow. And we thought babies knew nothing!
Homaira Kabir is a positive psychology practitioner and an education consultant. She is passionate about helping people uncover their purpose and reignite their energized engagement with life. In school settings, she helps adolescents find their passions and harness the brilliance of a key stage in their development. You can read more about her work at www.homairakabir.com.