Deconstructing Motivation: 7 Things I’ve Learned in the Last 7 Years

[stag_intro]People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing; that’s why we recommend it daily. – Zig Ziglar[/stag_intro]

The struggle is real. It’s just so much easier to “do nothing” even when there is so much that need’s to get done. To combat overwhelm, a to-do list is simply not enough. Prioritization and the 80/20 rule aren’t either. What you really need is that inner fuel that keeps pushing you harder, like a motivational high that gets you in the zone.

What separates highly motivated people from those who struggle to find their own personal motivation? Over the past 7 years of my professional career in marketing here’s what I’ve found works:

1. Set the Right Rewards

Big goals need big pay-offs. By setting the right rewards or incentives before you begin your work you’ll know exactly what you’re working towards when you finish. I like to set bigger goals for myself because I typically get bored doing mundane things. It is important to map mundane tactical activities to a larger goal that has a prize worthy of striving for. Whether it’s that great steak-dinner at the end of a long work-week, or a weekend getaway because you finished that overdue project, setting the right rewards are a great way to fuel your motivation.

2. Dose Yourself with Dopamine

Chemicals play a huge role in influencing our moods and overall physical and mental drive. When pursuing certain activities such as exercise, listening to music, or chewing gum your brain releases Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a pivotal role in how motivated you are. By leaving a breadcrumb trail of linked dopamine releasing activities, your brain can be conditioned to produce more dopamine.

You can hack your dopamine levels by getting enough sleep, eating foods with tyrosine (such as bananas), and by getting enough daily exercise. Dopamine is a fascinating neurotransmitter and I will likely do a follow-up post diving further into the topic.

3. Set Micro-Goals and Milestones

Feeling like you start out the day motivated but lose steam along the way? You’re not alone. Setting micro-goals that map to your ultimate goals is a great way of “chunking” your tasks down into manageable pieces. I like to set 2 hour sprints for tasks during the day and then typically chunk the beginning, middle, and end with breaks in between. Take short breaks after each sprint to refresh your mind before refocusing on your to-do’s again. In many cases the break can be your micro-reward for each sprint.

4. Focus on the 80/20 Principle

Billionaires and the those in poverty have one thing in common: We all have the same 24 hours in each day. The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle essentially states that inputs and outputs in life are not distributed evenly. In other words, the 20% of things you choose on will influence 80% of your overall outcomes.

I have this terrible habit of overcrowding my whiteboard with to-do’s. To prevent prioritizing activity over action, I typically take a photo of the white board with my iPhone and then erase every task on there till I have only 2-3 tasks left over. Tim Ferriss advises to select the 2-3 tasks that are so important that they will render all the other tasks un-important for the rest of your day. This is a phenomenal approach to focus on the quality of output vs. volume of output.

5. Be Manic about Reducing Distractions

Studies show that it can take between 30-45 minutes to refocus on your task at hand once your train of thought and focus is interrupted. Based on this you can regain over a quarter of your day simply by reducing distracting and batching similar tasks together. I’ve started using an app called Freedom that effectively blocks out the internet (and thus most distractions) when completing my most important tasks. Reaching Inbox Zero is a dream for many but learning to condition yourself to not look at your email constantly is an entirely different challenge. Give yourself a head start by doing the following:

  1. Unsubscribe from every newsletter that you haven’t read in the last two weeks. Use to make this easy.
  2. Turn off all your alerts and notifications from your email, social media networks, and especially on your smart phone.
  3. Batch your email by setting up auto-responders. Check it once between 11am-12 and again between 4-5pm. Checking and responding to email is usually a high-volume, low-creativity oriented task that is best suitest to your lowest points of productivity every day.

6. Commit to your Goal Publicly.

Publicly declaring your goal can effectively make you try much harder to achieve it. No one wants to be embarrassed in front of their peers for being unable to meet their goals. How about if you put money on the line? Check out GoFuckingDoIt to publicly commit your goals, pick a friend to become a goal supervisor, and pay up a bet in case you don’t complete your goal. It’s a bit like a swear jar… only better.

7. Focus on Attention instead of Time.

The amount of attention you have in a day directly influences the value of your time spent on various activities. By focusing on your attention on tasks that require higher levels of creativity and brain work you’ll not only be able to achieve more, you’ll enjoy and appreciate the process. Each day is divided into 24 equal blocks of 1 hour blocks, but your attention typically peaks at certain points of the day (like the morning or very late at night) but troughs at other points (in the afternoon when you need a caffeine fix).

Embracing these 7 ways to hack your motivation will not only allow you to do more, but enjoy yourself in the process. How do you hack your own motivation? I’d love to hear more from you in the comments.

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