All of us know that motivation is a key ingredient to accomplishing goals in our personal and professional lives. But if you wait for motivation to strike like a sudden lightning storm, you’re a lot less likely to take a single step toward any goal. Even if you have a much-desired goal in mind, it’s all too easy to deplete motivation through feeling overwhelmed, procrastination, or impatience. The steps below can help you increase your motivation to accomplish the goals that matter to you.
The meaning of your goal
Before setting a goal, it is critical to clearly identify meaning — that is, why is successfully reaching this goal important to you? What will this achievement mean to you? For example, telling yourself "I want to lose 10 pounds so I have more energy to play with my grandchildren" conveys far more meaning than "I want to lose weight." Or maybe your goal is to paint a room a different color because you feel that color will bring more joy into your life. That’s very different than setting a goal of "paint room."
If you set a goal and find yourself procrastinating or not achieving it, revisit the meaning of the goal you have set. Is this a goal that continues to matter to you? If so, consider the meaning behind the procrastination or the difficulties that you are experiencing.
Operationalize your goal
Write out a detailed plan to achieve the goal. Use the SMART acronym to guide this plan:
- Specific (What exactly do you want to accomplish?)
- Measurable (How will you know when you have succeeded?)
- Achievable (Is the goal you have set possible?)
- Realistic (Does setting this goal make sense for you right now?)
- Time-bound (What is the specific time frame to accomplish this goal?)
For example, a goal of "exercise more" is too vague, and will not set you up for success. Instead, set a goal of walking 50 steps in the next hour, or taking a 15-minute walk Wednesday morning. This goal is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.
Set up a to-do list — and tick it off
Once you identify a specific goal, make a to-do list to accomplish it.
- What resources do you need?
- What are the steps you’ll take toward your goal? Break down tasks into manageable mini-tasks and write each one down.
- Set deadlines for each task. Make a schedule to accomplish these tasks, being sure to include regular breaks and realistic time frames.
- Cross off each mini-task as you complete it. Step by step, you’ll see you’re making progress toward your goals.
If you are having difficulty breaking down your goal into smaller tasks, just begin working toward it. For example, if you set a goal of increasing the number of steps you walk each day, but have difficulty identifying the ideal number of steps as a goal, just start walking. You can figure out that ideal number later.
Invite a team to help you with your goal. You could join a running club, or ask family and friends to check on your progress in achieving tasks related to your overall goal. Perhaps friends can send email or text message reminders to keep you accountable. Finally, surround yourself by other people who are actively working on their own goals. Their efforts may inspire you, too.
Create an image of yourself achieving this goal. This image could be in your mind, or perhaps you could draw a picture of yourself achieving your goal. Imagine what achieving this goal will mean for you. How will you experience the success? How will it feel for you? Remember these positive emotions as you are completing the tasks on your to-do list to help fuel motivation.
Try to choose a space that is organized, free of clutter, and with minimal distractions. Focus on one task at a time, not multitasking. Close email and place your phone on silent. Avoid social media sites that make goals seem very easy to attain.
Track progress and time spent
Decide how often you’ll track progress toward your overall goal through your to-do list. Are you meeting the timeline you initially established? If not, identify stumbling blocks. Revisit the importance and meaning of this goal and how you initially set up your SMART model. If necessary, reconsider challenging aspects of your goal and make changes in your plan.
Think creatively about how to expand available time to work on your goal. Can you make certain tasks more routine in your life? Can you link unenjoyable tasks with more pleasurable activities? For example, if you dread your goal of taking 100 additional steps each day, could you listen to music or a podcast that you enjoy while you are taking these steps?
Be kind to yourself when tracking progress toward achieving your goal. Practice self-compassion on occasions when you fall short. Build small rewards into the process, and consider how to celebrate all your accomplishments.