What ‘Real’ Motivation Looks Like

Sarah McBride
My Own Experience of Change
November 29, 2019
Sarah McBride
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Picture the scene: a huge venue, full to the brim with eager people chatting excitedly. There’s a buzz in the air as huge lights bounce from wall to wall and up-tempo music blasts from speakers. Then ‘they’ take to the stage; you know who I mean; those high energy, boisterous motivational speakers bouncing from one side of the stage to the other, clapping their hands and shouting Instagram-perfect quotes from their Britney Spears-style head mic, whipping the audience into a frenzy.

Phew. Exciting, yes. Exhausting? Definitely.

Anybody that’s remotely interested in personal development and growth will have experienced this in some way. Whether that’s first-hand thanks to an eye-wateringly expensive front-row seat, through the thousands of motivational YouTube channels or even just audibly from one of the many podcasts that promise to make you the ‘Best Possible Version of You’. 

And don’t get me wrong; it works. It definitely works. You’d be hard-pressed to come away from an experience like that without feeling a buzz inside you, all fired up and ready to take on the world. It’s an amazing feeling – and one not to be discredited.

But is it sustainable? How long does that buzz last before we find ourselves back in old habits, forgetting those word-perfect mantras that were being shouted at us only a few short weeks ago? In other words, when we’re inevitably moved away from those external, high energy motivators, what happens to our own energy and motivation? Yep, it disappears.

Long term motivation – the type that pulls us out of bed on the greyest of mornings with a spring in our step and fire in our bellies – runs deeper than a cleverly worded speech. It needs to mean more.

A great strategy for developing meaningful motivation (and therefore long term motivation) is to connect that which you’re failing to be motivated by to something that you’re already truly fired up for. Look at how that already successful element of your life could be improved even more if you could get a real grip on what you’re struggling with.

‘…the real meaningful motivation…’

For example, perhaps losing weight isn’t reason enough on its own to get you into the gym every morning before work. Maybe listening to a high vibe podcast forces you there on Monday and Tuesday – but by Wednesday, you’re done. You’re over it – and no amount of power mantras are getting you to that gym. But maybe knowing that a healthier you could mean having the energy to spend time playing with your kids is the real meaningful motivation you need to make a long term commitment to your weight loss goals. 

Still not convinced? Here’s the science bit; synapses are the connections between the neurons in your brain. If certain connections aren’t being used regularly, your brain will break down those synapses and get rid of them. By linking that which we don’t want to do (e.g. gym) with something that we already have a strong connection with (e.g. family), we can condition our brain to start creating a synapse – or connection – between those two things and, over time, it becomes meaningful; a habit that is simply part of us. 

Now, don’t start throwing away all of your Tony Robbins books and deleting your podcasts; there is absolutely a time and place for short term, quick burst motivation – and this type of content will get you into that high energy state every time. But unless you want to permanently have your head stuck in those books and a podcast constantly in your ears, you need something a little more permanent to supplement your motivation.  

‘…surrounding yourself with people that will hold you accountable…’

Something else to add to your motivational ‘tool kit’ is accountability; surrounding yourself with people that will hold you accountable for sticking to your goals is a great motivation tool if you choose the right people. If you lose your way, you don’t want to feel berated or disheartened by those who are meant to be supporting and encouraging you, so be sure to hold yourself accountable with people who will keep you on track – but will also pick you up if you have a wobble. 

‘Celebrating your successes…’

And finally, a really lovely motivational tool… Rewards! Celebrating your successes – yes, even the small ones – and looking at how far you’ve come is essential to long term motivation. Let’s say your end goal is to build your dream home – but it’s going to take at least two years. Ugh, how boring and stressful are those two years going to be if you don’t celebrate your efforts along the way? You got the floors finished? Woohoo, crack open the bubbly! You finally agreed on the wall colour? Wahey, bubble bath it is! The short term rewards – champers and bubble baths, for example – are great, but it’s actually the long term conditioning that’s going on in your brain which is the real reward; every time you recognise and celebrate your successes, your brain starts to realise that a little hard work results in something nice. And what do you know? Each and every time, that hard work starts to feel a little easier… and before you know it, you’re sitting in your dream home. Or you’ve hit your goal weight. Or you’ve started that business. 

Whatever your goals are, it’s likely that you won’t achieve them overnight. Nothing worth doing ever comes that easily; so give your goals meaning, surround yourself with encouragement and support, remember to treat yourself along the way – and, here’s a crazy thought, enjoy the process! The journey really can be as incredible as the destination.

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