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The 4 steps to becoming more motivated and achieve your goals, according to a psychologist

Understanding the four pillars of self-motivation is the key to staying on track with your goals, according to new research.

It may only be the second week of January, but for many of us, the increased motivation we started the new year with already feels like it is starting to wane.

And who can really blame us? With an ongoing pandemic and what feels like a constant barrage of frustrating and upsetting news, we’d be forgiven for putting productivity and optimisation at the bottom of our priorities pile.

But the truth is that motivation and its importance extends further than just resolutions. Psychological studies have found that when our motivation is depleted, our functioning and wellbeing suffer.

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Dr Leela R. Magavi’s research suggests that motivation can be a tool to combat the inevitable stress of life, and that the presence of it can actually help us age better and live longer.

“It also fosters creativity and improves cognition, and subsequently leads to success in all areas of life, including relationships and work performance,” she writes in a 2021 Journals of Gerontology paper on the study of ageing. “It helps to cultivate a stronger sense of self, which often leads to improved physical health and wellbeing.”

So why do so many of us struggle with finding and maintaining motivation, and what can we do to get it back during a slump?

Recent research says that the answer lies in better understanding the four pillars of self-motivation.

“To motivate yourself, you need to either change the situation or change your understanding of the situation,” explains Arash Emamzadeh in an article for Psychology Today.

“Self-motivation means being driven by a personal desire to set valued goals and to focus on, commit to, and move toward these goals despite obstacles,” and indeed, there are four distinct elements we can better understand in order to increase it.

Goal setting

Always keep in mind your ultimate destination, says Emamzadeh. “Set a goal, not a means to a goal,” he advises.

Instead, set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that help you stay on track, not feel overwhelmed and maintain the same healthy level of motivation throughout.

This can also be helped by using intrinsic motivation – activities that are inherently beneficial and enjoyable. It’s a simple logic: if you want to improve your fitness, it will be much easier to stick to it if you actually like what you’re doing. So remember that joy and achievement often come hand in hand.  

Goal striving

What’s more, to sustain motivation, it’s important to monitor your progress.

When we begin a task, our motivation is often at its peak. Just as we’re about to finish it, and the end is in sight, our motivation levels increase again. However, that middle lull can often be damaging, causing us to stray from routine and ultimately end up off track.

To combat this, Emamzadeh suggests keeping the middle period as short as possible to maintain interest, such as setting weekly instead of monthly goals. 

Maintaining momentum can be made easier by understanding the four key pillars of self-motivation
Maintaining momentum can be made easier by understanding the four key pillars of self-motivation

Goal juggling

Rarely do we pursue a single goal, so we must learn to juggle them, says Emamzadeh.

To increase goal commitment, select multiple means serving a single goal, such as spending less time on your phone and exercising more to commit to more self-care.

To attain more goals, you can use means serving multiple outcomes, such as spending less time on your phone to both increase self-care and productivity.

If you feel yourself starting to lose motivation, however, it’s best to go back to performing activities that each serve mainly one goal. “Goal conflicts often involve having to choose between something good soon and something great later,” Emamzadeh writes. “How to motivate yourself to remain patient? Use distractors, remind yourself of the value of your goal, and trust the process.”

Leveraging social support

It’s fine, and actually beneficial, to need a bit of backing from other people when it comes to staying on track.

“The mere presence of people increases motivation, magnifying what you do,” says Emamzadeh .Additionally, others may set expectations for performance, provide resources, join you and serve as role models,” which all increases self-motivation.

So don’t be afraid to share your targets, and your progress, with other people to help keep you accountable. But remember: your goals should serve yourself first, not others.

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