It should come as no surprise that it’s really hard to motivate ourselves to do the things we actually want to do. For most of us, we wait to feel motivated before taking action (instead of watching TV, we wait to feel in the mood to go to the gym, eat healthier, spend more time with friends, etc.). It’s so common to wait for that feeling before taking action. Research has shown that action increases motivation- pretty counterintuitive, right? Obviously, we feel good after going to the gym or doing a meditation and as a result, want to do more of it. Instead of waiting around to feel ready to take action, there’s another way to increase motivation.
Changing the language
One of the key factors in feeling motivated to take action is the perception of what it means to us. The reason we don’t go to the gym/ eat healthier/ spend time with friends (or insert your own) is because unknowingly, it feels like it’s taking us away from “important” things in our lives. What feels important at the moment is what we tend to stick with. If going to the gym feels like a chore, then naturally we will want to do what’s easier and more comfortable and not want to disrupt our routine and therefore not go to the gym. The idea of considering what “does this activity take me away from?” can be very insightful to help you realize your own perception and biases as your brain perceives it as a chore, or a task to “just get done”. Eating healthier often has a perception of giving up foods you love which often feels punitive and that’s why diets generally don’t work, as a result. No one wants to do things that feel “mean or uncomfortable” for us and will therefore not be sustainable.
So how do we fix this?
By focusing on the language we use for the thing we are trying to accomplish. Chores tend to hold the language of “I have to” and when you’re trying to motivate yourself, it needs to change to “I want to”. What’s the difference, you ask?
Have-to-motivation often involves behaviors that feel like a chore, either because someone else is requiring or expecting us to do it or because we would feel guilt or shame for not doing it. This is often referred to as external (or outside) motivation. Things like social pressure or not wanting to feel embarrassed by others for not doing the action would fall into this category as well.
Want-to-motivation represents doing something because it’s personally important to us, whether because it’s interesting or it aligns with our goals, beliefs, or values. This is known as internal (or inside) motivation. When you change the language of “I have to go to the gym” to “I want to go to the gym” because it’s important to me to feel healthy/ fit in my clothes/ set a good example for my kids, etc. it can make all the difference in the world knowing that you’re living in alignment with the things that are important to you and that can help make it more sustainable.