Goals take hard work, sacrifice, and patience to achieve.
And if we’re pursuing a big goal, it’s likely that we’ll have to wait a while before we even start to see results. So how do we stay motivated when the going gets tough?
When it comes to staying motivated and achieving our goals, we can take a cue from Olympic athletes.
Olympic athletes go through years of intense and rigorous training in order to compete. How do they put in the hard work day in and day out? What drives them to succeed?
While a gold medal is always a nice motivator, it’s not the main thing that excites Olympic athletes. In fact, it’s their intrinsic motivation that energizes them.
What is intrinsic motivation?
For a lot of people, external motivators are what push them to succeed. It’s the possibility of earning more money or winning a trophy or buying a home that inspires them.
External motivation is helpful because it gives us something specific to look forward to. And who wouldn’t want a nice reward after all that hard work? But sometimes, external motivation isn’t enough. In fact, it can even create some anxiety around a goal. If we don’t see our external rewards right away, we might quit on our goal. Or the reverse can also happen. We achieve a big goal and attain the rewards, but we still feel empty or unfulfilled inside.
That’s why intrinsic motivation is so key to our success.
Intrinsic motivation is not attached to physical rewards or validation from others. It is the inner fire that fuels you to keep going. It rouses you to get up everyday, do the hard work, and keep persevering despite the odds.
According to this article on motivation and Olympians, the athletes who succeed aren’t the ones with the best physical attributes. Rather, it’s the athletes who have the strongest motivation that end up achieving success.
Below are ways that you can develop your intrinsic motivation to help you dig deep and sustain you through your goal setting process.
Ask yourself what this means to you
Everyone has their own personal reasons for pursuing a big goal. Some people want to make a difference in their community. While others simply want to have fun or challenge themselves.
See if you can identify the engine that is driving you to pursue this goal. Take some time to reflect and write about it in your journal. Once you’ve arrived at a specific motivation, write it down or tape it up somewhere. This will be your mantra. Tap into it whenever times are tough and you need a reminder for why you do what you do.
Talk to yourself like a coach
Professional athletes have a coach that they can rely on for advice and support, but they still need to have intrinsic motivation to get them over the finish line. Their coach isn’t the one running the race or doing the practice. It’s up to the athlete to pull themselves up.
Similarly, we also need to coach ourselves to get us over the finish line. Whether you’re a writer or an entrepreneur or someone trying to run their first 5K, you will benefit from talking to yourself the way your biggest champion would.
And a great technique for coaching yourself is to write in your journal.
A journal provides a space for you to talk through your challenges and cheer yourself on. For example, the author John Steinbeck kept a journal while he was writing The Grapes of Wrath. In his journal entries, you can find Steinbeck wrestling with fear and insecurity, and telling himself to keep persisting. In one entry he writes:
“Every book seems the struggle of a whole life. And then, when it is done — pouf. Never happened. Best thing is to get the words down every day. And it is time to start now.”
So if you’re pursuing a new goal or a challenging project, keep a journal by your side. Write down your worries and doubts. And then talk to yourself the way a coach would. Tell yourself you can do it. Remind yourself that you have what it takes to succeed.
You will come out of the exercise feeling pumped and raring to go.
Turn the mundane into a game
Sometimes the hardest part about achieving a goal is doing the mundane work. Showing up to the gym. Eating healthy meals. Going to bed at a decent hour.
Consistency is crucial for accomplishing a goal. That’s how we start to build progress and momentum. But how do you stick to your program when it feels boring or mundane?
Give yourself a challenge. One way you can make the mundane more exciting is to challenge yourself.
If you’re bored with your fitness routine, try to increase your reps or increase your speed.
If you’re bored with your writing routine, try experimenting with a different genre or giving yourself shorter time limits to write faster.
If you’re bored with your meal plan, try cooking a new recipe or challenging yourself to try new ingredients.
Little challenges can inject a boring task with fun and excitement.
Add a tempting treat. Another way to make a mundane activity more exciting is to combine it with a treat.
This technique is known as “temptation bundling.” So if you’re going for a run, listen to a new album. If you’re lifting weights, do it while watching your favorite TV program. Temptation bundling turns a mundane task into a pleasurable one. This technique also works for household chores!
Give yourself carrots
Speaking of treats, don’t forget to give yourself regular rewards.
You don’t always need trophies or accolades to motivate you. Sometimes it’s the little treats that are so gratifying. A leisurely walk in the park after a hard day’s work. Or treating yourself to a fresh supply of pens after reaching your word count.
It’s important to give ourselves little treats, especially after finishing a big or challenging task. Regular rewards, combined with intrinsic motivation, can make a huge impact on your goal’s success.
Let yourself vent
Expressing your emotions is an essential part of the goal-setting process.
Sometimes, there’s nothing more satisfying than venting your frustrations out loud or on paper. When things get tough, you don’t have to pretend that everything is okay. You’re allowed to get angry and upset and sad. When you release those emotions in a healthy and productive way, like talking to someone you trust or writing in your journal, then you will feel so much better afterwards.
When you bottle up your emotions you run the risk of becoming more frustrated and angry. By letting yourself vent, you can release those emotions and move on. And in doing so, you might even see your goal in a new light and find a deeper motivation.