Starting a new challenge, or adding new elements to your routine is important when trying to change your life around. Eating more healthy food, exercising more, giving up smoking (or drugs or booze) or starting a new project can be exciting at first, but at some point we all hit a wall where the old routine seems more appealing, mostly because it's easier. We are creatures of habit, and our minds are accustomed to processing our idea of 'normal', and craves normality in order to function well in the world. So smashing through the motivation barrier can be a serious case of mind over matter, and tricking our brain into continuing to strive for something new, rather than pining after the old.
I've been to the gym 5 times in last week, and after a weekend of friends and food and a little too much Whisky (why!?) I was not feeling it this morning. A very familar feeling of 'I can't be bothered' seemed to creep in, and it was so tempting to to make another cup of tea and sit down to some recorded episodes of Fixer Upper! I've relived this scenario a hundred times in my life, and mostly given in, but this time I am determined to prove my mind wrong and keep going. I can proudly say I'm currently in my gym gear, having sweated the last remaining alcohol from my system and powering through the urge to veg out.
So here are a few tips I've picked up in my career to help smash through the barriers to motivation:
1. Identify your High Risk Situations (HRS): Working in psychology and addiction has shown me the power of being prepared for situations that might crop up that could cause you to lapse or relapse back to old habits. In prison we called these 'red flags'. So if you're trying to make a change, what are the situations that could crop up that will throw you off track? It could be a holiday, stress at work, feeling low, an argument with someone, going out with friends, or just cravings. If you know what to expect, you can prepare a lot better to deal with it.
2. Plan for your HRS- If you're trying to stop smoking for example, and you know a HRS is going out with friends, what can you do to prepare for it? It could be that you wear a patch, or you let people know you're not smoking so they don't offer you one, or you choose somewhere where you are less likely to want to leave to smoke. Preparation is key to avoid lapsing, so think ahead. If your new goal is to exercise more, and you know that during the week you'll hit times when you really don't want to go, like after work if you feel stressed, or first thing in the morning when you feel tired, identify some strategies in advance that will help you. It could be as simple as booking it in the diary, or putting a motivational picture on the fridge, or having a back up inspirational thought like "this is a barrier, I promised myself I'd smash the barriers", but again, be prepared.
3. Visualisation- This is a great tool to plan to deal with a HRS, and it's pretty simple. If you have in mind an idea of what your HRS looks like, such as a stressful day at work, and you visualise yourself coping well, you are lot more likely to respond in that way when it crops up. Visualisations work best when they are detailed, imagining how you want to feel, what you want to think, how you want to respond to others, and what your positive actions will be. e.g. you've had a stressful day at work and you leave feeling deflated and frustrated. You imagine yourself thinking "these days will happen, this is a HRS, I'm prepared for this and I'm going to go to the gym", you feel determined, and you go to the gym. You work out harder than yesterday because you need the stress relief, and you leave feeling proud of yourself. This is a very simple, basic example, but it illustrates what I mean. This can work for any scenario you may feel you'll struggle in, but picturing yourself coping well can really help you get the outcome you want.
4. Think about the rewards- There's a reason why you want to push yourself to do this, or you wouldn't be bothering, so keep that in mind. It can pay to have some visual reminders around your home, or in the car, but picturing your desired outcome when you feel like giving up could give that motivational wall a pretty hefty shove.
5. Plan a reward- It's the classic idea of a 'cheat day' on a diet (not that I advocate 'dieting' per se), but having something to look forward to if you achieve what you want is a good motivator. We advocated this in working with addiction, and encouraged service users to identify something that they wanted, and would be able to have if they succeeded in their daily and weekly goals. It could be a day out with your family, getting your hair done, treating yourself to a coffee and a magazine, or just a stay at home pamper day. Picture your reward when you feel like giving in to temptation and it could keep you fired up.
6. Keep going- Motivational walls get smaller and easier to manage the more you keep going, until eventually they're pretty few and far between. Some say it takes around 2 months of a new behaviour to become 'normal' or routine, and after this, it's a lot easier to keep it up. This is driving me at the moment, and I'm looking forward to becoming 'that person' that regularly exercises and finds it enjoyable! 3 weeks down...
Have you got any tips or ideas that work for you? Let us know and we could feature them to help inspire others!