The Surprising Secret to Self-Motivation

By Elle Kaplan on Wednesday May 3rd, 2017

How to Stop Procrastinating

Neuroscience has discovered the remarkably simple source for endless self-motivation.

We can do anything we set our minds to. But sometimes it can feel like our brains are working against us when it comes to achieving our goals.

Plans to learn a new skill, get in shape, or to save money and start a business, keep getting pushed back in the hopes that Future You will handle it ‘someday’.

It’s a crippling behavioral cycle. In fact, in psychology, procrastination is classified as a form of self-sabotage.

But there’s good news. While learning how to become self-motivated may feel difficult or nebulous, the potential solution is remarkably simple, according to Psychology Today and cognitive neuroscience.

Making the impossible possibleWe can turn impossible into possible and do anything we set our minds to.

In their findings, a psychology professor at Harvard University, Ron Siegel, suggested that the key to following through on motivation boils down to this: bring optimism and fun back into the picture.

This sounds a little hokey, right? After all, completing a term paper or your taxes isn’t exactly fun.

While this habit seems anything but scientific, the neurological reasons behind it aren’t.

Why We Procrastinate

According to the research, the reason we procrastinate on our ambitions lies in our primal psychology:

Our modern brains are still wired up for the ancient evolutionary purpose of surviving in a dangerous environment. Over a million years or so, we developed specialized neural structures that selectively tuned in to danger signals.

Fear of failureWe procrastinate because of the fear of doing something new or failing.

So when the time comes for us to create and be productive, instead of focusing on the pleasurable and rewarding aspects of obtaining our goals, our brains dwell on the anxiety and fear that comes along with doing something new or putting ourselves out there, or daring to fail.

We go into survival mode and push away potentially uncomfortable situations. In fact, optimism and fun are relatively new concepts for our brain, evolutionarily speaking.

However, there are a few extremely easy methods you can do to make creating and achieving your dreams feel effortless and fulfilling:

Tip the Scale in your Favor

Siegel suggests one simple way to snap out of a self-motivation rut is to write out a list and get the joys of doing something to outweigh the initial pangs of getting started.

A simple two-columned pros and cons list will do just the trick. Yep, while doing that Excel spreadsheet at work might not be fun, you’ll realize that being able to enjoy your weekend without it hanging over your head is well worth it.

Pros and cons listWrite a pros and cons list until the joys outweigh your fears.

While this method is effective in itself, the next step is what really drives this technique home:

Visualize a Full-Body Experience

As you write out your list, really try to visualize and conjure up the precise feelings and sensations that meeting your goal will bring you.

If your goal is to follow a healthier diet, for example, try to viscerally picture how you will feel from the results. Think about how you’ll have more energy, or better skin, or how you’ll protect yourself from heart disease.

Mentally walking yourself through the process of success, and the joys and benefits it brings, can teach your brain to be motivated by something other than fear.

Visualization is scientifically proven to increase your odds of successfully reaching your goals. In another article, Psychology Today reports that:

Research has revealed that mental practices are almost effective as true physical practice, and that doing both is more effective than either alone.

Visualisation practiceVisualise what it will feel like to meet your goal.

Reward your Progress

For this one you might be thinking, “But I’m not a kid. I don’t need to be rewarded every time I do something.”

However, going back to Professor Siegel’s point, one of the most critical aspects of sustainable self-motivation is pleasure and joy, and a reward system is a fantastic way to help accomplish this.

Not only is rewarding yourself for reaching goals a good self-care technique, it also changes the chemistry of our brains and can make us more motivated.

In a study that compared motivated people’s brains to lazy people’s brains, dopamine levels in a certain area of the brain played a large role in people’s ability to be self-motivated. Turns out dopamine is released in anticipation of a reward, and rewarding yourself for accomplishments can help you stay on track.

Choose the Right Rewards

Just because positive motivation works, don’t make the mistake of self-sabotaging your wins with counter-productive prizes, like spending lavishly.

Productive prizesDon’t self-sabotage by rewarding yourself with things that undermine your goal.

As LifeHacker put it:

If the rewards you give yourself undermine the goal itself, it only serves to set you back.

Remember, investing in yourself is the greatest gift you can give yourself. The new ‘I deserve it’ should be something that continues to reward you for years, rather than punishing you after the novelty wears off.

Everything from taking an exciting class to setting money aside for future endeavors can be fun — and productive — ways to stay self-motivated. You’re doing something great for yourself by investing in your future. That is something to feel fantastic about!

Celebrate the Tiny Wins

Like most people on the pathway to success, you probably have major — hopefully audacious — long-term goals that you’re tackling. But as you probably know, these huge aspirations won’t get accomplished overnight.

That’s why you should find the time to make a symbolic fist pump every day.

Tiny winsCelebrating tiny wins gives you a daily dose of self-motivation.

As Tech.Co co-founder, Frank Gruber, put it:

This is a journey — a hard one — and the only way to make it sustainable and bearable is if you actually acknowledge your small successes along the way.

By celebrating those tiny wins, you’ll find a much-needed daily dose of self-motivation.

As long as you’re focusing on the fun, rewarding, sensory experiences of accomplishing your goals, you will get through the hard work eventually.




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Being in a Relationship with Myself

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22 Responses to The Surprising Secret to Self-Motivation

  1. The Secret To Your Self-Motivation Lies In This Surprising Science-Backed Habit.We can do anything we set our minds to. But sometimes it can feel like our brains are working against us when it comes to achieving our goals

    • Shadowy “Dank Vapes” and other mysterious THC cartridges have been linked to a rash of vaping-related lung illnesses in both Illinois and Wisconsin, health officials warned Friday. … The cartridges were also flagged by New York health officials earlier

  2. If the “being solo is a no go” tip resonated with you, and you could use a group of like-minded women in your life, consider joining my free Facebook community, the Legit Fit Lifestyle Lounge. This members of this group know that fitness is so much more than a number on the scale or the size of our jeans, and we focus on the 4 pillars of living a legit fit life: movement, nutrition, self care, and mindset. Whether you’re just embarking on your health journey or you’ve been a fitness enthusiast for years, this group is a safe place for you to find some motivation, inspiration, and support. You can request to join here!

  3. This is mostly true for some. I procrastinate. Quite often actually but i usually catch up and follow thru. Though sometimes it may take what seems like forever to complete the task i set for myself. Sometimes i DO make list’s. Pro’s and con’s. Also check off list’s. They work GREAT! Sometimes i procrastinate on making a check off list cause I KNOW that when i do make that list, i MUST use it and check things off of it!! I think it’s my OCD that pesters me to do that. There’s also the fact that i am know for having too much on my plate so i think i get overwhelmed sometimes.

    • Hi Dorothy, my experience is very much similar to yours. Checklists work for me too, and sometimes I have to remind myself not to beat-up myself when I don’t check-off enough… I believe that our bodies also know what’s good for us, and sometimes “failing” us from doing something at a certain time is the body’s way of getting one to get much-needed rest or relaxation. Lastly, I’ve sometimes in retrospect appreciated why it was better to put-off something e.g. eventually have a more informed perspective to approach the task, or realise that it was not necessary to do in the first place, or get better alternative.

  4. Train yourself to think and focus on only what you want.visualize the end focus on the results of what you want to accomplish!

  5. As usual the motivational “expert” is wrong. Procrastination is a self-handicapping strategy used to deflect a fear of failure. When the personal fails procrastination is blamed, and the person’s self-worth remain intact because if they didn’t procrastinate they would have succeeded (in their mind). There are no benefits to procrastination despite conventional wisdom. Feel free to email me for evidence-based information, not karaoke wisdom. [email protected]

  6. Procrastination also has a useful aspect: it stops us from rushing in. Oftentimes waiting results in results manifesting without our efforts. I often wait until a strong feeling prompts me to act.

  7. Good ideas. Optimism is a good motivator. I’m not sure why we are so often told things have to be fun. It sets up a false expectation, gun does not need to be part of the equation and skews the reasons for doing anything.

    But how about editing what you publish for readers? That picture with the hands holding the doughnut/”reward”? Worst Nail Polish Ever. Why select that picture, are there no others? Lazy? Put down that food and fix that manicure. You don’t deserve a doughnut.

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