The new rules of motivation

What really drives you is the exact opposite of what you think, new science shows. Here’s how to tweak your technique to achieve any goal.

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What really drives you is the exact opposite of what you think, new science shows. Here’s how to tweak your technique to achieve any goal.

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To tap the true power of motivation, you need to ditch the strategies you’ve used in the past. “Many of the things people think will help them achieve a goal can backfire and make them less driven,” says David Gard, a professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, who has spent years researching what spurs us on. Fortunately, David and other experts have discovered what does work. The six surprising tactics that follow may seem counter-intuitive, but they’re scientifically proven to get you across the finish line.

Lose Plan B
Having a contingency plan can set you up for failure because it prevents you from fully committing to your goal, researchers from the University of Zurich reported. Here’s how: Say you really want to attend your gym’s Monday, Wednesday and Friday spinning classes every week. But you tell yourself that if you can’t make a class, you’ll do a weekend yoga session instead.

Plan B becomes an all-too-convenient excuse to cut class. The minute something comes up – you feel tired that day, or you would rather watch Empire – you default to yoga. Forget the safety net and you’ll try a lot harder to achieve your original goal.

Stop focusing on short-term satisfaction
Dig deep and figure out why you really want to achieve a goal. “You’re more likely to be motivated when you know the true reason you’re doing something,” says Daniel Pink, the author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Imagine, for example, that you want to start cooking light, healthy meals at home in order to look good at your upcoming school reunion. “Chances are, you’ll stop the new regimen as soon as the reunion is over,” Daniel says.

For your motivation to endure, you need to connect your goal to a larger purpose, such as wanting to be more active with your family. To stay driven long-term, jot down a few of your core values, like having a life full of adventure or being confident and happy. Then ask yourself: How will achieving my goal benefit these ideals? Put that mission front and centre in your mind.

Keep your plans to yourself
You’ve heard that posting on social media or filling your friends in on your goals help make you feel accountable. It turns out that’s not true.

Researchers at New York University revealed that just telling others about your intention to exercise for 30 minutes daily gives you a sense of accomplishment that’s similar to actually doing it, which can kill your follow-through. Either keep your goals to yourself or commit to posting a daily exercise photo on Instagram or Facebook in order to keep yourself accountable.

Get mired in the minutiae
No matter what your ultimate ambition is, it’s actually made up of several smaller goals, David says. You may be super-driven to go vegan, but a lack of incentive to research meat-free recipes, read ingredients labels at the store, or spend extra time cooking can throw you off target, he says.

To encourage yourself to stay on track, start by writing down all the mini-goals that make up your larger one, even those that seem ridiculously small (like “Get rid of the leftover turkey burgers in the back of the freezer”). Each day, cross off those you’ve accomplished. Seeing your progress is one of the most powerful ways to sustain motivation, David says.

Don’t treat yourself aft er a job is done
Being rewarded for healthy behaviour – “I’ll buy myself a new pair of sneakers if I go to the gym three times a week for a month” – actually saps your mojo, findings in the Journal of Organizational Behavior suggest. That’s because the gift becomes a distraction, says Rebecca Hewett, the lead study author.

If you focus on achieving a prize, you think less about the built-in pay-offs of working out, and might lose interest in the goal. Skip the presents and zero in on the perks that naturally come from your new routine, such as having more energy.

Embrace “almost”
You worked so hard to land that dream job, but when it came down to you and one other candidate, she got it. Yes, you’re disappointed, but don’t write off the experience as a total loss. Near wins can actually make you more motivated to accomplish other goals, a study in the journal Psychological Science found.

Coming close gives you an idea of how sweet victory can taste, which makes you more driven to complete your next challenge, the study authors say. If you do fall short, be as gentle on yourself as you would be on a friend, David says. Then get right back up and move forward. You’ll be stronger for it.

Resist the urge to reward yourself for a job well done. It kills your drive.