Pin Up a Picture: 7 Tips to Muster Motivation

Did you set some lofty, ambitious goals for 2011?  And now that January has come and gone, is it getting harder to find the willpower to continue working towards them? Even for things we genuinely want to do, motivation can be a tricky horse to harness.  Here are seven suggestions and the ways – big and small – they’ve worked for me.

1. Pin up a picture
The fancy term for this would be to visualize your success.  Imagine your goal, completed, and how good it feels.  A variant of this is to find a photo of someone who inspires you and pin it where you see it every day. Runner and amputee Geoff Turner has enjoyed a prominent position on my bulletin board, in my efforts to persuade my legs they really would like to run 26.2 miles next month.

2. Do it for someone else
Ask a woman who gave up alcohol during pregnancy what motivated her, and you’ll get an obvious answer.  Sometimes, the benefit or well-being of someone else can spur you on.  Right now, February mornings are dark and my appointments don’t require me to get out of bed at 6AM.  But my husband has to leave the house early, and I don’t feel it’s fair to him if I stay cocooned in bed.  That’s all the motivation I need to get my lazy bones up and in the shower.

Photo: Karl-Erik Bennion

Photo: Karl-Erik Bennion

3. Break the project into tiny tasks
How do you eat an elephant?  A little piece at a time. If you dream of opening a bed and breakfast, you could start by making a list of your favorite weekend destinations. When my husband decided he would prefer working in Silicon Valley over London, he made a single exploratory phone call to a previous coworker who had lived in California.  Within eighteen months, we were on a plane with one-way tickets.

Photo: Neil Gould

Photo: Neil Gould

4. Try just 5 minutes
Tell yourself you only have to do the task for a few minutes.  Set a timer and give yourself permission to stop.  Whether it’s cleaning your fridge or writing a report, you may well find after 5 minutes that you can tolerate a little more. In my case, I always grumble about going outside to pull weeds – but once I’m out there, I actually quite enjoy it.  Strange but true.

5. Find a buddy
There’s a reason why weight-loss groups are popular, and making a novel-writing date with a friend is just as effective.  For the (very) short time I rowed crew, missing training was just not an option, as I would literally be letting down a whole boat-load of friends.

Photo: Robert Driese

Photo: Robert Driese

6. Pump up the volume
Unpleasant or dreaded tasks are made a whole lot more palatable by your favorite music.  You’ll need to make sure the mood is right, of course – eighties disco is fine for housework but possibly not for strategic planning. If I confess that Eye of the Tiger, Flashdance and The Climb are favorite jogging songs of mine, will you promise not to laugh?

7. Only for the serious: bet money on it
If you’re absolutely determined to reach your goal, try pledging real money, which you’ll lose if you don’t deliver. Sites like Stickk will hold your dollars hostage until your independent referee confirms you’ve done the deed.  The real sting is, you can choose who gets your cash if you fail.  Think of a cause you feel strongly about… and nominate the opposite group.  The first time I tried this, I was successful in losing a few unwanted pounds. The next time, well, don’t ask!

Different motivational tricks work for different people at different times.  Try adding a few of these to your toolkit, and call upon them as needed.  What other techniques do you find effective?

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7 Responses to Pin Up a Picture: 7 Tips to Muster Motivation

  1. I think I’ve tried all of these at one time or another, except for #7. That’s a really innovative idea – wow!

  2. Tricia Rose says:

    I’m going to try #4: do it for five minutes. I’m sure it will get me over the hump!

    The biggie for me was I realised I could do anything if my husband asked me to do it! Hmmm! Something about issues of responsibility…

  3. Such great tips — and I can really use them right now! The tip I would add, similar to your #7 about betting money on it, is to schedule something that you can’t cancel. Example: if you need motivation to clean up your home, schedule a party. Then you’ll have to do it. Obviously it doesn’t work with everything, but you could book a flight, pay the entry fee to a marathon, etc., as appropriate to the situation.

    I tried to get us to schedule a Super Bowl party to motivate us to finish our kitchen quickly, but that ship has sailed. :-)

  4. Bromeliad says:

    Great tips. I have had success with the tiny tasks and take five minutes. Sometimes I think I’m getting nothing done until I look back.

  5. I am using a version of #7 right now. At the beginning of each week, I put three $5 bills in an envelope addressed to a politician whose positions I do not agree with. Each day when I write at least 30 minutes, I remove one $5 bill. If any money is left a the end of the week, I mail it to my opponent. I’ve been doing this for 4 weeks now and so far, that person hasn’t gotten a penny. And I’ve gotten a lot more of my writing done.

  6. Sarah (Semi Expat) says:

    Oh these are great ideas Pauline – thank you !! Particularly love the “do it for someone else” and the “5 mins one” – right off to tidy up the kitchen and set my timer and first I will get some music on! XX

  7. Gwen says:

    I had never heard of Stickk before, what a cool idea. No matter what, somebody wins.

    Your story in number 2 made me laugh. I used to do the same thing, get up early just to be nice. One day he finally told me that it makes him feel rushed and he liked his quiet mornings to himself. I understood…and also really liked not having to get up at o’dark thirty anymore to take one for the team!

    Music is a huge part of creating a productive zone for me with writing. I shut just about everything off or out, blast the Chopin and write, not getting up until I at least have a workable first draft.

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