Why Motivation Won’t Help You Reach Your Goals Or New Year’s Resolutions

A friend once told me that it’s good to be motivated because it keeps you going. And he’s totally right – motivation keeps me going but the only problem is that once I run out of motivation, there’s nothing to keep me going any longer.

When my gym membership renewed in January, I decided to start running on a treadmill again and save myself from the freezing cold outside. Like I expected, the gym was crowded with people who want “this year to be the year when they got fit”. All working out vigorously. The motivation was all there. Yet if you’re not a fitness newbie, you probably know that by end February, latest March, the number of people in the gym will drop. Usually, (and this used to be also my case) they would say they’re “no longer motivated”.

So how come motivation doesn’t last? It looks like there are thousands of books (297,983 search results on Amazon.co.uk alone) to keep you motivated, but when you finish one, you need another. Or you need that gym membership or new clothes from Lululemon and Nike, or even a personal trainer. While a little motivation never hurts (nothing wrong with feeling enthusiastic), over the past few years I dag deep into why there are things that I start doing and never complete them or accomplish a result. And why there are things that I do complete and accomplish a result. To make you see what I’m saying, I need to make you understand something else first. Let’s look at your thoughts and emotions.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes you have “good” thoughts and other times thoughts that completely disempower you and you hold back? Or emotions that come at the worst time? Such as thinking of your passed grandparents when you see old people on the street, and you can’t help but shed a tear or two? You may have noticed that your thoughts and emotions come and go, you can’t stop them, and they’re (almost) all the time present. Just try not to think at all. There might be a millisecond when you accomplish that, but the next second you’re thinking why you just can’t stop. (Or something else.)

Memories, your attitude and mood, and stage of your body are the same. You can’t stop the flow of memories (on a Christmas Day). You think of people you loved in the past. When you’re annoyed or “can’t be bothered”, it’s a mood and attitude you’re having that’s there on the background, even though you smile at the barista who messed up your coffee. And you can’t say to your body to stop digesting once you swallowed a piece of cake (or at any stage of the day). These things are happening in the background all the time, without you having any say about them.

And finally, notice that in every present moment, you’re having a mix of thoughts, emotions, attitude and mood, memories, and some bodily stage. One can prevail more than others but they’re always present to some degree.

What happens on the New Year’s Eve when we make our New Year’s Resolutions, we usually get into a stage that we’d call, “I’m motivated“. The reasons why you get motivated could be different for everyone. It could be the crowd, the “great energy”, the sense of a new beginning… It’s not really important why it happens. The important thing I’m trying to show you is that motivation doesn’t last for too long (usually not longer than two months). Why?

Motivation is only a mood/attitude and it changes and shifts without you having much say about it. And when you run out of motivation, you start relying on two things: your will and/or force. (I know I do!) Neither of these makes it easy for you. You start to dread your workouts, cheat on your calories, and perhaps slowly give up. (In some cases, you motivate yourself again and last a little longer, but it’s not a steady path to victory. If you don’t have money for that cool bra top, you know you’re doomed.)

motivation, vision board, new year's resolutions

So, if motivation doesn’t work, what does? What I’ve discovered (thanks to the Leadership course) is that the magic lies in the context. Context is something that gives you the power to be anyone and do anything under any circumstances. Right, sounds good so far. But how do you create a context? First, you put aside all that you already know about your New Year’s Resolution, you, and the thing you’re working on (fitness). You start from nothing, clean canvas.

I struggled with this for a while when I decided to take on fitness after three years. I thought I already knew how fitness worked. Not such long time ago I could run half-marathons, so it couldn’t be such a huge deal to get back to it. Fortunately, it didn’t take me too long to realise that I needed to put aside what I knew. I needed to put aside a picture of myself: someone who was a half-marathon runner, someone who thought was fat, someone who couldn’t do it, and someone who was thinking it will be painful to start again.

Once you put aside what you know, then you can start to tap into creating a new context by:

  1. Creating an empowering conversation – something that’s possible for you, something that is not predictable yet it touches, moves, and inspires you.
  2. Be in the conversation on the specific subject, and deepen your knowledge about the subject and learn specific terms. (I started tracking my foods and learnt more about macronutrients.)
  3. And finally, you actually do the thing. (Now the gym membership comes in handy but not necessarily – you can still workout from home, right?)

The power of context is that the context changes how things occur to you (show up for you). In my case, when I started my training and running this January, I created a possibility of being radiant and strong. (Neither was predictable but this really leaves me moved and inspired.) Then I learnt what I was doing wrong in terms of my eating habits. (Those bad habits definitely didn’t make me radiant.) And finally, I created a plan, put it in the iCal calendar, and stuck to the routine. (And slowly but surely, over two months, I built some strength.)

Two months after I started tracking my foods and training, I have no motivation to track my calories or macronutrients. I no longer do it out of motivation. My context has shifted how tracking my meals occurs to me – shows up to me. Today, tracking is “reasonable and useful.” Again, I’m not saying that motivation is bad or not helpful. But even when I don’t feel motivated, I stick to my plan anyway and it’s not “hard” or “tough”. I simply, honestly, thoroughly enjoy it. And guess what? I’m no longer trying to be radiant and strong – I already am.

What have you discovered about motivation? Does it work for you, or not?