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Demystifying Motivation
How to Take Action — Even When You Don't Really Feel Like It

by Rita Milios, LCSW

3. Break your goals into smaller steps
Sometimes, when looking ahead at a long-term goal, it can seem daunting. You may feel so overwhelmed at the idea of all the work that is required that you feel like giving up even before you start. In such instances, step back from the big picture and set your sights on the step immediately ahead. Then break that step down even further, if necessary, until you get to an action that you are willing to take.

That is the key to this whole process: If you break a goal down far enough, you can almost always find some part of it that you are willing to do. Then you will be off and running (jogging? walking?) in the general direction of your goal. By taking the first step, you will have set into motion the momentum that can then propel you forward to the next step.

4. Use small successes to get to larger ones
Success breeds more success. The small steps you make toward a long-term goal are the truest measure of your potential to reach your long-term goal. With the right attitude and a focus on your progress, you can set up a success cycle that reenergizes itself and continually feeds your motivation. Each small step, once taken, gives you a boost to help you get to the next step. The momentum generated provides the fuel you need to keep going. And as this momentum grows, so does your motivation.

5. Focus on what you want
When considering long-term lifestyle changes, we often think about all the things we’ll have to give up. I know that’s what I did when I first got my diabetes diagnosis. “Oh, no!” I thought. “No more daily chocolate! No more treating myself to dinners of popcorn and ice cream when my husband is away! This can’t be my future!”

Fortunately, it wasn’t. After taking a nutrition class from a diabetes educator, I learned that I did not have to give up my favorite foods; I just had to be more mindful of how I incorporated them into my diet. With a deprivation mindset (focusing on my “can’t haves”), I could not have sustained the healthy eating habits necessary to keep my condition under control. The process would simply feel too punitive. By realizing that I do not have to give up my treats — but instead better monitor my consumption of them — I’ve been able to create a more mindful, disciplined approach to eating.

So instead of focusing on what you don’t want or can’t have, focus on what you do want, and move toward that goal. It is always more motivating to imagine ourselves moving toward a positive experience than moving away from a negative one. Our brains are hard-wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. And pursuing pleasure is more fun and more motivating.

Using positive self-talk is one way to keep your focus on what you want and to keep moving in the direction of your goal. Positive self-talk simply means making encouraging — rather than discouraging — statements to yourself in your head. For example, whenever you make a choice that supports your goal for a healthier lifestyle, congratulate yourself (“Good choice!”). Even if your choice did not reinforce your intent, use positive, encouraging self-talk anyway to motivate, rather than punish, yourself. For example, “I didn’t exercise the full 30 minutes that I intended to today, but I did exercise for 20 minutes and that is good. Next time I’ll try for 25 minutes.”

By always using positive self-talk instead of negative, you will feel motivated rather than disappointed in yourself, and you’ll be more likely to stick with your goal.

6. Reinforce the habit of discipline
Once you’ve made a definite decision, taken appropriate action, generated momentum, and found the motivation you were seeking, what’s next?

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