Sticking to Goals and Staying Motivated

One of our recent team meetings involved my colleagues and I setting goals for the year across different areas of our life.  This, and the usual start of year conversations around people’s New Years resolutions, got me thinking about how many of us actually end up sticking by these goals but more so, why so many of us have trouble following through with them.

In therapy, people will often identify a lack of motivation as the culprit when it comes to having difficulty sticking by goals. Other factors that can get in the way of us maintaining our goals could be significant life events, high stress environments, illness, injury and other physiological issues (sleep can be a HUGE factor).

Another impacting factor that can be a little more difficult to identify is what is referred to as “cognitive”. This just refers to the way our brain thinks about things and make sense of situations, people or feelings e.g. are we overly pessimistic and tend to think things are pointless? Do we tend to hold others and ourselves to unrelenting high standards? Do we tend to be perfectionistic or black and white in our thinking? E.g. “there is no point in trying because anything less than a high distinction may as well be a failure”. These kinds of thinking will likely have a negative impact on our ability to stick with goals and feel motivated.

Tips to aid sticking to Goals

  • Firstly…is the goal realistic?

Is it actually do-able? Can it be done in the long-term? Think about those times when we found it difficult to stick by the goal in the past, when it was quite difficult to make the more helpful/healthier choice. Will it be easy to employ this goal in these situations, or very hard? E.g. fad, rigid dieting is a very common example of setting unrealistic goals because guess what- humans get hungry and we need proper sustenance and food!

  • Start small

easier to achieve goals so that you can almost guarantee success, then work up to bigger goals

  • Remember, habits take quite a few weeks to form.

Once you have lost that initial kick of motivation, it may become a little more difficult but the longer you practice, the more it becomes a habit and second nature. If the goal is realistic and manageable in the long-term, then this shouldn’t be too much of an issue

  • Accept that sometimes, we just aren’t going to feel up to it, or we might lose motivation.

This does not mean that the wheels need to completely fall off though, and instead of giving up or judging ourselves, we could still do something smaller (e.g. practice yoga at home for 10 minutes instead of attending the class). Go for balance, don’t go for perfection- sometimes we won’t be able to stick with it, sometimes we will and that is OK!

  • Stay away from self-judgements.

Instead of, “oh no, I haven’t exercised all week, I am terrible and lazy, what is the point”. How about, “I haven’t had the drive to exercise this week, probably because I am a little worn down, perhaps a walk on the weekend would be achievable and would help me to feel less worn out and more relaxed”

  • Don’t wait for motivation to come knocking.

Research and anecdotal experience tells us that many of us wait for motivation to come, but the problem is, it often does not, or it does not come as often as we would like. We know that motivation does not equal action, but action actually equals motivation. That is, in order to feel motivated, we need to start doing stuff first. It is quite difficult at times, but it is a coping strategy that is generally very effective

  • Give ourselves credit where it is due

“I may not have been able to control my anger all week, but hey, I actually managed to on a couple of occasions and that is still better than no occasions”

  • Relax

Having time to ourselves and doing something we enjoy doing are all great stress management strategies that can improve our motivation to do other things.

A final word

A lack of motivation in itself is not a cause for alarm. But, if you find your motivation lacking in all areas of your life and you are struggling to meet the basic demands of life it may be worth having a chat with your GP to make sure there isn’t anything else getting in the way or see one of our psychologists.