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How to Stay Productive When Motivation Fades: Strategies for Meeting Our Goals

Hands are busily typing on a Mac notebook, with a pair of glasses and a cup of coffee on each side

For a lot of us, the top of the new year usually brings feelings of confidence, hope, drive, and motivation. We associate the new year with a fresh start, and therefore we find the drive and passion to start pursuing goals, whether they are ones we didn't get to meet in the previous year or brand new ones.

We can think about how we feel when we get a brand new writing notebook, some new workout gear, or anything else that we feel will help motivate us to stay consistent with what we want to do. "I'll invest in myself and that will keep me on track".

However, something tends to happen by the time we reach the last week of January or even the first week of February. We get settled into our new year and the "newness" starts to fade. We might even start finally dating our documents with "2024" instead of "2023" by mistake (though I'll admit sometimes we're well into March before I get the hang of writing down the new year). And as the "New Year" feelings begin to fade, for a lot us, the motivation we had leaves right along with it.

For people who go to the gym on a regular basis, there's always this joke saying "If you're sick of all the crowds at the gym in January, just give it a month. It'll go back to normal before February ends". We joke about this, but there's plenty of truth to it. One of the top New Year's resolutions every single year in America is tied to health, weight, and fitness. Every year people sign up to a nice gym, buy new workout clothes, and clean the junk food out of their cabinets. Unfortunately, a large percentage of those people will also stop going to the gym, leave their workout clothes in the closet (or lounge around in them like I do), and slowly begin to fill the cabinets with junk food again.

What can be done about this? What is the main difference between the people who don't follow through on their resolutions and the people who do? Let's get into it.

Motivation is Overrated

Motivation is defined as the general desire or willingness of someone to do something. But, as human nature shows, we don't always feel like doing something. I don't always feel like getting out of bed on a weekday but I also know that I can't miss work. I don't always feel like going out in the cold to take my dog on a walk, but I know that it benefits us both for the rest of the day when I do. I don't always feel like cleaning, but I also hate how uncomfortable I feel when the house isn't in order.

A black woman with bright red hair is seated at a table, working attentively on a laptop.

I don't know if it's an unpopular opinion, but it's something we don't always hear when we should: Motivation is highly overrated. Notice I didn't say that motivation is outright "bad", but it's just not always going to be around to make sure we do what we need to do or even what we want to do. Here is something that I've heard countless times that I've found to be true: Emotions are wonderful and we all need them. We need to get familiar with our emotions and we need them in order to connect and be human. However, we can't always rely on emotions when it comes to decision-making. While our emotions serve a great purpose, they do have their time and place.

When it comes to the things we need or want to do, motivation is not what's going to keep us going. Unfortunately, if everyone always waited until they were motivated to do something, society would be in shambles. And for people like myself with a history of anxiety and depression, we absolutely can't rely on our feelings for our decisions because that could easily take a turn for the worst.

Again, motivation isn't inherently bad. I would love to always have the desire to do the things I need to do in order to realize my goals. And it feels great when you actually want to do something. But motivation alone can't get us to where we want to be. We should, instead, focus on what the people who stay consistent are doing.

What Are the Differentiators?

We know that Motivation isn't the master key to realizing our goals and resolutions, so how do others seem to do it so well? There's a few small, but powerful reasons:

  1. They connected their goals to their 'Why'

  2. They created a plan

  3. They focused on building habits

Connecting with 'Why'

We have reasons for doing everything that we do, but they don't all necessarily fall under the category of 'why'. Simon Sinek defines the 'Why' as your purpose, cause, or belief. For example, if you're a small business owner you created that business to make money. However, making money isn't necessarily you're 'Why'. The Why of it all may be more tied to something much bigger than yourself. When I started my blog, I did it because I wanted to have a creative outlet for myself. But I eventually grew to understand that my Why was about connecting with others who are in a similar path in life and creating a community around it. Connecting our resolutions with our Why calls for us to understand what our end goals are. Take some time and ask yourself how you can tie what you want with your purpose, causes, and beliefs.

Create a Plan

A lot of times when I hear people state their resolutions, it starts out as "I want". This year I want to lose weight. This year I want to read more. This year I want to stay connected with my friends and family. We say these things while we are still motivated to do them, but a lot of us fail to bring a plan into place to make those things happen. Right after we establish and declare what it is that we want, we then have to create a plan to follow through. So rather than just leaving it as "I want to read more", we could put some practices into place. What exactly do you want to read (memoirs, fiction, personal growth, fantasy)? What part of your day is going to be dedicated to reading? How long do you want to read everyday? What are some habits you have created that make it harder to put time into reading? Do you have someone to hold you accountable for what you're doing?

Now the goal looks something more like "I'm going to read two fiction novels this month. I will read everyday after work from 6:30pm to 7:00pm instead of scrolling on my phone. I will read during my lunch breaks at work. I am going to start a reading group with a couple of friends so that we can share the experience together and hold each other accountable.

An overhead photo of a weekly planner placed on a desk, with a camera, a pen, and gold accessories on the sides

Build Good Habits

James Clear describes habits as small decisions we make and actions we perform everyday. A lot of times they are unconscious, like our 'habit' to wash our hands after using the restroom. Clear claims that the way our lives look are largely a sum of our habits (yes, there are exceptions to this, but overall I would agree). What we repeatedly do ultimately forms who we are. The good thing is, we can create habits that reflect who we want to become if we are not the person we want to be yet.

What habits you form can be largely personalized to your goals, but I believe the universal thing is to create habits that are identity based. Identity-based habits are actions we can take that reflect the person we want to be. It's taking the verbiage of "try" and "going to" and turning it into an affirmative "I am" statement.

I'm going to write everyday = I'm a writer

I'm trying to quit smoking = I don't smoke.

I'm want to try running a few times a week = I'm a runner

When we tie our habits to our identity, it makes it a lot easier to see through to the goals we've set for ourselves. For example, I'm someone who used to say things like "I'm an aspiring writer" but now I just say "I'm a writer". I have to think about habits that a writer has and execute said habits such as: Brainstorm ideas, research topics, do some personal journaling, network and connect with other writers, etc. As far as the 'how' of doing those things, it would go back to the previous step of 'creating a plan'.

Recommended Read

In line with today's topic, I would recommend checking out Atomic Habits by James Clear, in which he goes into more detail about not just building good habits and breaking bad ones, but also how we can make these habits more appealing to us over time so that we can follow through.

In any case, Reader, I hope that you are able to push through the post-New Year's slump and press through to get what you want for yourself, regardless of the level of motivation you have in the moment.

Thanks for reading!


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