God bless my mother-in-law.
The other day, I did an interview with Dustin from Fit Marriage for a new series he’s doing about active couples. To prepare, I asked my wife, Erin, what advice she might give in the realm of fitness for couples. You know, a tip or two we’ve used to keep from killing each other in trying to find a balance between spending time together and achieving our different fitness goals.
She started to answer: “Make your goals—”
But before she could finish, her mom finished for her: “—achievable!” she said, as if in autocomplete mode.
It’s not her fault. At some point, we’ve all heard that we should set achievable goals, likely in some lame goal-setting exercise we did in middle school.
Let me tell you something: “Set achievable goals” is the worst advice I’ve ever heard. (Erin was actually going to say “Make your goals known to each other,” which you’ll hear me talk about if you watch that interview, once Dustin publishes it.)
Why an unachievable goal is actually easier to achieve
Set an achievable goal, and not much changes. Since it’s something you know you can achieve, there’s no need to take any massive action, to crash through your perceived limits, or to transform yourself into the incredible person you’d have to be in order to achieve that goal.
When you set a goal that seems impossible, though, that’s when the magic happens. First, you get insanely excited, because it’s something you’ve never dared to lust after before out of fear of failing. It energizes you just to think, “What if, just maybe, somehow…?”
Then you recognize that yes, it is impossible—right now. There’s a tremendous gap between where you are and where you want to be, and to do it, your whole life will have to change. And that’s where real, lasting motivation comes from.
Start with that one; it’s the most important. Once you’ve done that, here are ten more ways to get motivated that really work.
Stop setting goals and start making decisions.
I’ve used the word “goal” up until now because it’s familiar. But setting goals is not really what you should be doing—instead, you should be deciding what you’re going to make happen.
I know it sounds like some bullshit language device that won’t really make any difference after five minutes, but I promise it’s more than that. When you set a goal, that’s something you’re hoping for. It’s the target, and you’re going to shoot for it.
When you make a real decision, your whole persona shifts. When you decide that you’re going to do something no matter what happens, it’s almost as if you’ve already done it. You start acting and thinking like the person you want to be, and that’s a hell of a lot different from hoping.
Give 30 minutes to yourself.
Everybody’s busy. And so often when we’re feeling stuck, it’s because it feels like every last minute of our day has already been spoken for.
A lot of it’s for good reasons. You spend hours doing things for other people—your boss, your spouse, your kids—and that’s commendable.
But you have to take time for yourself! How great would it feel to know that this week, you’d spend three and a half hours on something you’ve never done before, something that really juices you? Training for a new sport, learning a language, playing an instrument. How many books could you cross off your “to-read” list with that kind of time?
It’s a half hour a day. Sleep a little less—it’s not so hard to get up when you know that extra time is going to be for you and nobody else. Or find that extra half hour by skipping the mindless TV show you watch after the one you really care about ends.
You can find half an hour a day, and that’s plenty to get you excited about your life.
Salivate over a race.
Just the other day, I used this trick to get excited when I was sitting at the computer with a nasty case of writer’s block. It’s fun, it takes two minutes, and anybody can do it.
What’s the farthest you’ve ever run? Okay, now double that, go online, and look for a race of that distance. What if you could make it happen next year? (It’s been five days since I googled “100-mile race calender,” and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since then.)
It’s amazing how finding something exciting in one particular area of your life can do so much for the rest of it.
Listen to music instead of talk.
A year ago, I’d have argued with you all day long on this point. I love listening to audiobooks, talk radio, anything that I think might teach me something good while I’m driving or running.
But then I read Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Workweek, where he explains how we suffer from information overload. To combat it, he prescribes a one-week information diet. No reading, no watching the news, and no audiobooks or talk radio.
Which, when you’re in the car or running, leaves music or nothing. This is how I realized how good music makes me feel.
Pick an album you freaking loved when you were in high school. Something that you almost feel foolish listening to now because you’re not a punk anymore or you’re not hardcore anymore or you’re not a bubblegum pop fan anymore. Let yourself really get into it, sing along with it as loud as you can, and I defy you not to want to go change the world, or at least your life.
Let yourself feel some pain.
Nobody likes feeling bad about themselves. We do whatever we can to avoid it, and that usually means having a drink or some food to take the edge off, watching TV to escape, or lying to ourselves by saying that it’s not that bad.
But pain serves a purpose. And when you use pain instead of pretending it’s not there, you can get motivated incredibly quickly.
If you know you’ve got some lbs to lose but can’t get yourself to exercise or eat right, take off your clothes and look in the mirror. Jump up and down if that helps. Better still, take a picture and put it on your refrigerator, or next to your running shoes (maybe leave your underwear on for this one). Think that won’t affect how you eat or workout?
Another idea: Compare yourself to someone like you who is getting tremendously more out of life in whatever area you want to change. I know people tell you not to compare yourself to others, but I heard a better version at Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within last month: “Compare yourself to yourself to measure your progress; compare yourself to others to see the possibility.”
Speaking of other people…
Watch others do amazing things.
Thanks to YouTube, you can relive virtually any moment that has ever been captured on film. Watch Kerri Strug in 1996, the 1980 U.S. Hockey team and Al Michaels’ call, Tiger Woods on the 18th hole of the 2008 U.S. Open, or whatever does it for you.
It doesn’t have to be sports: Watch a great speech, a musical performance, or a video biography of someone incredible, and you’ll want to do something yourself.
Move your body.
There’s tremendous power in changing your physiology to change your mental state (another Tony Robbins nugget, but the ancient Greeks knew this long before he did).
Lots of people will tell you their best ideas come while they’re running, and that’s no coincidence. When your body is engaged, your mind sees possibility.
Sometimes getting motivated is as easy as moving. If you need motivation just to do that, check out 63 Ways to Shake Up Your Running Routine.
Go to the bookstore.
Give me a day off, and this is how I’ll spend the morning. A nice cup of coffee to get the mind going and an hour browsing books in a massive bookstore is one of the best ways I know to get myself out of a rut.
The one caveat here is make sure you don’t get overwhelmed. Sometimes this trick works too well, and I’ll find seven books I need to read right this minute. When I realize that’s just not possible, it makes things feel out of control. So as soon as you find something interesting, stop and read it or buy it before you get too worked up.
If you’re looking for a book to make you actually want to run (I know, what a concept, right?), check out Born to Run if you haven’t yet. It’s the best book I know for that.
And if reading isn’t your thing…
Watch a movie.
I’ll confess to having a short attention span when it comes to watching other people do stuff. (That’s why short YouTube videos work well.) But every once in a while, I’ll find a movie that makes me want to get up and get to work on something.
Fight Club used to make me want turn it off and go to the gym. So does a pretty dumb movie about mixed martial arts that I saw on TV called Never Back Down. I don’t know why the fighting movies get me, but they do.
Just like with books, once you get motivated, take action. Don’t finish the movie. Just go do whatever you’re inspired to do, before you can get lazy again.
An interesting thing happens when you change one part of your life: The rest of it changes, too, in order to keep up.
Get really into an exercise program and feel great about your body, and all the sudden you don’t want to put any more brownies or caffeine or alcohol into it. Or really take control of your relationship and give it the time it deserves, and see if you don’t both find the drive to exercise more.
The point is that you might be able to change something indirectly. Changing one thing, seemingly unrelated, might be the key to changing something else you’ve been unsuccessful in changing so far.
I’d have never thought that going vegetarian would get me to train as hard as I could, run my best marathon, and become an ultrarunner. Similarly, I knew I was unsatisfied with how I was spending my time, but I had no idea changing my diet would get me to start this site and finally start doing what matters to me. But that’s what did it.
What’s your best way to get motivated?
These are the things that work for me. I’m sure some are universal, but some probably won’t work for you. Likewise, you probably have a few that I’ve never thought of. And when it comes to getting motivated and finding inspiration, novelty is extremely important.
That’s why I want to hear what you do to get going when you’re not exactly firing on all cylinders. So let me and everyone else know about your favorite ways to get moving in the comments.