This below article is excerpt from Motivational hacks expert Leo Babauta from Zen Habits, sharing his wisdom on all things motivational for daily life. This is 2 part series, to see second part of the series, click here: Motivation questions answered: part 2.
It’s that time of year — the end part — when people start thinking about their lives, their goals, their habits, and how to change everything for the better. As always, I’m here to help if I can.
Today I’ve answered 10 questions from your fellow readers, who submitted them via the Twitter. I don’t claim to be perfect, but have learned a lot about habits and motivation in the last four or five years of habit changes (see My Story for more). I share some of what I’ve learned with the caveat, of course, that what works for me might not work for you. I hope it helps nevertheless.
1. How do you motivate yourself to get work done after trying many things and failing over and over again?
Motivation is first just about taking that first step — just getting excited about something enough to get started. Then it’s about focusing on enjoying what you’re doing, right now, instead of worrying about how you’re going to get to a destination.
You also need to forget about your failures, or at least the part of them that gets you discouraged. Take away from your failures a lesson about what obstacles stand in your way, and leave behind any bad feelings. Those are in the past. Focus on right now, and how fun the activity is, right now.
2. What moved you to first start the change into the Leo we know today? What was your very first step?
We’re the sum of all we’ve done in the past, from childhood on, so there’s no one thing that led me to the person I am or the life I’m living. However, I can definitely say that quitting smoking was a turning point for me, for a couple of reasons:
* It showed me that I could successfully change a habit, which I had no confidence in before that, after failing a number of times.
* I learned a lot of successful habit change principles from quitting smoking, which I applied to all future habit changes. See my book, The Power of Less, for details.
3. Why do we willfully and consciously engage in self-destructive habits while ignoring our better judgment?
I don’t think this has been fully answered, but in my view it’s that we don’t rationally weigh the risks vs. costs.
When we smoke, we think it’s too hard to quit, too painful over the few weeks it takes to quit (cost), but it’s not properly weighed against the risks of not quitting (major illnesses, suffering for years, early death, incredible expenses for cigarettes and hospitalization, etc.).
The same is true of unhealthy eating — not eating the junk food is too hard, but the risk of eating it is obesity, health problems, self-esteem issues, high medical bills, gym costs if we want to get back into shape, years of suffering, etc.
The pain of quitting is now, while the pain of continuing is much later, and so it doesn’t seem too bad. So the answer is to replace the bad habit with a good habit that you enjoy immensely, and focus on that enjoyment, right now, rather than the pain.
4. What is your favorite low tech and high tech way to track progress on your habits?
I’ve tried lots of high-tech trackers — from Joe’s Goals to The Daily Plate to the Daily Mile to Fit Day — but my current favorite is Daytum. It’s really easy to enter data, and you can display it publicly in many useful ways. People can look at my Daytum and see how I’m doing, and that motivates me to keep going.
As for low-tech solutions, my favorite is a Moleskine notebook. Easy to carry around, nice to use.
5. How can I become a “Morning Person”? I feel it’s a key to success.
While I intentionally became an early riser, and I love it, it’s not really a key to success. It’s one way to find the time to pursue your dreams, and it’s the way I chose, but I know night owls (famously, Tim Ferriss) who find they’re much more productive in the middle of the night. Find what works best for you.
But to answer your question: do it slowly, five minutes earlier each morning, and do something enjoyable with your extra time. Focus on how wonderful the time of day is, how enjoyable the activity, and not how much you’re suffering because it’s too damn early. You’ll learn to love it, and you’ll adjust over time.
6. If for a moment you start to feel overwhelmed by the complexities of life, how do you simplify to get where you want to be?
Take a deep breath, and let all the chaos and frustration flow out of you. Focus not all all the things you need to do, or that are coming up, or that have happened, but on what you’re doing right now. And just focus on doing one thing, right now.
I would take a walk, get some fresh air, and get some perspective. Try to think about what’s most important to you, what your perfect life would be like, what your perfect day would look like.
Then, one small step at a time, start making it happen. What’s standing in the way? What can you change right now? What can you change tomorrow? What long-term changes can you start making?
Declutter the area around you, a little at a time (or all at once, if you can find the free time and energy). Cut back on how much you’re doing, which will mean telling people who expect things of you that you just can’t do those things, because you have too much on your plate.
7. What’s the habit requiring the least effort that makes the greatest difference?
This will sound trite, but I’d say positive thinking. It’s not the easiest habit, as it requires that you start listening to your self-talk, and start telling yourself positive things instead of negative ones.
But it’s the one thing that will make the greatest difference, because it will enable all other habit changes. It has really made a huge difference in my life, and I think it’s a vital component to any plan to change your life.
8. What would be the 10 most motivating words I could say to myself every morning to get myself to exercise?
I would say these 10 words:
“Just lace up and get out the door. And smile.”
Once you get started, take that first step, the rest is easy. And smiling makes it enjoyable.
9. My hubby lacks interest in anything except boating. How can I motivate him to get off the sofa?
I don’t think you can motivate others — if they want to do something, they’ll do it. If they don’t, then don’t make them.
However, you can influence others in positive ways. I’d recommend setting an example by doing, and sharing how great it is, without judgment for what he’s doing. If he’s happy doing what he’s doing, then that’s great. If he’d like to do more, then be there for support — but don’t push.
You can ask for his help, as well, in your efforts. Sometimes spouses love to help, and that can rub off on them and get them thinking about trying it themselves. Or maybe not.
In the end, worry more about what you’re doing and less about what he’s doing — he’s living his life and you’re living yours. People don’t like to be pushed or judged or badgered, but like to be loved and accepted.
10. How to minimize tension/frustration with others who are less organized than you are!
It’s a matter of only worrying about what you can control, and accepting that which you can’t. You can’t control others or their organization level, so don’t even try to.
This is actually a deeper issue of control for many organized people — they want to control everything in the world around them (and for a long time I was one of them), but it’s impossible, and it only leads to stress and frustration and conflicts. Instead, learn to embrace a degree of chaos, accept that the world is out of your control, and love it. The world is a wonderfully unpredictable, wild, and beautiful place.
To learn to let go, every time you find yourself frustrated, stop, and breathe. Let the frustration flow out of you, and let peace come in. Remind yourself that you don’t have to control, and love others for their humanness. It takes time, but you can learn.