Motivation: What Works in the Real World – Psychology Today


There are many temptations to organize our life around the experience of earlier trauma. But that may short-change the future—which starts by our envisioning something better.
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Posted December 7, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan
The book Atomic Habits has sold more than five million copies and been translated into 50 languages.
Its author, James Clear, summarizes the book’s advice on motivation in an article: The Scientific Guide on How to Get and Stay Motivated. Here are its key points and, for each, I offer amplification or dissent.
“Motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of action. Getting started, even in very small ways … produces momentum.”
Yes, many of my clients’ become demotivated by overthinking—they spend too much time thinking about low-probability negatives that are more likely avoided by taking a low-risk first step and then revising as needed.
What if the task is complex and its steps unclear? For example, you’re asked to write a proposal for revamping your organization’s employee grievance protocol. A low-risk action might be to divide the task into baby steps. If you don’t know what the baby steps should be, get help from a person and/or a Google search.
If the task isn’t complex, it’s usually wise to just dive in by doing the task’s first few-second part. Getting that little bit done can keep you motivated to do the next step, and so on.
“Automate the early stages of your behavior… Having a pre-game routine provides a mindless way to initiate your behavior…It removes the need to make a decision: What should I do first? When should I do this? How should I do this?”
That advice applies best to tasks that need to be done repeatedly, for example, getting down to work each morning, exercising, or sleep hygiene. Let’s say you know you want to start working at 9 AM. You might create this pre-game routine: Go to bed by 11 and set your alarm for a time that allows a full night’s sleep while still leaving enough time in the morning for your pre-work activities: perhaps dressing, showering, eating, and getting the kids off to school.
“The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right…”
That’s just common sense. Of course, if it’s too hard, we give up. If it’s too easy, we may stay with it for a while or reserve the task as a break from challenging tasks. For example, I was tempted to procrastinate writing this post. I told myself, “Okay, just start, by identifying the quotes from that article that I want to comment on. Then I’ll weed in the garden for 10 minutes, something that should be done but is easy and I like doing.”
“What happens when motivation fades?…. Consider every thought you have as a suggestion, not an order. Right now, my mind is suggesting that I feel tired and should stop working. But my mind is also suggesting that I will feel very good about accomplishing this work once it is done.”
Here, I don’t agree. I’m not a fan of pushing yourself to work when tired. Better to take a brief nap or, if that’s not feasible, have a cup of coffee or black tea, and use your fatigue as a reminder to get a better night’s sleep tonight.
“Despite our resistance to a hard task, I have never found myself feeling worse after it was done.”
True, but that knowledge often isn’t enough to motivate a person to work, especially on a hard task. My clients have found the previous suggestions more helpful.
“This moment when you don’t feel like doing the work … is not to be thrown away … Spend it in a way that will make you proud.”
The takeaway
This post offers a buffet of ideas. Any you want to sample?
I read this aloud on YouTube.
Marty Nemko, Ph.D., is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, California, and the author of 10 books. 
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There are many temptations to organize our life around the experience of earlier trauma. But that may short-change the future—which starts by our envisioning something better.


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