Motivation is tricky. Initial motivation is hard enough, but staying motivated can make you feel like Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner.
Why is motivation so elusive?
It’s easy to fall under the assumption that willpower drives motivation. You may think to yourself, “If only I had more willpower I could stay motivated!”
But studies have shown willpower is a finite resource. It’s a measurable form of mental energy that gets depleted as you use it.
You can’t rely solely on willpower to keep you motivated. You can use willpower to get motivated initially, but there’s not enough fuel in your willpower tank to keep you moving forward toward a long-term goal.
So what can you do to stay motivated without relying on willpower?
You can create a positive feedback loop. Think of it like a life hack for your brain. A positive feedback loop allows you to use minimal willpower by setting up a system of habits.
What is a positive feedback loop?
Scientifically speaking, a positive feedback loop enhances or amplifies changes. The tendency of a positive feedback loop is to move a system away from its equilibrium state.
Sounds theoretical and complicated, but here’s a nifty graph of how it really happens.
An external stimulus creates a disruption, or change, in a system. That change produces an effect. In a positive feedback system, the effect of the change boosts the influence of the stimulus and, in turn, amplifies the effect.
In the case of motivation, willpower produces the initial motivational stimulus. Once positive change occurs due to that initial stimulus, motivation is boosted and the cycle continues.
Let’s talk about some real life examples.
Fitness / Weight Loss
If you’re trying to get fit or lose weight, your initial motivation will drive you to exercise and eat healthier. After a time, though, your motivation will likely fade as you grow tired of the routine.
So what will keep you motivated?
Create a fitness positive feedback loop. Track progress on waist measurements, number of reps you can achieve before fatigue, or simply how your clothes fit. These small indicators of progress are enough to bolster your motivation to keep going.
Your weight may fluctuate, so I discourage you from using your scale to track progress. Read more about why in this article.
Writing a Book / Thesis / Other Huge Project
Inspiration for a good story idea is enough to spark your motivation to start writing that novel you’ve always dreamed about. But writing is a long process, and it’s difficult to keep the creative juices flowing when you’re not feeling inspired.
How can you create a positive feedback loop in this scenario?
A good way is to follow Jerry Seinfeld’s productivity technique. His method consists of buying a large full-year calendar and hanging it on a prominent wall in your work area. Each day that you complete your task of writing, put a big red X over that day on the calendar.
After a few days, you will have a chain of red X’s on your calendar. From then on your goal is not to break the chain.
Seeing that each day of effort adds up to larger progress is enough to keep you motivated.
Implementing a Positive Feedback Loop to Stay Motivated
The process of starting something new takes a bit of willpower. But once you have the right systems in place and create a positive feedback loop, willpower doesn’t need to be the driving force in your motivation.
Small wins are enough to keep you going. And they’re powerful, too. In this article from the Harvard Business Review, small wins from a positive feedback loop were shown to increase team morale and productivity.
So let’s get to work!
Where can you implement a positive feedback loop to boost your motivation? Share your ideas in the comments below!
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