Browsing the archives for the motivation tag.
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Overcommitted: Not Enough Time

Habits

The problem of overcommitment is the same whether we’re talking about not having enough time to write, not having enough time to exercise, or any other shortage of time. It’s a matter of deciding to take on more than you can reasonably do, and it’s a perennial problem for me.

One of my character flaws
My own experience of overcommitment seems pretty simple: there’s a lot of stuff I’m excited about, and I can’t walk three feet without running into another cool opportunity of some kind. I realize that there should be a non-fiction book about a particular topic, or get a story idea, or come up with an idea for a Web site to help do something that’s hard to do, or think about how I can help a cause that matters to me or improve our house or organize better.

Most of the time, thankfully, I ignore these impulses. I’ve probably thrown away a number of ideas that would have changed my life if I pursued them, but I’ve also thrown away a lot of just-OK or actually-pretty-awful ideas, and I’ve pursued some ideas that have changed my life (like starting intensive reading research about self-motivation or applying to study at Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp back in 2001). The root of the thing is that there will never be enough time to do all the cool things that could be done in the world. In a way, this justifies the fact that we’re all individuals. True, it means we sometimes feel alone and tend to repeat each other’s mistakes over and over, but on the bright side, by each pursuing our separate passions we can collectively do most of the cool things there are to do. If I can’t do all the cool things myself, it’s reassuring to me that someone can.

Just trying to do better doesn’t cut it
In a sense, it occurs to me, overcommitment is a bit like being over-motivated. Unfortunately, the results aren’t all good. Whenever I take on more than I really have time to do, I’m really giving up some of the things I think I’m taking on, because in the end not all of it will get done.

One thing I can do to deal with overcommitment is to become more efficient: to organize my time, focus my efforts, and learn good habits for getting things done, but this doesn’t do anything to address the underlying problem, because when I have more usable time at my disposal, I tend to take on more things to do. Even doing the things I’ve already got on my list tends to lead to me finding new things to do. For instance, I might work on getting the word out about my latest book and in the course of doing that find several new places on the Web where I could get involved and learn something or connect with new people. It’s true that I’m on my guard about that, but I don’t seem to have pared things down to anywhere near a fully manageable level yet. I get a lot done, but I also leave things undone.

Prioritization helps–somewhat
One partly successful way to approach this–and this is an approach I’ve been using a bit–is to get really good at prioritizing. If you prioritize well, then even though you don’t get everything done, at least you get the most important things done, which is great.

Unfortunately, if I take this approach I’ll still have put some effort and attention into the lower-priority things that I never got to, so it’s still wasteful. Also, I won’t be able to say for certain what I will and won’t get done. It’s not very satisfying to have someone say “Can you do this?” and for me to respond “I don’t know: let’s see whether I get to it or not.” I can address that in part by bumping anything I’ve promised anyone to the top, but that means sometimes doing things that aren’t as important just because I talked to someone about them. That’s not the worst fate in the world, but it’s hardly ideal.

Letting go
So really the solution to overcommitment is figuring out what to let go of and consciously letting go of it–keeping the workload down to a manageable level. This has a lot of benefits: you know what you will and won’t be able to do; you can make promises and keep them; you have a lot fewer things to worry about; and you concentrate your efforts on things you’re actually going to finish.

Sadly, this is much easier said than done. Even putting things in priority order is hard, because priorities change over time. Putting things in priority order and then hacking off the bottom of the list seems too painful and destructive to be borne–and yet it also seems like the required behavior. So I’d love to hear your thoughts: how would you change an overcommitted life so that you’d be doing less?

Photo by timailius

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Writing Motivation for Academics

Resources

I recently wrote an article on motivation for academic writing, an especially tough area, and it now appears on the academic writing site PhD2Published: “The Will to Write: Getting Past the 6 Most Common Obstacles.” The site posts daily articles to encourage and support the process of writing dissertations, papers, theses, monographs, etc.

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Steve Bein on Handling Multiple Projects

Self-motivation examples

Steve in Antarctica in 2008

Here’s a response my friend and collaborator Dr. Steve Bein, a professor of philosophy, black belt, martial arts teacher, Writers of the Future winner, and adventurer whose first novel comes out (I believe) next year gave to a question about handling multiple projects at once.  The context was writing specifically, but the advice seems to apply much more broadly than that.

I’ll give the advice I followed when writing my dissertation: write whatever’s easiest that day. Writing a dissertation is a huge pain in the ass, but if you write whatever’s easiest on any given day, sooner or later you will get the hardest part written too. (Sooner or later today’s hardest part becomes easier than some future, harder part.)

The primary problem this solves is that of motivation. You always get to feel like you’re getting away with something, and you always get to feel like you’re making forward progress.

The above is actually the second-most important piece of advice I could give you, and it only works if you follow the most important advice, which is this: WRITE EVERY DAY. No exceptions, not even your birthday.

As Steve has successfully completed projects like short stories, novels, philosophy papers, and a PhD dissertation, I feel he knows whereof he speaks.

Steve in the desert in Namibia, 2010

Photos courtesy of Steve Bein

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Experimenting With a $100 Bet

Self-motivation examples

My son, who’s 14, has been wanting to get in better shape for quite some time. We’ve talked about good methods and about how to change diet and exercise to lose weight and build muscle, but he’s found it difficult to get moving. Often he’d begin to do something–say go walking every day or track everything he eats–but give up soon afterward. I suspect that part of the problem was not being sure that what he was doing would even work.

Motivating other people
My study and writing hasn’t generally been about motivating other people: it’s been about motivating ourselves. The big difference between those two tasks, if you ask me, is that when we’re motivating ourselves, we have direct access to the brain in question, and when motivating others, we don’t. Since the means I talk about have to do with our own thinking and attitudes, they’re not as useful to try to use on other people.

Still, I had been supporting my son as much as I could, offering information when he asked for it, volunteering techniques for making better progress, and talking through obstacles. But I wasn’t going to try to make him get more fit through imposing rules. If he was going to learn a healthy lifestyle, he’d have to decide to adopt healthy habits on his own. While I buy healthy food and make sure he has access to exercise activities, I’m pretty sure going beyond that and trying to force him to get fit would backfire in the long run (and maybe in the short run, too).

The bet
So what did I do? I decided to try an experiment, and I bet him a hundred dollars he couldn’t lose 10 pounds in 8 weeks.

10 pounds in 8 weeks isn’t a record-breaking goal, but it’s pretty solid weight loss, enough to know for sure that better fitness is possible and to see visible improvement. As to the hundred dollars, I reasoned that if he wanted to participate in some kind of exercise program for 8 weeks that cost $100, I’d scrape that money together in that situation. I’d be willing to do the same in this special case if he were going to exercise on his own.

He took the bet. He didn’t have anything like $100, so we established in the beginning that if he lost, he’d be paying it off in trade: I have plenty of little things he can do to help me with my own projects.

Yet I made it clear from the beginning that I wasn’t rooting for him to lose: instead, I’d do anything I could think of to help him win. I didn’t know what the long-term effects of winning the bet might be, but I figured if he won (I was pretty sure that was possible), he’d at least gain confidence that he could lose weight whenever he really made up his mind to, and there’s good research to support the idea that belief in one’s ability to accomplish something is a crucial building block for motivation.

How he did
The first two or three weeks were not promising. He lost a pound or two early on, but he stopped there. He didn’t seem strongly motivated, even though mentally he had already spent the $100.

Somewhere around the fourth week, though, his attitude changed. We had been talking about how his chances of winning the bet were weakening every day. At the rate he was going, he’d lose the bet.

Spurred on by thoughts of not getting the things he wanted to buy with the money and by worry about how long it would take to work off his debt if he lost, he got in gear. Instead of generally intending to exercise every once in a while, he exercised every day that he could, mostly cardio with some strength training. He stopped asking for and eating junk food and fast food: where they had been uncommon treats before, now he cut them entirely out of his diet. He chose salads without dressing for lunches at school and stuck with lean, healthy options at home. When he didn’t know whether or not a food was good for weight loss, he asked me, and I did my best to give him good guidelines. He avoided most carbs and focused on fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and a few whole grains. He stopped drinking juice and lemonade and stuck with spring water. And he started losing weight.

In fact, he lost weight very quickly: several pounds a week. He still had two weeks to spare when his weight loss hit ten pounds. He repeated the winning weigh-in with me as a witness, and was ceremoniously awarded his prize. It was spent on the wished-for items within hours.

The aftermath
I was hoping that he might develop some good habits in the course of his weight loss experiment, but that was based on the idea that he would adopt a healthy regimen over the whole eight weeks, not on the idea that he would lose almost all the weight in a self-disciplined rush in the middle. He had gotten down three weeks of good habits, but for complex behaviors, three weeks is rarely long enough for a habit to form (see “How Long Does It Take to Form a Habit?“).

So it wasn’t surprising, though it was disappointing, to see my son go back pretty much to his old habits of eating (although he’s a little more restrained about things like juice and desserts these days). It’s encouraging, though, that he is still doing fairly regular exercise. It appears that his short flirtation with weight loss may have gotten him over some reservations about exercise, which matches my experience: once you start doing it regularly, especially if you can find a mode that’s pleasurable for you, you no longer work so hard to avoid it.

So, was it a good idea?
In the end, I’m going to call this one a limited success. It certainly isn’t an ideal approach, since it didn’t do much of anything to change his internal attitudes or supply him with a long-burning passion for fitness (something that’s very difficult to even do for ourselves, let alone other people). It also didn’t turn out to get him doing healthy things long enough for them to become habits.

However, there’s no denying that the bet enabled him to lose 10 pounds on his own, and it certainly taught him some things about his ability to motivate himself when there are stakes that matter to him, about exercise, and about healthy living. If sooner or later he comes to feel that he really wants to commit to a healthier lifestyle, he’ll know how, and he’ll have confidence he can do it again on his own.

Photo by Todd Kravos

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Video: What Really Motivates People (Hint: It’s Not Money)

Resources

The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) posted a video recently of a talk author and speaker Daniel Pink gives about motivating other people. To be clear, my writing on this site is mainly about motivating ourselves, which is a different kind of thing, but I’m not against learning about motivating others when the opportunity comes up, especially if we can learn more about motivating ourselves in the process.

Pink’s talk offers some ideas that are pretty surprising if you haven’t run across them yet. One is research that shows people performing worse in tasks that require thinking and creativity when offered especially high monetary rewards than they do when they’re offered more modest monetary rewards. Sounds backwards, doesn’t it? And it’s true that if you offer higher bonuses for digging longer ditches, you’ll probably get longer ditches–yet if you try to offer higher bonuses for coming up with better ideas, you’re likely to be less well off than you started. This appears not to be an isolated finding, either, but rather something that comes up in study after study in psychology, sociology, and economics.

If money isn’t a good motivator for complex behavior, what is? Pink makes the case that it’s three things:

  1. Autonomy. If you get to choose what you’re doing, you become much more engaged and therefore more productive: see my first article on flow for a related phenomenon.
  2. Mastery. We naturally like getting better at things.
  3. Purpose. If our only reason for doing something is getting paid, we’re much less likely to do it well.

Of course, here we’re talking about the effects of bonuses and such: it’s not the same if we’re talking about money for basic living expense. People have to make a living for a start, at which point they can start thinking about satisfying work rather than simply avoiding starvation.

The video illustrates Pink’s talk with entertaining cartoons and a (to me) distracting practice of writing what he just said as quotes in with the cartoons. To view it, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc .

Thanks to Lon Prater for the link.

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Slowly Revealing Characters With the Snowflake Method

Writing
A little while back I reported that I was attempting to use the Snowflake Method (or parts of it, anyway) as I develop my new novel. My progress has been slow, to say the least: unfortunately, the novel can’t take priority over a variety of other things I’m doing in my life at this point, so I’ve had to be satisfied to this point with gradually building the story as time allows. I’ve been researching Russian and Soviet history (important in understanding some of the characters and events in my story) and planning out my novel step by small step in the Snowflake fashion.
So far, I have to admit, Snowflake has been unexpectedly valuable to me. I had expected it to give me some structure and keep me on track, but it has done much beyond that.

Snowflake forces me to delve deeper before moving ahead. For instance, in the first step, it required me to know and state in a sentence what my novel was about. Then I had to settle on the major turns in the story and come up with an ending, neither of which I was particularly inclined to do at that point if I had been left to my own devices, but both of which have given me a much deeper understanding of where the story was going. In the current step, which requires a period of focus on each major character in turn, it’s forcing me to understand all of my characters well enough to see where they are headed in the course of the novel. What are they each after? How do they change? What are their biggest obstacles? (If you want to read the specific questions instead of my generalizations, you can read about the Snowflake Method on Randy Ingermanson’s Web site.)

I haven’t generally been a fan of cataloging everything there is to know about a character. Yes, it’s nice to know what the character had for breakfast that morning, but that doesn’t really give me much to go on when I’m trying to envision what a character will do or say next. The questions I’m forced to answer for my Snowflake outlining are much more telling and basic: I find out that Nancy, a mother and wife in my story, is trying to get her husband to move their family out of a war zone and getting nowhere with it, which helps me know Nancy much better than if I just knew that she had dry rye toast for breakfast and wanted to marry the postman when she was three. Since goals very often have to do with other people, like in this case, it also tells me some useful things about Nancy’s husband and son and their relationships. Building a web of strong relationships that have built-in conflicts like this yields a story that has a chance of breaking out and writing itself. That’s one reason I’ve gotten so much enjoyment out of Joss Whedon’s star-crossed TV series Firefly: the central characters were a tightly-knit group, but they also had built-in conflicts with one another.

To come at it from another angle: I sometimes get the chance to talk with my father, an actor, about what acting and writing fiction might have in common. I gather from these conversations that one of the things he and many other actors do is to find a specific goal in every scene, a process that can furnish drive, focus, and direction. If you’ve ever seen grade school actors just stand there and fidget, unsure what to do until their next line comes along, you’ll see why I value this kind of point of view, and why a goal-focused view of characters, as Dr. Ingermanson’s approach requires me to take, is promising me something beyond just a better familiarity with my cast.

 

Photo by viking_79

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Something Completely Different: a New Direction for the Willpower Engine and ReidWrite

About the site

“I feel scattered,” I told my closest friend today when we were out walking on Church Street in Burlington, Vermont. I talked about my ongoing work on The Willpower Engine, my recently-released book of flash fiction, my wish that I had time to work on novels again, and other writing interests and aspirations.

photo by redjar

For well over two and a half years, I’ve blogged three to five times a week at the Willpower Engine about the psychology of motivation and habits. Since April of 2007, I’ve been blogging about writing sporadically at http://reidwrite.livejournal.com, although the ridiculously intrusive advertising LiveJournal has introduced over the last year or so has made me eager to move that blog somewhere else. These two blogs and the way they separate my blogging attention reflect a similar split in my writing focus: I’ve been doing fiction and non-fiction at the same time, and although I’ve prioritized my writing about the psychology of habits, my powerful interest in writing fiction has meant that it’s never been possible to really focus on only my Willpower Engine writing.

Another problem I’ve faced in going forward with my Willpower Engine writing is that I have no professional background I can point to that makes me an authority on the psychology of motivation. Yes, I’ve studied and written about the topic intensively for years (well before I ever started this blog), and I’ve kept up with a lot of the current psychological research. However, I don’t have a degree in psychology, I’m not a therapist, and I don’t have professional non-fiction writing credits in the area of psychology. I also don’t have experience running seminars or workshops on the subject. What all of this means is that I’m not enough of a recognized authority to have interested a publisher in the nonfiction book I’ve been working on, so even while the readership for the Willpower Engine site climbs week after week and as my understanding of the topic becomes deeper and wider, the aspiration I’ve had of placing the non-fiction book with a major publisher hasn’t gone anywhere.

I’ve also had trouble finding a proper voice for The Willpower Engine. I’m not a therapist and don’t want to sound like one, but I am trying to convey useful information in a way that is easy to understand and make use of without being too dry or abstract about it.

And with my attention tied up for years with the Willpower Engine project, I haven’t been putting any serious work into novels. I’ve seen many of my talented peers in the Codex writers group sell novels and land multi-book deals while my own fiction career has been limited almost entirely to flash fiction written for The Daily Cabal–although admittedly, I love writing flash fiction, and all of that writing has led to a new eBook release, my flash fiction collection called Bam! 172 Hellaciously Quick Stories (available at $2.99 from Amazon for the Kindle and from Smashwords for all eReaders).

So I’ve been doing a lot of work that I’m proud of, and I’ve been immensely grateful for everything I’ve learned so far about my own motivation and habits– but at the same time, I’ve been ignoring my own advice to take on only one major goal at a time. From my point of view, I felt as though I had no choice: I’m far too interested in the psychology of motivation to give up my Willpower Engine work, and writing fiction is far too important to me to give up either. What’s more, I’ve had major accomplishments in both areas, like the thousands of readers who come to this site and my Writers of the Future win with my fiction. How could I possibly stop doing either one? I can’t, that’s how. And yet splitting my attention is preventing me from moving forward.

But what emerged in my conversation with my friend (to finally get back to that) was the possibility of merging my interests, focusing my efforts on all of the things that are most important to me and none of the ones that aren’t central. Specifically, while not giving up the idea of writing nonfiction books sooner or later, I can focus on a novel–and my challenge with that novel can be to use what I’ve learned about the psychology of motivation so well that readers of the novel, while not being lectured or taught in any usual sense, come away knowing a lot more than they used to about the subject in ways that they can actually use in their lives. In other words, instead of explicitly offering information in the form of non-fiction, I can weave that knowledge into my fiction, in service to storytelling, and make a hell of a story that also carries some real-world knowledge. I have a real advantage here: very few fiction writers have spent years studying the scientific research on human motivation.

This idea made immediate and powerful sense to me, but I had reservations, especially about the Willpower Engine blog. I don’t by any means want to abandon it, and yet the amount of time and attention that goes into posting three articles a week on the psychology of motivation is too much of a drain to allow me to really focus on a novel. Even one post a week, a bare minimum in my mind for anything I would call “posting regularly,” would take too much attention away.

The solution to that problem is to allow the Willpower Engine to change. It already has hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics relating to goals, habits, emotions, self-confidence, and willpower. But instead of adding more such articles, I’m changing the focus of the blog to write about motivation and writing, motivation in my own life pertaining to my writing, and especially weaving psychological findings into my fiction. This new version of the blog will still have a lot to say about the psychology of habits and related subjects, and some posts may well be similar to ones I’ve posted on the Willpower Engine in the past. There will also, however, be posts on writing fiction, as I’ve posted periodically on my ReidWrite blog, as well as posts about trying to integrate what I’ve learned into my own life and my fiction.

The blog name will need to change: for one thing, it will incorporate both of the previous blogs, ReidWrite and The Willpower Engine. For another, it will have a different focus than either. But I’m not greatly worried about a new name for the blog just yet, or other technical concerns, like how I’ll arrange the content on the page. Instead, I’ll begin to prioritize questions like how I can sharpen my focus in life so that my non-writing endeavors are less scattered, on whether I should focus my career at present on young adult or adult novels, and on which of the many, many, many novel ideas I’ve developed over the past ten years I’ll choose for my new project–if indeed I don’t come up with something entirely new.

I think readers of ReidWrite will find much more of interest here for the foreseeable future. For regular readers of The Willpower Engine, I hope this announcement will not be discouraging. Of course I’m hoping that much of the new content of this blog will continue to be meaningful in those readers lives and to serve some of the same purposes my posts have in the past, but with the change in focus, I can’t imagine this will be the case for all Willpower Engine readers. For readers interested only in articles of the kind I’ve written on The Willpower Engine so far, I hope you’ll find much of use by delving into the 328 posts I’ve already put up on this site and more in some of the similar posts I’ll be doing from time to time in the future.

The new blog will not keep to a regular schedule, but for the immediate future I’ll certainly have a lot to post about, including using what I’ve learned about the psychology of motivation, choosing a novel project, developments in the electronic publishing world, findings from my eBook flash fiction experiment, and more.

To all readers, thank you very much for your support so far. I welcome your comments and ideas and hope you’ll find much to entertain, enlighten, and involve you on the new site.

Luc Reid
January 2, 2011

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Why Do You Care?

Strategies and goals

Good habits make things easy. If you have a good habit, you can keep it going with minimal effort, never having to question why you floss or file all new papers before you go home for the night or make an extra effort to memorize people’s names when you meet them. That’s the whole point of a habit: it’s something you do more or less automatically. If you’re happy with how it works, you don’t really have to think about it.

Goals–which are often habits we’re trying to acquire–are a whole different ball game: we have to encourage ourselves every step of the way, use every trick and inducement we can come up with, and expend time, energy, and attention. Sooner or later (preferably sooner), careful attention to a goal should brings up an important question: Why?

Why ask why?
Is it really important to understand why we’re striving toward a particular goal? If we’re driven to accomplish something with a job, fitness, education, how the house looks, or how much sculpture we’re getting done on a weekly basis (for instance), does it really matter what’s making that feel important?

Often it does. Here are a few reasons that’s the case:

  • Getting what we want very often doesn’t make us happy. Pursuing wealth, for instance, can seem like an important and obvious goal that doesn’t need to be considered, but very often wealth doesn’t make people any happier (see “The Best 40 Percent of Happiness“).
  • Knowing what’s motivating us makes motivation easier. See “How to Harness Desire for Better Willpower.”
  • Thinking about the reasons for our goals may in some cases bring us to realize that the goals aren’t ours–for instance, that we’re pursuing a degree that someone else wants us to have or trying to follow in the footsteps of someone who has a different path in life. There’s nothing more efficient than not having to do something in the first place, and if you can redirect your energies toward goals that are truly meaningful to you, you’ll get much better results.
  • You may want to find a new reason for what you’re doing. For instance, if you originally got in shape because you wanted to do well in the dating world but are now in a permanent relationship, you may have found your motivation to stay fit has faltered, even though rationally you know you’ll be happier and healthier if you keep with the program. Knowing that your original reasons don’t apply any more can make it possible to figure out what your new reasons might be: Having energy? Staying healthy for loved ones? Social time? Time to think?
  • Exploring our reasons for pursuing a goal can give us important insights into ourselves that may change our goals, behaviors, or choices.

So looking at your single, top goal (why just one goal? see “Choosing a Goal That Will Change Your Life“), ask yourself: “What’s in it for me? Why do I care?”

Photo by banoootah_qtr

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7 Ways to Find Supporters and Partners

Strategies and goals

Following up on my last article, “How Supporters and Partners Help Motivate Us,” here are some ways to find people to help your efforts toward reaching a goal.

  1. Friends and family. It’s not unusual to hide goals from friends and family members, especially goals to fix things in our lives that aren’t going well, for instance getting fit or decluttering. But specific friends or family members who are likely to be sympathetic to our aims–even aims we’d usually keep private–can provide a welcome source of encouragement, feedback, and in some cases inspiration. People you know who are working toward the same goal you are can be especially helpful.
  2. Local groups. The more common a goal, the more likely there are groups to help you succeed in it. Professional associations, Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous, writers’ groups, and other organizations can be invaluable. In most cases, it’s preferable for the group to include or be run by someone who is already successful in the area in question.
    Three good places to find local groups are the yellow pages, local daily and weekly newspapers, and www.meetup.com, a free resource for finding and forming local groups.
  3. Cognitive therapists. Cognitive therapy can be particularly useful not only in helping work through emotional problems but also in clarifying goals and priorities, clearing away conflicts, and becoming more effective in life. Until relatively recently, far more emphasis in psychological research and practice has been put on people with serious difficulties than on what is now called “positive psychology”: building on strengths and realizing potential. In the last decade or two, this tide has begun to turn, creating much more awareness of therapy as a means to pursuing our better selves. Kari Wolfe contributed an article on this site that gives a good introduction to cognitive therapy, “What in the World is Cognitive Behavior Therapy?“.
  4. Professionals. Depending on your goals, there may be professionals who can help you succeed: organization specialists, fitness trainers, coaches, and others. Both with these kinds of professionals and with therapists, it’s worth putting a good bit of effort into research, as a truly bad fit can be worse than doing nothing at all, but a very good fit can yield benefits far beyond the expected.
  5. Classes. You may not necessarily need more education in the area of your goal, but if education is useful to you and available, getting involved in a class–whether it’s pursuing an MBA, taking a class offered through your local community, or even in some cases taking a course online–can provide connections to people who are care about your goal and can help you move forward.
  6. Online groups and forums. Online groups in many cases don’t offer nearly as much human contact as groups that meet in person, but they can be easy to access and are often large, active and knowledgeable. They can be a source of support and camaraderie online as well as a possible way to meet people who can become friends in person. One excellent example is the free online fitness and weight loss site, SparkPeople.
  7. Events. Events that focus on your goal area can be a great source of new contacts, ideas, friends, supporters, and colleagues.

Photo by foreverdigital

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How Supporters and Partners Help Motivate Us

Strategies and goals

Recently a reader commented with this useful question: “How do I find people who can support me in reaching my goals, whether by encouragement, having the same/similar goal or even a goal of their own? Are there any tips you can offer regarding how to tell people that I’d like to work on a goal?” In this article, I’ll talk about how other people can fit into your plans for achieving your goals. In the follow-up, I’ll talk about specific ways you can find supporters and partners.

First, it’s worth mentioning some of the benefits of support and buddying up:

  • More resources for information and help
  • More reminders of what you’re doing and why it’s important
  • People to cheer you on and help boost your mood
  • An “audience,” people to witness your progress, making you less likely to just silently let your goal slip (although if you get very anxious about other people’s opinions, this may not be a good option for you)
  • Sometimes, models to emulate
  • Sometimes, companions to do things with
  • Opportunities to maintain a feedback loop, to make it easy to reflect on how you’ve been doing and how you could tweak your approach for the better
  • Increased social time in general, which even if it has nothing to do with your goal tends to improve mood (see “Want to Reduce Stress? Increase Social Time“).

People can help you in a variety of roles:

  • mentors are skilled at doing whatever you’re trying to take on and can provide specific help and guidance. A mentor could be a friend or family member who has already done what you’re trying to do, a specialist like a personal trainer or professional organizer, a therapist, a coach, a teacher, etc.
  • partners want to achieve the same goal you do and can get together with you to work on it. My belief, although I don’t know of any research to back this up, is that partners who are at about the same place you’re in work best, since you two are likely to face similar challenges, and you’ll neither be discouraged by the other person being far ahead of you or impatient at the person being far behind.
  • groups get together on a regular basis to share ideas, witness each other’s progress (or sometimes lack of progress, because occasional failures and setbacks are a normal part of pursuing a goal), offer encouragement, and otherwise help keep each other on track. Online groups generally offer discussion and support without meetings, which adds flexibility but takes away the structure of a regularly scheduled check-in.
  • role models can be people you know or people you’ve only heard of, and have achieved what you want to achieve. Role models offer the opportunity to learn how to successfully reach a goal and a clear reminder that it can be done.
  • supporters include anyone who can make a constructive contribution to your progress by helping to provide information, encouragement, or discussion.
  • competitors are other people trying to reach the same kind of goal as you who inspire you to work harder. Some of us respond well to competition and some don’t. If you’re someone who does, then trying to be the most successful person in your weight loss group or to get an agent before any of your other writer friends can be a good way to stay motivated.

There’s also one group to avoid: detractors. This includes anyone who will get in the way of you achieving your goal, whether or not they mean well. Anyone who encourages or excuses your bad habits, distracts you with things that prevent you from making progress, or actively tries to disrupt you through badmouthing, scoffing, unkind comparisons, or other tactics is worth avoiding if possible, keeping out of the loop if it’s not possible to avoid them, or ignoring if it’s not possible to keep them out of the loop.

Photo by Wootang01

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