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A Simple Mnemonic for Being on Time

Strategies and goals

boarding a train at sunrise

Lateness isn’t an enormously complicated problem, but a lot of us have trouble with it, whether from time to time or on a daily basis. A few years back, I posted How Not to Be Late: The 8 Principles of Being on Time, which has become one of the most popular articles on this site. That post covers the most practical information I can offer about lateness. For most of us, I believe those 8 ideas cover everything we have to do to conquer it.

Yet ideas are one thing, and putting them into practice is another. It takes time, effort, and attention to remember and use new behaviors, while for many of us, all three are in short supply. With that in mind, I put together a mnemonic that covers the four steps we can take to master lateness. I still strongly recommend reading How Not to Be Late, which covers both actions and attitude, but from there we just need a single word. That word is EAST, as in where the sun comes up in the morning (a time of day when lateness is especially common, which I mention in hopes of making the word itself a little easier to remember). Here’s what it stands for:

  • Early planning
  • Advance preparation
  • Set aside time
  • Tackle priorities first

Here’s a bit of explanation for each step:

Early planning: One of the mistakes many of us make is not thinking about being on time until the clock is already ticking. For instance, if I have an hour’s worth of things I really need to do before I leave, and I start 45 minutes before go-time, I’ve made myself late long before I walk out the door. Early planning means being aware of the event, knowing everything I’ll need to do to prepare, and having a good idea of how long getting ready will take.

Advance preparation: We identify the list of things we’ll need to do in the “early planning” step. Advance preparation can cross things off that list long before there’s any danger of lateness. Some examples of things that can be done in advance are gathering information, packing, preparing food, finding items that need to be brought along, planning routes, figuring out travel time, looking up telephone numbers, and picking out clothes.

Set aside time: This item isn’t needed for any task for which we can walk out the door (or pick up the phone) at a moment’s notice, but if we need to get cleaned up or dressed, get information, gather items, take care of things around the house or office, eat, or complete any other tasks before being free to head to the thing we want to be on time for, it’s necessary to set aside enough time to get those tasks done. It’s crucial to identify the true total amount of time that will be needed and to avoid cutting time we’ll need or being overly optimistic. Failing to handle this step well probably causes most incidents of lateness.

Tackle priorities first: When getting ready, starting with the most important tasks can let us be punctual even if something goes wrong or if preparation takes longer than expected. For example, if leaving to catch a train, it makes sense to ensure the ticket is at hand before, say, having a leisurely breakfast. The lower-priority items at the end of the process can often be sped up or skipped, but if we leave the most important tasks for last, that option disappears.

Putting EAST into practice
Using EAST will take a little effort up front: it requires fully understanding each of the points and memorizing the four terms. It won’t help me much to remember “EAST” if I forget what “S” means, for instance.

I’d recommend bookmarking this article, printing it out and putting it up somewhere you can easily refer to it, or to saving it to a smartphone or other device you’ll have on hand when you need it until you have the terms down and you’ve used them a number of times.

As always, please share this article on Facebook, Twitter, or other networks if you find it useful.

Photo by David Ashford

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Recovering After a Failure of Willpower

States of mind

We’re well into a season in which, for Americans at least, restraint isn’t very popular. We start out with a holiday that celebrates eating as much as possible, work up to a holiday that celebrates spending as much as possible, and cap it off with a holiday that celebrates staying up late and drinking.

All right, I admit that this isn’t the kindest or even most accurate depiction I could give of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s, but the point is that whether or not you happen to celebrate any of these holidays, it’s likely you run into times when you don’t exercise the amount of willpower and restraint you would like to. Practically everyone does sometimes. Over time we can get better at exercising restraint even when we’re receiving messages to do otherwise, but what do we do to get back on track after losing our willpower for a while? Here are some specific things that can help:

  1. Don’t beat yourself up. Feelings of guilt, shame, frustration, disappointment, and depression are common after a failure of willpower. These are traps: avoid them. If you get caught up in destructive emotions, it will be hard to learn well and regain your focus. Identify broken ideas that aren’t doing you any good, then repair them: see “All About Broken Ideas and Idea Repair.”
  2. Get smarter. After a failure of willpower, you have an ideal opportunity to learn from your mistakes. Start a feedback loop to figure out how to change your behavior next time, and keep using it to see how well your new approaches work. Your feedback loop (which could be journaling, talking with a friend, talking to yourself, etc.) will include a description of exactly what you don’t like that you did, what you were thinking when you did it, and some ideas for changing what you do in the future. It will also include acknowledgments of any good decisions you made.
  3. Look ahead. One of the best ways to do well with willpower is to prepare solutions in advance. For instance, if you ate much more than you wanted to at your last family gathering, you might want to plan what you’re going to eat before you go to the next one. See “How Preparation Enables Stronger Willpower.”

You might also be interested in reading “How to Recover When You’ve Completely Blown It,” which talks more about failure in general and its role in successfully pursuing a goal.

Photo by kharied

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How to Have a Good Day: 4 Ways to Make the Most of a Morning

Strategies and goals

Some days can be one problem after another; on others, everything seems to be going out way. While there are steps we can take to troubleshoot a bad day while it’s happening (see “Having a Bad Day? Here’s Why” and “How to Stop Having a Bad Day“), we can also help encourage good days. In my last article (“How to Have a Good Day: The Night Before“), I offered some steps we can take at night to help make the next day as good as it can be. Today’s article continues the topic with steps we can take in the morning.

  • Set aside some time to think. It’s often inconvenient to try to make time in the morning, especially when it means getting up earlier, but doing so is powerful. When we don’t have time to think about what’s going on, we generally act on habit, so that bad habits–like being late, eating poorly, or avoiding stressful responsibilities–can often start a day off on the wrong foot. Our brains have developed to take cues from the world around us and interpret them to predict the future, so that a few bad habits first thing in the morning can set the stage for a downward spiral. By contrast, starting off with a few good choices provides encouragement, happiness, and self-confidence.
  • Remind yourself of your goals. Whenever we want to move forward with a goal, it’s worthwhile to keep that goal in mind as often as possible. If you’ve ever had the experience of making a strong resolution, keeping it for a little while, then forgetting for a few days or weeks when something else came up, you probably remember coming back to it later to feel completely derailed. Reminding ourselves clearly and explicitly of a current goal first thing in the morning helps keep our focus and mental efforts on that goal.
  • Remind yourself of immediate payoffs. Although major goals are by definition long-term, a good goal usually has short-term payoffs as well. Examples include things like feeling physically better when not eating junk food or finding things that are needed while organizing, but progress on any goal also can have the effect of increasing self-confidence, relieving stress, and generating a sense of accomplishment. Reminding ourselves of these immediate payoffs provides a reason to care about our goals even when the long-term results don’t feel important, as sometimes happens when we’re wrapped up or emotionally involved with other things.
  • Be willing to let go. Sometimes the first step in increasing happiness is being willing to surrender things we’re upset about–to stop focusing on upsetting incidents or self-defeating thoughts. As ridiculous as it sounds, I sometimes picture things like this floating away from me as helium balloons. Corny or not, an approach like this gives me a way to separate from what’s bothering me. Consciously committing to doing this when necessary through the day–and starting with any trouble that may already be brewing in the morning–can relieve stress and aid focus.

There’s more we can do in the mornings to encourage the day to go well: I’ll take up the other techniques in my next post.

Photo by OldOnliner

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How to Have a Good Day: The Night Before

Strategies and goals

Having a good day–a day when things are going well, when you feel in a groove and are making good choices–can just happen, but it can also come from good preparation (see “How Preparation Enables Stronger Willpower“). Here are some ways we can prepare the night before to have a particularly good day. In a follow-up article, I’ll talk about things we can do in the morning to start a day off on the right foot.

  • Plan extra time into the next morning. The more we have to rush in the morning, the more tense we tend to be and the more likely something will go wrong–or that a slight delay will be a serious problem instead of a nuisance. Also, starting the day off well generally requires having a little time in the morning to think, and ideally time to meditate and/or exercise.
    If you find yourself being late in the mornings, you can change that by following the recommendations in “How Not to Be Late: The 8 Principles of Being on Time.”
  • Get a good night’s sleep. It can be difficult to change our nighttime habits to get more sleep or to get enough but get up earlier, yet the payoffs are much higher, as a rule, than, say, getting an extra hour to watch TV. See “18 Ways to Get a Good Night’s Sleep.”
  • Solve problems in advance. If you can predict some of the trouble you may run into during the day–like getting into a bad mood because of a meeting with someone you don’t like, or having to get past a counter full of free bagels while trying to lose weight–you can picture solutions and make plans. It’s much easier to act on a plan you’ve already made when trouble arises than to improvise one on the spot, especially if you’re distracted or overwhelmed. You may even want to write some of these solutions down to review in the morning.
  • Choose one good thing to get done early on. Many of us have a lot of things we want to accomplish on any given day, but choosing one specific thing that especially needs to get done or that is particularly valuable can make it much easier to focus on and accomplish that thing early in the day, and that accomplishment can boost motivation and mood powerfully.

Photo by Éole

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The Myth of Just Trying Harder

Strategies and goals

It’s a common idea in our culture that we can do better if we just try harder. And it’s true that the more times we try something, the more likely we are to succeed, so that’s useful. It’s also true that sometimes a person’s point of view can change, and they can find themselves much more driven to accomplish something they haven’t been able to do before, like the smoker who has a heart attack and finds her attention focused on getting healthy in a new and powerful way. Yet usually, “just trying harder” is worse than useless. Here’s why.

The idea of “just trying harder” assumes that a person wasn’t trying as hard as they were inclined to already. “Trying harder” is based on the idea that we have some power, some reserve of will, that we’re holding back and have simply not deigned to use, even though we could use it at any time we wanted. For most of us, in most situations, that’s not the case: we’re using all the motivation we can muster. Trying harder is a nice idea, but not something that is really going to emerge, because the next time we’re presented with the same situation, we’re likely to be about the same person with about the same priorities and about the same resources, following about the same habits for about the same reasons. All of which means that we can expect our results to be about the same.

Fortunately, there is another option. Instead of trying harder, we have the option of trying differently.

Trying differently means paying attention to different aspects of our situation, choosing to think different thoughts, and following different procedures. Here are some specific ways in which we can do things differently:

  • Mindfulness: When the problem situation comes up again, we take a moment to reflect on what we’re thinking, on what our values are, and on patterns we’re following.
  • Idea repair: This one goes well with mindfulness, and involves detecting and then repairing misleading and destructive thoughts when we allow ourselves to think them.
  • Planning: Planning how to act in advance, like setting aside extra time before leaving for an appointment to avoid running late, can provide options that under normal circumstances aren’t available.
  • Redirecting: When a problem situation comes up, instead of putting our efforts into trying to resist the behavior we don’t want, we can focus our attention on the behavior we do want, especially the positive things about it.

These aren’t the only approaches that can empower us to act differently, although they are some of the most useful. The key thing to take away here is that failure is often not so much a sign of weakness or limitation or of not trying hard enough as it is a sign that next time, another approach might make all the difference in the world.

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The Six Basic Requirements of Self-Motivation

Strategies and goals

building blocksIf you’re a regular reader of The Willpower Engine, you may be wondering by now what purpose it’s supposed to serve to keep reading new ways to break down self-motivation into one simple concept or another. In one article, I say that willpower is exactly like owning a dog. In another, I say that willpower is a matter of thinking more of the right things and less of the wrong things. And so on.

There is a point to these different perspectives, even though each is a simplification, because each one comes at motivation from a different perspective. The point is that it’s much easier to find and fix the problems with our self-motivation if we keep examining it from different angles. So for today’s article, here’s another way to look at self-motivation: do your self-motivation efforts have all six of these basic requirements?

In order to motivate ourselves, we need to decide what exactly to motivate ourselves toward. That is, we have to have a clear, attainable goal that tells us what we want to achieve.

Once we see where we want to get, it’s essential to understand what steps are needed to get there. Someone who’s trying to organize needs to learn organization techniques. Someone who’s trying to lose weight needs to learn how much they should be eating each day and how to exercise effectively. Someone who’s trying to renovate a house needs to know how to put up wallboard.

We are very, very unlikely to be successful in achieving goals we don’t care about, for fairly obvious reasons. It is possible to start caring about a goal (for instance, by carefully considering the benefits), but the self-motivation machine groans to a halt when it runs out of passion.

Pursuing a goal means devoting time to it, and if a person hasn’t been pursuing that goal already, the time needs to come from some other activity. In order to pursue a goal successfully, therefore, it’s essential to carve out time to do that and to know what to do less of in order to free up that time.

Even if we have a goal, know what needs to be done to achieve it, desire the goal, and set aside time for it, it will not do itself. At a certain point it’s necessary to make a decision to put out effort. Sometimes this is easy, especially if desire has been stoked up. At other times it requires a conscious resolution, saying to ourselves, “OK, now it’s time to put on my sneakers and run.” or “That pile of papers isn’t going to file itself! Let’s get started.”

Lastly, like a plant that withers and dies without water, goals weaken and get forgotten if they’re not regularly showered with attention. All this means is making a resolution to turn the mind to the goal on a regular basis. One very effective approach to regular attention is a feedback loop. An even more powerful (but more labor-intensive) approach is decision logging.

And that’s it. The reason there’s so much information on this site is that none of these six requirements is always simple. Sometimes it’s hard to choose the right goal, or to know the best way to pursue it once chosen, or to find the time or ignite the desire or to make the effort or to focus the attention. Yet anyone who does all six of these things will make meaningful progress toward their goals: there’s no inborn talent for motivation, no secret ingredient, and no insurmountable barrier. Which is a good thing: just doing these six things takes work enough!

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How to Make Self-Motivation Easier, Part II

Strategies and goals, Uncategorized


In my previous article, I offered four ways to make self-motivation easier, and talked about stacking up advantages ahead of time instead of waiting to come face to face with a difficult situation. Here I’ll cover five more ways to make self-motivation easier: building up enthusiasm, being more mentally and physically prepared to face challenges, getting help from others, learning, and minimizing temptation.

Visualize and find your enthusiasm
When things are going well, I’m not distracted, and I have time to think about what I want to do, I’m often in a good state of mind to improve my motivation, but by definition these low-demand times tend to be ones when not much motivation is needed. I can build up motivation for harder times by using these opportunities to visualize where I’m trying to get and by otherwise spending time thinking about and especially enjoying my goal, whether I’m reflecting on successes so far, enjoying progress, envisioning future payoffs, or planning ahead. The more time I spend thinking positively about my goal, the more accessible positive thoughts about it will be when I really need them. For instance, if I’m trying to learn to play a musical instrument, I can visualize myself playing it and remind myself why I’m putting in all the hard work.

Take care of yourself
When we get enough sleep, exercise regularly, eat well, and use techniques like meditation to aid mood and mental focus, we’re much more capable of being proactive in our lives than when we are tired, inactive, badly nourished, overstuffed, or carrying around a lot of stress. Mood and physical well-being have an important impact on making good decisions, so everything we can do to improve them will tend to improve  motivation, too.

Get support
Connecting with a friend or family member to talk about your goals, the problems you’re running into, your plans, and your successes is a good way to keep your goal more in mind and to process your thoughts about it. Having someone in your corner can also make it more important to to do well and provides more options if something starts going wrong. A person trying to quit a bad habit can go talk to a supporter when temptation seems particularly strong. Someone trying to get a better job can talk through their plans and strategies if they have a sympathetic ear.

Read, learn
Reading about subjects having to do with our goals serves several purposes at once: it gives us more information to use when making plans; keeps our goal more in our mind; lets us try on others’ ideas; and serves as a physical reminder (whenever we see the book) of what’s being accomplished. Someone trying to get fit can learn a lot from books about nutrition and exercise, like The 9 Truths About Weight Loss. Anyone trying to change habits and running into emotional resistance can benefit from books like Emotional Alchemy, The Feeling Good Handbook, or A Guide to Rational Living.

Minimize temptation
Finally, minimizing temptation can be a real boon, at least in the short term, for anyone who’s really struggling with making the right choices. If you’re working on spending money wisely, you can take any savings you have and put it in a CD or some other instrument that makes it difficult or impossible to withdraw for a time. Someone who’s trying to quit playing video games can actually sell the games rather than hanging on to them to play just a little bit now and then.

This approach is a bit of a crutch, and the problem with relying too much on it is that when a situation comes up where there is temptation–for instance, when the person working on spending gets a tax refund, or when the former video game player is staying with a friend who has a top-notch video game system–the strategies to deal with the temptation may not be very well developed. But like all of these strategies, minimizing temptation–if not relied on absolutely–can help make everything simpler.

Photo by James Jordan

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How to Make Self-Motivation Easier, Part I

Strategies and goals

Piece of cake

Changing habits, making good choices, or really pushing hard toward a goal can get very difficult when it comes time to act. Probably you’ve had experiences, like I have, where good intentions beforehand weren’t enough to force a good choice when the time came. Continuing to try despite not always succeeding is key in developing good habits, but it’s not the only way to be more successful with self-motivation. In fact, there are a lot of things we can do to make self-motivation easier. While you might already know some of these ways, especially if you’ve been reading this site, the reason for this article is to ask the question, “Are you doing everything you can to make progress toward your goal easier?”

To help provide a good answer to that question (and to offer some areas to look at in case the answer is “no”), here’s a list of many ways to make willpower and self-motivation easier. After all, making the task easier usually means getting better results for less effort: it falls into the category of the time-worn advice “Work smarter, not harder.” There are limits to how much willpower we can summon up on a moment’s notice, but there may not be limits to the advantages we can stack up beforehand.

Decide what to do and make plans
Probably the single most important thing any of us can do to facilitate good choices is to understand what those choices should be ahead of time. If the task is studying, then how much studying needs to be done, and when should it happen? If the task is some kind of daily upkeep, like following up on e-mails within the day or keeping the dishes from piling up, what’s the exact plan for how these things will be handled?

Anticipate problems
If you ever find yourself explaining away self-motivation problems by saying “I was going to ____, but ____,” this may be a sign that you need to work on anticipating problems. Someone who’s trying to eat more healthily will be much more successful if they figure out what the options and dangers are before they walk into a party or a restaurant, for instance. Someone who’s self-employed and is trying to get in more work time will want to figure out ground rules for situations like when friends visit from out of town or for how much time–if any–it’s OK to spend doing things like volunteering or socializing during the work day.

Improve your tools and environment
In other posts I’ve gone into some detail about the value of choosing the best tools and setting up an encouraging environment for work on your goal. For example, a more welcoming environment can help a writer write more; having the right software or paper system can help another person organize much more easily.

It can help sometimes if we think of ourselves as our own assistants. We have large, important goals, but often moving toward those goals is much easier when we do some grunt work ahead of time. To help facilitate a study session later in the day, try laying out books and other study materials on a table or desk so that starting requires just sitting down. To eat better, shop better.

On Monday I’ll continue with Part II and five more ways to make self-motivation easier.

Photo by Somewhat Frank

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How Preparation Enables Stronger Willpower

Strategies and goals


While we often focus on how willpower operates at the moments when we need it, there are some aspects of willpower that function best if they’re prepared beforehand. A couple of examples might demonstrate what I mean.

Running up against no-win situations
1. A business owner plans a meeting with a prospective client. Knowing that she tends to be late, she resolves to pay extra attention to being on time. On the day of the meeting, she works on her marketing plan for much of the morning before remembering that she has to complete some important work for another client before she goes. She rushes through the task, but by the time it’s done she’s running behind, and she realized belatedly that she still needs to gather some papers before she leaves. She decides she can’t afford the time to find the papers, hurries to the meeting, arrives 20 minutes late, and is very anxious during her presentation–particularly since she doesn’t have the materials she was planning on bringing.

2. A man has recently started to eat more healthily and has resolved not to eat some of the foods that he used to love because his doctor has warned him of the danger of serious heart problems. He decides late in the afternoon to take his wife to dinner and lets her pick the restaurant. At the restaurant they have many of his old favorites that he has been trying to avoid and not much else that sounds appealing. He ends up ordering something that sounds a little healthier than his usual fare but turns out to be pretty much just as bad. His recent successes with healthy foods doesn’t feel so inspiring any more.

When no-win situations can be won in advance
In both of these examples, the individual is relying completely on acting well when the key decision–to leave on time, to choose something healthy–comes. The woman doesn’t consider making special plans to ensure she won’t be late, and the man assumes that eating right means just deciding well when he gets to the restaurant. Yet when the moment of truth comes along, the woman finds she is still busy with another priority, one she can’t set aside, and the man finds he has few good options.

Both of these situations show people who are trying to change habits using a “business as usual” approach. The problem with this is that changing habits by definition means not doing what we’re used to doing. Both the businesswoman and the man who is trying to protect his health are assuming that if they “just try harder” in some indefinable way, they will succeed. “Just trying harder” doesn’t work: what works is trying differently. In these examples, trying differently means preparing.

So how might the situations come out if the people involved prepare? Let’s take a look.

Using preparation to make willpower easier
1. A business owner plans a meeting with a prospective client. Knowing that she tends to be late, she decides to schedule the time she has before the meeting to ensure that she leaves not just on time, but 10 minutes early. She calculates how much time that will leave her in the morning and reviews her obligations. This shows her that she has to complete some important work for another client before she leaves, and that therefore she’ll need to start on that important work first thing in the morning. She would also like to work on her marketing plan, and thinks she might have time to complete that too, but she makes sure she schedules it second just in case. She completes the work for the other client in the morning and sends it out an hour and a half before it’s time to go. Then she sets an alarm clock for five minutes before departure time and begins work on the marketing plan. She’s not finished with the marketing plan when the alarm goes off, but she gets up and gathers her things. She realizes she needs to get some papers to bring with her and spends ten minutes getting them, but since she had built in a small buffer, she still arrives at her meeting a few minutes early, fully prepared.

2. A man has recently started to eat more healthily and has resolved not to eat some of the foods that he used to love because his doctor has warned him of the danger of serious heart problems. He decides late in the afternoon to take his wife to dinner, but realizes that unless they go to a place with something healthy he likes to eat, he might be in danger of ordering one of his old favorites. He talks with his wife and picks a restaurant that sells a lot of deep-fried foods but that also has a salad bar he likes. On the way to pick up his wife he realizes that he should do everything he can to prevent buying something fried, so he resolves to refuse a menu and preemptively order the salad bar. At the restaurant, the waitress tries to press the menu on him just so that he can see all the options, but he insists that he would like the salad bar even before they sit down. He has the salad bar and it’s pretty good, even if it’s not as good as the chicken fried steak and cheddar cheese soup he would usually have eaten. He even chooses to have the vinaigrette instead of his usual ranch dressing. He does eat some of his wife’s french fries, but not very many.

Perfection is optional
In the examples with preparation, both the business owner and the health-minded man still made mistakes. The business owner could clearly benefit from even more planning, and the health-minded man would do better to completely ignore his wife’s food–but both of them were essentially very successful, and their success was based not on somehow summoning up powerful reserves of self-control, but on steering their own behavior through preparation, and on recognizing their limitations.

All that effective preparation requires to aid willpower is a willingness to look into the future and think about the places where we’re vulnerable to fall into bad habits. In some cases, preparation can get us out of impossible situations (like needing to finish a project before leaving but also needing not to be late), and in others it can just make good choices easier (like providing an acceptable alternative to deep-fried food).

There is no substitute for a good choice
Preparation isn’t a substitute for making good decisions, though: the business owner could have chosen to work “just a little longer” on the marketing plan and ended up late after all, and the health-minded man could have taken the menu from the waitress just to avoid seeming unpleasant, then ended up ordering something he ultimately didn’t want to be eating. Good choices here means surrendering to our own priorities, giving up on the idea of finishing the marketing plan right away and being willing to seem a little unfriendly to the waitress if those things turn out to be  necessary for sticking to our goals.

What’s your greatest difficulty with willpower or self-motivation? Is there anything you could easily do ahead of time to tip those kinds of situations in your favor?

Photo by .imelda

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Motivation through visualization: the power of daydreams

Strategies and goals

Imagine it’s morning, and you’ve got a few minutes when you can really relax. Maybe you’re just sitting down with a cup of coffee, or your commuter train has left the station and you’ve got your headphones on, or hell, I don’t know, you’re taking a short break before work to sit in the dark with your collection of antique textiles. The point is, here is a time when your mind can be serene and undisturbed. It’s a perfect time to motivate yourself–just not a perfect time to actually  do anything.

daydreamThis means you have an opportunity for some motivational groundwork–visualization, for instance–that can make good decisions during the rest of your day easier and more enjoyable, because most of the time when we actually need to motivate ourselves, serenity and lack of distractions are hard to come by.

Now, you may be thinking of visualization as one of those flaky pseudo-spiritual things where you tell yourself things that aren’t true or visualize money sneaking out of people’s wallets to come stay with you, its true master. Those are emphatically not the kind of visualizations I’m talking about. So what kind am I talking about? Daydreams, dear reader. Sitting there are making yourself happy by picturing a situation you might be able to get yourself into in the future. For instance, you might picture yourself burning a copy of your mortgage (because it’s completely paid off, not because your heat has been shut off), or doing a job you would love that you aren’t yet qualified for, or accomplishing amazing acts of physical fitness.

You might also be thinking “Forget that! I don’t want to spend the one serene moment of my morning slaving away on mental improvement!” But why not? Visualizing your goals is an exceptionally pleasant way to spend time. What’s more serene than daydreaming that something wonderful has happened (apart from reflecting on something wonderful that has already happened, that is)?

The glories of visualization are threefold: first, you can do it at any convenient point in your day. Second, the better you visualize the thing, the more enjoyable it is. And third, visualizing things makes it a lot easier to be motivated to accomplish them.

After all, if you’re trying to get your finances on track and have a choice of spending $38 on an attractive geegaw or not, it’s a lot easier to feel good about not spending the money if you can easily associate that decision with something pleasurable, like the image (still fresh in your mind from visualization earlier that day) of you paying off the last dollar of your credit card debt and being able to tweet “Debt free at last, debt free at last!”

The expression “you have to see it to believe it” applies here. If we aren’t picturing the futures we’re trying to create, they have only a weak and theoretical pull on us. The more time we spend in those futures, reminding ourselves of why we’re trying to shake ourselves of problem habits or to take difficult steps that will really help us, the more naturally motivated we’ll feel to actually follow through.

For effective visualization, honestly try to do it every day. Leave yourself a reminder in the spot where you’d be most likely to have time to do a little visualizing, if that helps. And if you experience an odd sense of déjà vu when the wonderful things start happening, it’s a small price to pay.

Photo by *PaysImaginaire*.


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