How do motivation and habit work together to help us stay productive?
The interplay of motivation and habit
“Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.”
I ran across this quote online and it got me thinking about the difference between motivation and habit and whether I agreed with that statement.
What is motivation?
My dictionary says motivation is “the reason(s) one has for acting or behaving in a particular way or the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.”
Synonyms for motivation include motive, motivating force, incentive, stimulus, stimulation, inspiration, inducement, incitement, enthusiasm, drive, ambition, initiative.
There are two types of motivation: intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external). The strongest and longer-lasting motivations are those that come from within. There are things from the outside that can motivate us to act, but when that outside force goes away, the motivation tends to go away as well.
I have mentioned in the past that I’m externally motivated. I will work out harder if working with a trainer or will meet a deadline for somebody else while letting my own self-commitments languish because I don’t want to disappoint somebody else. As I was doing research for this post, though, I realized actually these are internal motivators. I’m motivated to please others, to serve others, and to help them accomplish something that is important to them. I realized I need to learn how to direct that internal motivation to also pleasing myself and keeping my commitments to myself.
What is habit?
My dictionary says a habit is a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.
Some synonyms in the thesaurus include custom, practice, routine, pattern, convention, norm, rule, usage
How do motivation and habit interact to help us be productive?
- Motivation (as in a reason) can help us create, strengthen, and maintain productive habits. Knowing our why, having a reason for action that’s meaningful enough to us, can make all the difference in the things we habitually do.
- On the other hand, habits can be a powerful motivator. We all do certain things simply because we always do them, and these habits can motivate us to continue to do them.
We often say we need to get motivated to do something–often something we need to do but don’t want to, or something we want to do but have some kind of resistance to getting started. According to “Why Motivation is Hurting your Productivity (And How to Fix It)“, using motivation in this way actually hampers our productivity. The writer points out that when there’s something that needs to get done, rather than waiting to “feel motivation before getting started,” we just need to start and that can lead us to feel motivated. He says, “Nothing creates motivation like taking action.” Instead of waiting to feel the motivation to act on the things that matter to us, we could build good habits that trigger motivation for us to act.
How can we improve motivation?
Ironically, the right habits can create or strengthen motivation. There is tons of research about the habits followed by people who are high achievers, who accomplish a lot. Some examples I found:
- One Time.com writer described “7 habits of highly motivated people“. In other words, these people stay motivated because of the habits they’ve developed (following is a paraphrase of the article’s points):
- They know their why, and it’s significant enough to keep them going
- They change their limiting beliefs, seeking out stories of what’s possible instead of accepting that possibilities are limited
- They know what they value most, and use their values to drive what they do
- They surround themselves with people who act as catalysts, energize and encourage them (but they also energize and encourage themselves).
- They focus on progress rather than failure
- They create compelling goals (goals based on their values, goals big enough to challenge them)
- Another article, on Entrepreneur.com, talks about “10 Motivational Habits that Drive Millionaires“. Some are similar to the ones listed in the Time article, but they also discuss:
- Starting the morning on the right foot
- Stretch and breathe deep
- Easy accomplishment first thing (e.g., make your bed)
- Create routines to make the morning go more smoothly
- Have a short list of goals for the day
- Seek out variety – change your routines from time to time; learn a new skill, seek out new experiences
- Track your progress
- Create “environmental anchors” – Post inspiring quotes or reminders of your goals. I bought Gretchen Rubin’s “A Happier 2018” page-a-day calendar and keep it on my desk. Each day has a different suggestion or quote or question to think about.
- Get some support – join a group, or find an accountability partner. (You might consider whether a TPW Mastermind group would be right for you. New groups will be forming soon to start meeting in April, providing support, ideas, encouragement, and accountability.)
- Attitude of gratitude – be intentionally grateful
- Visualize the achievement of your goal – Studies show that visualizing an action can create the same emotions as actually doing it.
- Yet another writer lists the “12 Habits of Extraordinarily Motivated People”:
- They’re internally motivated.
- They can learn from others’ successes and failures without comparing themselves.
- They encourage and accept feedback.
- They focus on the positive: What can be learned from a “failure.”
- They’re willing to step outside their comfort zone and stretch themselves.
- They are learners!
- James Clear, in “Motivation: The Scientific Guide on How to Get and Stay Motivated”, focuses on the habit of taking action, the habit of starting, no matter how you feel:
“You don't need much motivation once you've started a behavior. Nearly all of the friction in a task is at the beginning. After you start, progress occurs more naturally. In other words, it is often easier to finish a task than it was to start it in the first place.”
Some of the keys Clear suggests for developing that habit of starting:
- “Schedule your motivation”
Habits can motivate. If we have a routine that has become a habit of doing certain things such as exercise, writing, marketing or networking for our business, it makes it easier to start. So, schedule a set time for the activity you want to do. Scheduling “puts your decision-making on autopilot by giving your goals a time and place to live. It makes it more likely that you will follow through regardless of your motivation levels. This is the difference between professionals and amateurs. “Professionals set a schedule and stick to it. Amateurs wait until they feel inspired or motivated.”
- Create rituals
Many prolific writers, dancers, artists have rituals they follow that help them get their work done regardless of “motivation.” (See Mason Curry’s book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work). Clear suggests we can use the power of ritual to exercise consistently, do creative work, start our day stress-free, or sleep better (i.e., by following a “power down” routine/ritual before bedtime).
“The key to any good ritual is that it removes the need to make a decision: What should I do first? When should I do this? How should I do this? Most people never get moving because they can’t decide how to get started. You want starting a behavior to be easy and automatic so you have the strength to finish it when it becomes difficult and challenging.”
- 3 steps to “build better rituals and make motivation a habit”:
- Make it so easy you can’t not do it.
- It should involve physical movement.
- Follow the same pattern every time.
What kind of habits can boost our productivity?
Below are some tips from articles on Entrepreneur.com (“5 Habits that Improve Your Mental State, Motivation and Productivity”) and Hubspot article, (“The 15 Habits of Highly Productive People”):
- Physical self-care habits
- Get enough sleep: Get 6-8 hours of sleep per night. A Harvard Medical School study that found that “a lack of sleep can prompt an inability to focus and prohibit higher brain functions.” Insufficient sleep also linked to health problems like heart attack, obesity, diabetes.
- Take frequent breaks to restore energy.
- Eat the right foods. Healthy foods that promote not only physical health but brain function. The simple habit of writing down what you eat can help motivate you to eat better.
- Exercise regularly. Reduces stress and its effects on your body; releases chemicals that elevate mood and fight depression; improves self-confidence; lets your brain rest and process more creatively.
- Build these healthy habits into your daily routine. Make them non-negotiable and soon they’ll become automatic
- Mental habits
- Pray and meditate. Meditating reduces stress and lowers blood pressure. This practice is not limited to the religious sense of the word. Simply take 10 minutes to sit quietly, focus on your breathing, let your mind quiet down, and let your body rest.
- Feed your mind. Read and get resources to draw upon for problem-solving.
- Be grateful. Keep a gratitude log and develop a habit of looking for things to be grateful for.
- Practical efficiency habits
- Create your day’s to-do list the night before.
- Cut your to-do list in half. Focus on what’s most important and delete the trivial.
- Use the 80/20 rule (the Pareto Principle)
- Use your mornings wisely: Instead of checking email and social media to see what other people have in mind for your time, focus on your soul-enriching morning routine and your most important projects.
- Outsource “mindless tasks”
- Know when and how to say no.
- Practice staying focused on one thing at a time – do not multitask.
- Create systems that help you work more efficiently, avoid decision fatigue, and bypass the need for willpower.
How can we create better, more meaningful, more lasting habits?
1. Start small.
Don’t try to change everything at once. Find one key habit that will start the ball rolling, and work on that until it’s become habitual.
2. Create “behavior chains”
Use current routines to tie a new habit to existing ones. What is something you do every day that you could attach a new habit to? (Source: 5 scientific ways to build habits that stick)
- After I brush my teeth I’ll put my workout clothes on.
- When I turn on my computer in the morning I’ll write for 5 minutes.
3. Minimize the areas that require you to exercise willpower.
Create routines for the mundane aspects of your life so you don’t have to make choices that will use up your mental energy. If you always do certain things in a certain way, you never have to spend any time thinking about what to do next. Making a decision that “I’m not eating sugar at all this month” is actually easier than saying “I’ll limit how much sugar I eat.” The latter means every time presented with sugar I have to decide whether I’ll eat it.
4. Visualize the process as well as the result of the habit you’re trying to build.
Instead of visualizing your thinner body, visualize yourself working out daily. Instead of visualizing yourself getting a big promotion or winning an award, visualize yourself doing the work it would take to get that promotion or win that award.
5. Use the “Don’t break the chain” method
Use a big visible calendar, big X on every day you do the thing you’re trying to establish as a habit.
6. Know why you want this habit in place.
Write out all the reasons you want it, what benefits you expect to receive as a result.
For more ideas, check out:
Episode 114, part of the Mindset Matters mini-series, discussing Productive Habits.
Having a powerful reason will help us develop better, more healthy and effective habits. Establishing the right habits, especially that habit of starting, will result in stronger motivation to keep taking the action that will lead to achieving our most important goals.
What do you think?
Do your habits contribute to your motivation and productivity or get in the way? Is there a habit you could add to your life that would make a difference in your productivity going forward? Please share them in the comments section of this post at the bottom, or send me an email.
Resources and Links
Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Curry
- 10 unforgettable quotes by Jim Rohn
- Why Motivation is Hurting your Productivity (And How to Fix It)
- 7 habits of highly motivated people
- 10 Motivational Habits that Drive Millionaires
- 12 Habits of Extraordinarily Motivated People
- Motivation: The Scientific Guide on How to Get and Stay Motivated
- The difference between professionals and amateurs
- 5 Habits that Improve Your Mental State, Motivation and Productivity
- The 15 Habits of Highly Productive People
- 9 Habits of Productive People
- Scientific ways to build habits that stick
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