I am fascinated by motivation, by what makes some people run for president or finish Ironmans or write novels, and what makes others spend their free time in front of a TV. But this isn’t just an idle question: if we were able to crack the nut of motivation–that is, figure out how to turn on the motivation switch in individuals–we would be able to dramatically improve quality of life. After all, how many people’s lives are hampered by an inability to lose weight, complete their studies, build savings, learn new skills, overcome addiction, or pursue their dreams writ large? And on a larger scale, to an extent can we not attribute the persistence of social and environmental issues–challenges that we have the know-how to fix–to a lack of motivation and will to implement solutions?
Personally, one of my struggles is to get out and ride my bike. For the past two years I have ridden at least an hour a day, however on far too many of those days (probably 85%) I’ve done so on the stationary bicycle, indoors, while watching Netflix. If the point of riding each day were simply to exercise, this would be fine, but the point is to get out on my bike, for I love being outdoors, love the feeling of pedaling hard and gliding along the pavement, yet I spend most of my life indoors in front of a computer. Now here’s the weird thing: nearly every time I come back from a ride, I am glowing from the joy of it. This should be so easy!
If we struggle to do things we love, then it’s not surprising that we find it harder to do things we don’t; financial planning, setting long-term goals and a plan to achieve them…these fall by the wayside. Now to be clear, there is no magic solution to the problem, but it turns out that there are simple tricks we can use, and the simplest of all is to ask, “Why?” This morning, for instance, I was trying to get myself psyched for a ride, but instead of treating it like a square peg in a round hole problem, I took a moment to ask why I wanted to ride my bike in the first place. I wrote down a few things:
- I have a bike race in two weeks and I want to be as fit as possible for it
- After a long winter, it’s finally sunny and reasonably warm out
- I will feel fantastic after the ride
- I want to lose weight
Creating this list didn’t transform me. It didn’t meant that I suddenly sprinted out the door. It did, however, reframe how I thought about the ride. And most importantly, it enabled me to do the next thing that’s essential to motivation: I visualized myself on the bike, gliding along, enjoying the scenery, getting fitter.
In short, between asking myself why and then visualizing myself doing what I wanted to do, I went out and did it. So tomorrow, write down what your biggest goal is, be it for the day, the week, the year, or your life. Then write down why you want to achieve that goal. And finally, visualize yourself in the process of working toward it: imagine the feeling of writing the blog post, doing the bike ride, reading the book, completing the errand.
I don’t know if this technique can change the world, but I think it can, in a small way, change our lives, and maybe, just maybe, that’s the first step toward a better world.