Important Preamble: Let’s start off with a common understanding here. I am not some motivational guru. No way man, not even close. Here’s the thing –each person in life exists within, and indeed is formed out of, a karmic web of infinite cause and effect relationships, which interact dynamically through vastly complicated feedback loops that drive self-organization processes, and out of all this freakin’ wonder (fractals, maaannn!!), the person is born and develops. And becomes You.
This is your genetic inheritance plus social and structural and environmental influences that constitutete you, and out of which your miraculous Will emerges, to gain the ability to transcend your circumstances and make sone kind of Free Choice, so you can gain autonomy, meaning, control, and good stuff like that.
This is your thrownness. It’s the river in which you swim and the current that pulls you, and against which you may have to struggle if it’s pulling you in a bad direction…
In my case, I have my struggles. I’m no motivational guru. Actually I’m terrible at this stuff! It’s like a pathological flaw. Why do you think I became a Psychologist, interested in motivation and personal growth? (In fact, dirty little secret — psychologists’ chosen topics of study usually are fascinatingly revealing of their personality quirks, and especially their Shadow or weak areas. But don’t tell anyone I told you that. And only use your newfound powers for good, ok?)
So, we might try this together and fail. In fact, it’s guaranteed that a decent chunk of people will fail, especially on one single attempt! There are just too many other things going on in life, too many factors involved. So give yourself break, ok? Just try, intelligently. Then learn from it, adjust, and try again. I’ll bet that most people, IF they actually follow this process honestly, will see things changing in their life.
Context: This bloody well matters to you
One thing life has taught me, is that my generically good intentions to do cool things with myself in the future, usually don’t pan out, if left to ‘just happen.’ I haven’t learned the languages or instruments I thought I would have, travelled to most of the places, donated as much time or money to helping people, watched as many sunsets. It’s the classic problem. And sure, I’ve done some cool things in my life…but there’s so much I’ve never gotten around to…
That’s why I put in the “loser” subtitle. Because I certainly am no stranger to feeling like a loser at times, and judging myself that way.
So Realize You Are Not A Loser. That is bullshit thinking, and we’re just going to call that out, and say No! Talk to the hand, loser-thoughts! You’re not welcome here anymore. We’re not losers. We’re people, with our thrownness, our flaws, our weaknesses. And we’re standing up and trying again. That ain’t no loser.
Ok…so, life is passing here my friend. Let’s push that action button and slay our dragons. RRRRAAAAARRRRRR!!!
*****There are two practical steps in this first part of effective habit formation:*****
STEP 1: Choose the right goals
Here’s what you do — choose a goal, one that you actually intend to pursue.
WRITE IT DOWN!!! Now, look at your goal. Think about it. Imagine yourself actually pursuing it, actually doing the thing.
Now ask yourself WHY. Why do you want to do this thing? What is your REAL reason? When you come up with something, WRITE IT DOWN!!! Then ask yourself WHY again — why does THIS next answer really matter to you? Why is it important? Wait until some other, maybe a deeper reason reveals itself. Then keep doing it — WHY? WHY? WHY? Until you get to an answer about which it doesn’t make sense anymore to ask why. You’ll be like, “uhhhh, just cuz?”
In self-determination theory, they call this finding your “first-order values”. The idea is that when you ground your motivations in these deep, really personal and meaningful values, they’ll have a lot more OOMPH.
When you get down to this first-order value — Ask yourself, is this goal a good way for you to express that deep value of yours? If it is, awesome. If it’s not, then maybe you should choose a different goal and just, you know, let this one go….
STEP 2: “Intrinsicify” your goal — (Make your goal more intrinsic)
Whatever your goal is, you can make it more enjoyable, more fun, more meaningful, more about the process and less about the outcome. It’s like reminding kids that it doesn’t matter if they win or lose, it’s all about having fun. Some of this is about goal reframing (i.e., changing how you think about the goal) and some is about how you actually pursue the goal; what behaviours you choose and how to do them. For example, “get more cardio” can become watching soaps while interminably going nowhere on a treadmill, or it can mean rocking to some wicked tunes and dancing in your living room like nobody’s watching. Which one sounds more fun to you?
How to do this wisely? I mean, you can also do it unwisely, by following the ubiquitous business-school wisdom of setting SMART goals (look it up if you want). But I think that while these might be ‘smart’, and work to get immediate results, they are not ‘wise’ and work to achieve long-term personal growth and fulfillment.
So, instead of SMART goals, intrinsic motivation requires that we set WISE goals. In Part 2, I’m going to give you, as best I can, the Dolderman Theory of WISE goals for intrinsic motivation. For now, choose goals that you feel are authentic, deeply grounded in your values, your sense of meaning and personal identity, your feeling of enthusiastic engagement, and your deep caring for your own happiness. If you are coming from that place, then maaaan, you’re in fine shape!
And if you’re not coming from that place…..well, the question becomes pretty obvious, right?
Git’er done — Goal structuring
This part doesn’t have to be fancy. Just be specific. Set specific tasks. Find specific times. Have specific benchmarks, or milestones. This takes a million forms and we’ll unpack this at a future time maybe. The essence though, of effective goal pursuit (once you’ve got the intrinsic motivation/Energy part that we discussed already), is Structure. We need specific, concrete things, boundaries, deadlines, commitments, schedules written down. If it’s complicated or long-term, break it down, make a work-back plan, and commit to short deadlines for easier-to-achieve milestones. Vague, abstract long-term deadlines are motivational poison, as all procrastinators know. But deadlines? Those are gold. As all procrastinators know. So, set shorter-term goals!
Finally, GET EVEN MORE SPECIFIC. Commit, exactly, to when you’re going to start, and exactly how you’re going to do it (Psychologists call this “forming implementation intentions”). Then write/program it into your calendar. Set a reminder. And tell a friend what you’re doing. Ask them to check in every couple days, to keep you on track, celebrate when you stick to it, and empathize & encourage you when you fall off the rails.
Now I am no wizard at this; it’s my weakest point, probably. So I won’t pretend to have the answers. You gotta do this stuff though. I’ll tell you, in Part 3, how I am going to do this for my own about-to-start habit change attempt.
Step 4: Dragon slain
Final thought: There are way more tools than this! But you gotta start somewhere. In the future, we’ll revisit this and look at Habit Change — Troubleshooting and Superpowers for slaying REALLY nasty dragons…