How many times have you wanted something very badly, only to hear yourself say “but I just can’t seem to get motivated”? Too often, we wait around for motivation to strike before we’ll take action, almost as if we need to experience motivation first in order to feel validated or assured that our goal is realistic or worthy of effort (or that we’re worthy of our goal, which is a topic for another day)
The truth is that any goal we can dream up is attainable, but using motivation as the green light to go after that goal is the worst thing we could do, and here’s why: motivation tends to strike and strengthen only after we’ve begun working towards our goals. It’s like Newton’s First Law: objects in motion tend to stay in motion.
Remember when you started thinking about needing to exercise… like before you even walked in the front doors of RVC, when you knew it was time for a change, and just couldn’t take the status quo anymore? Remember all the stuff running through your head, and how long it took you to actually commit to showing up for that first day? Then you came in, had an exhilarating experience, and BOOM! Something “clicked” and there was no question about whether you’d come back a second, third or fiftieth time. The motivation truly arrived AFTER you took that first step of walking through the door.
So the question becomes: What do we do to overcome the hurdle of getting started on our goal so that motivation can strike and work its inherent…magic?
Scheduling time in your day to work on your goals is the immediate answer. Just like a doctor’s appointment, we set aside a specific amount of time to focus exclusively on the work at hand. Problem is, often we don’t even get to this point of scheduling time because we start ruminating on what we’ll do first, once that allotted time has begun. Analysis paralysis over takes us and we quit before we’ve even begun. This crazy making doesn’t negate the fact, however, that taking the first step starts the process of sanity in goal work.
I’m going to take that scheduling sanity idea a bit further, because the power of scheduling to conjure motivation magic requires a more appropriate terminology, in my opinion. Scheduling is what your administrative assistant does (bless his heart). But….ritual is what you do when you’re “scheduling” time to work on your goals, and the magic of ritual is that it quiets the demons of analysis paralysis, and gets us on the path to success.
Ritual is defined in Merriam-Webster dictionary as “something always done in a particular situation and in the same way each time” Ritual works because it gives the message to our brains that we are getting something started, and that something is, in fact, a habit. Habits are powerful maps that create a mental framework that neutralizes chaos, connecting the dots along our path to a goal. Our brains crave order and receive satisfaction at organizing and executing on steps. Motivation arrives when those actionable steps are in clear, and continue to crystalize with each step taken.
So our goal then is to create a ritual, which allows for a new habit, which creates order, allowing for action, which triggers the arrival of motivation, the presence of which carries us to further action, and eventually to our goal….Whew!
So let’s talk some real life instances of ritual….
Twyla Tharp, arguably one the world’s greatest choreographers, shares the value of ritual in her book “The Creative Habit” when she discusses her ritual for accomplishing her goal to work out. She wakes up at the same time every morning, has her specific workout outfit set and then hails a taxi to be driven to her gym. She shares that “the ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.”
Twyla created a habit of working out not by actually working out, but by creating a habit of steps every day which, once completed, positions her to achieve her training goal. With each workout, she’s motivated to continue, the proof of which is evident in her effort to perform her ritual each morning.
On a personal note, my ritual for staying on track with the current Nutrition Challenge at Ross Valley CrossFit is actually the simple act of completing a WOD every day. Doing a workout “sets me up” to eat well and eat right all day; my workout motivates me to stay on my points. On days when I miss a workout I am always missing points as well. Without my ritual of the workout, I get off track, lost, and de-motivated. And then that glass of red, or that leftover pizza looks just too available.
Beyond the gym, having a ritual of setting my alarm for an ungodly hour, turning on a particular light, lighting a particular candle, and having my cup of coffee by my side is the ritual I’ve created to motivate me to write more. After a year of writer’s block, I simply couldn’t handle waiting around any longer for motivation to strike; I had to set the stage and set the schedule for a ritual that could actually get me motivated.
As we move into the halfway mark of the Nutrition Challenge, we might find that our motivation is stronger than ever…or we might find that it’s being tested. Logging your points, using MyFitnessPal and consistently checking in with your coach are all great rituals in of themselves, but you might need to employ a new ritual if you’re finding it a struggle to stay motivated.
Perhaps you’re having a hard time getting all your protein, and after a few days of being short, you’re finding yourself getting frustrated and giving up a little…the motivation is waning. Maybe a new ritual you could use is putting your protein powder and shaker in a prominent place of your kitchen counter each morning so that it’s waiting for you at the end of the day. You come home. Drink your shake right away. Wash the shaker and leave it out to dry so it’s in your view. Put the protein powder back up on the fridge so that you physically have to pull it back down and place it back on the counter the next morning and that’s a new ritual. With very little repetition, consuming your necessary protein will become habit, and that elusive motivation will return.
There are any number of ways to create rituals for your goals. Your Coach is a great resource, and of course, I’m always game to get creative with you. Long story short: don’t let a lack of motivation throw you off course, and DEFINITELY don’t expect motivation to do the heavy lifting in your efforts at reaching a goal. To ride the wave of motivation, you need a sturdy surfboard made up of habits. Creating rituals is the fastest way to form new habits with no magic required.