We often make excuses in moments of weakness and regret them in hindsight. We’re too busy, tired, stressed, or uninspired to do things we don’t want to do. Sometimes our excuses are legitimate, but often we pretend they are. I just had to paint my nails before I started cleaning! I couldn't lose those 30 minutes of sleep to hit the gym. I really needed that extra piece of chocolate to power through my work project.
Whether we resort to distraction, rationalization, or denial, there’s no limit to our imagination when it comes to excuse-making. Even if the thing we’re avoiding is good for us, we succumb to our emotions time and again. Breaking the endless cycle of justification starts with self-discipline. Use these motivational hacks to overrule a dispirited mindset.
01. Find an accountability partner.
Who makes a good accountability partner? Someone who knows your strengths and weaknesses to both support and challenge you. And someone whose company you enjoy. An accountability partner has your best interests in mind. She won’t let you slip back into noncommittal habits. According to Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Six Principles of Influence, we’re more likely to perform an action if the people around us are doing the same thing.
Develop a system of checks and balances with your accountability partner. Ask them to join you for your morning workout, send an afternoon text to check in on your project’s progress, or help you cook healthy meals for the week. Their presence and support will prevent you from straying. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Surround yourself with people who are also pursuing the healthy, happy lifestyle you want!
02. Visualize the positive outcomes.
Think beyond your present reluctance and create a mental picture of the end result. Visualizing the big picture benefits will motivate you to push through an unpleasant task. Instead of grumbling about your tiredness, think about how energized you’ll feel after you work out!
Don't underestimate the power of reorienting your mindset. Mental imagery is a popular sports psychology tactic used to improve athletic performances. The U.S. Olympic team brought nine sports psychologists to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi to mentally train the athletes through visualization. Research also shows that practicing mental imagery increases motivation and confidence.
03. Celebrate your achievements.
Celebrate successes, big and small. There are two types of motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic. When you’re extrinsically motivated, you act to receive external rewards or escape punishments. In contrast, when you're intrinsically motivated, you act to receive internal benefits. Studies have proven that verbal and tangible rewards help you transition from a state of extrinsic to intrinsic motivation, increasing your natural desire to do something. But don’t celebrate with a reward that counteracts your success. Take a 20-minute coffee break after a productive morning, not a two-hour YouTube detour.
04. Record your goals and progress.
Tracking and documenting your goals and progress increases the likelihood that you’ll follow through. According to Dr. Robert Cialdini’s influence principles, we’re more likely to do something if it involves a written or verbal agreement. Recording accomplishments and ambitions also improves your probability to succeed. Dr. Gail Mathews, a psychology professor at Dominican University, conducted a goal-setting study that uncovered a drastic improvement in success among participants who wrote down their goals.
05. Plan for your weaknesses.
Human resources expert Jim Haudan emphasizes the importance of examining your failures to avoid repeating your mistakes. Practice self-awareness and identify your willpower’s soft spots. If you can’t resist the urge to indulge in a entire bag of Doritos, don’t buy them. If you always blame your exhausting workday for your lack of exercise, work out in the morning. Honestly recognize your weaknesses and plan accordingly to avoid succumbing to your go-to excuses.
06. Introduce some fun.
While you might not enjoy the activity (yet), it helps to layer in some fun. Psychological scientists Philip Gable and Bryan Poole hypothesized that goal pursuit and excitement makes time pass faster than a state of contentment. Motivational fun can mean running to an upbeat soundtrack or working alongside a friend. The "Formal Theory of Creativity, Fun, and Intrinsic Motivation" indicates that fun emerging from "novel, surprising patterns," as an intrinsic reward, increases intrinsic motivation.
07. Set realistic expectations.
It’s good to be ambitious, but don’t set yourself up for failure with lofty goals. Break down your goals into micro-goals. This approach will give you a sense of accomplishment as you complete each task. If you’re starting a daily running routine, don’t aim for a 10K on day one. Be patient with yourself and focus on realistic, achievable goals. Harvard Business School professor and researcher Teresa Amabile discovered the progress principle proving that progress is the most meaningful element in boosting motivation. To capitalize on this principle, focus on incremental goals to make steady progress.
08. Collect inspiring quotes.
Keep a stash of motivational quotes for times when you need an extra kick. Reading the wise words of people you admire helps you keep perspective. Compile your favorites and place them where they’ll be top of mind—on your phone, desktop, mirror, or refrigerator—as visual cues to jumpstart your motivation. Since meaningful quotes are associated with your emotions, they trigger the release of dopamine, a brain chemical responsible for motivation. Here are a few of our favorites!
How do you stay motivated to do the less-than-desirable things?