As we’ve talked about in previous posts on the KITS blog, the way we talk to ourselves can have a big impact on resilience and motivation. Here are a few creative thinking “hacks” that can help you stay motivated while building new habits.
- Focus on Process: Recognize and appreciate the little gains along the way.
When setting goals, it’s natural to focus on the end result. That’s why we set goals in the first place, right? Especially if your goal is to make a big change, this can quickly get demoralizing if we don’t see results fast. Rather than only focusing on the end result you want to get to, recognize and appreciate the process, those little steps along the way toward your end goal.
- Instead of keeping your mind on the end result of finally writing and sticking to a budget, focus on the goal that you will spend 2 hours a week learning about budgeting. Instead of holding the goal of losing weight in mind, relish the process. Give yourself a mental high five each time you walk instead of ride, or choose a healthy snack over French fries. It will be these small steps in the process over time that will actually get you to the end result after all.
- Put yourself in your future shoes.
Research from economists show that most of us have a cognitive bias to make decisions in the moment that benefit our present self over what would benefit our future self. For example, most people will choose $100 now over $200 in two years. Or choose to eat the smaller candy bar now over a larger candy bar in a week. However, people who identify more with their future self, appear to make better decisions that will benefit themselves over the long run. When you are motivating yourself to start a new habit that will take time to see the end result, try putting yourself in your future shoes. Imagine how good it will feel in the future after you make this difficult choice now, and how grateful you will be that you started the hard work now. Use this strategy together with recognizing the little steps along the way, and focusing on the process to really boost your persistence.
- Visualize how good it felt at the end of your work out last time, and even though you really don’t feel like going on a run now, focus on how good you will feel when you have completed it. Or how relieved you will feel when you pay this bill today, and don’t have to worry about it during your busy week. Then, when you accomplish this step towards building your habits, focus on how good you really do feel in the moment, and give yourself a little mental congratulations for following through.
- Instead of waiting to appreciate your hard work until you have accomplished your goal, celebrate each day, or week that you have followed through on the process. What are the little wins you want to celebrate at the end of the week? When it’s Friday, and you reflect on your week, how great will it feel to recognize the steps you accomplished this week that are moving you forward towards your goals? When you start to feel stuck during the week, ask yourself: what do you want to be proud of accomplishing on Friday? What is the next step you can take that may feel difficult right now, but by the end of the week, you will feel proud and relieved you took it! Then take the time on Fridays to follow through with celebrating yourself for the little wins you make each week.
- Believe you can change.
One predictor of actually changing difficult habits is the belief that you are capable of making a change. One way to think about building your ability to resist temptation, is to reframe the way you talk to yourself about what you “can’t” have or do.
- Instead of, “I can’t have or do that”, say to yourself, “I can have or do that, but I choose not to.” And when you choose not to, recognize and appreciate your persistence in each little win, and know if you can do this now, you can do this again! “I can sit on the couch and watch TV, but I am choosing to do the dishes first. I am going to be so grateful to myself tomorrow morning when I have clean spoons for breakfast!”
Make it a visual challenge.
Out of sight, out of mind isn’t a saying for nothing! If you’re like me, one day you’re pumped about this new habit, a week later… what habit was I supposed to be working on again? Visual reminders can be helpful to keep you focused and motivated to consistently practice a new behavior. Simply write it down and stick it up around your house, or where you need the reminder. Turning it into a game, or a challenge with yourself, or perhaps even better, with a friend, can really take your habit game up a notch!
- Don’t break the chain! Hang up a calendar (which can just as easily be a plain grid of squares), and every day you complete the new habit, cross off a day or square. Then focus on not “breaking the chain” of days you have crossed off. If you struggle to remember whether you took your medication or vitamins for the day, checking off the day right as you take your meds can also be a helpful visual reminder to turn this into a habit.
- Use small objects to represent an aspect of a new habit you might want to do more frequently throughout the day. Maybe you spend most of your day sitting and want to motivate yourself to get up and walk around every hour. Try using paper clips to represent each time you want to follow through on this new behavior. Put 8 paper clips in one bowl, and every time you get up and walk around, you get to move a paper clip to the other bowl. This acts to both visually remind you of your goal, and because you’ve set up a challenge with yourself, also makes the practice into a game and increases your motivation to follow through.
I hope you found one of these ideas helpful in building a new habit or getting started on a new goal. Changing our habits can be really difficult, even in easy situations. No matter what, be kind to yourself, be your own coach, and focus on the process and the little wins along the way. It might take time, but you are strong enough! You’ve got this.
Future self-continuity: how conceptions of the future self transform intertemporal choice: