Moving Forward in 2018: Motivation

Moving Forward in 2018: Motivation

It’s the early part of the New Year, that time when we make resolutions. Whether we want to make healthier lifestyle choices like eating better or exercising more, pick up habits like reading every day, or stop not-so-useful habits like yelling when we are frustrated, most resolutions involve change. And change is difficult. There is a certain comfort even in the habits that we know are not good for us: at least we know how to do them. For 2018, we are starting an occasional series where we will explore how to make changes and move forward. We may do a series of posts or post every month. Today we start with one of the most important things in determining whether you will make the change that you resolved to make: MOTIVATION.

Motivation is the drive to reach a goal, even in the face of hard things (like having to say “no” to having double fudge chocolate cake every night for dessert). It is the thing that keeps you going when you would really rather not be running in dreary, January weather  even though that’s the only way you can meet your goal of exercising 3 times a week. And motivation is what can get us through what one author calls “The Grind”, or the point during change when it’s not at all fun anymore. If we can keep going through “The Grind”, we greatly increase the likelihood that we will make the changes that we want to see.

So how do you keep yourself motivated? According to experts, there are a few things that you can do:

  • Make sure that this is something that you want to do or that the outcome is something you really want. If you are not invested in the change that you are making, it is not likely to happen in the long run. The change itself, like say “not eating sugar”, may not be something that you really want to do, but if the outcome, like “being healthier so I decrease my chances of developing health problems” is something that you care a lot about, then you are more likely to stay motivated. So you want to really consider what a change should be before you commit to making it. There are a number of different ways to do this. Some examples are the “three Ds (direction, decision, and dedication)”, or fostering a greater sense of self-awareness, but there are many others and you should pick the technique that works best for you.
  • Be positive about your abilities to change. If you feel negative or bad about something, like your chances for making a change, you will get in your own way. You need to be optimistic about your chances for success. That doesn’t mean being unrealistic, like believing that you can win a marathon because you ran for 30 minutes. But you can FEEL like you could run a marathon because you feel so positive about your accomplishments.
  • Reward yourself for successes. This is so very important. You are not going to make a whole, permanent change in one day, but you might take the first step. And if you don’t celebrate that first step, and each one after that, you might be waiting a loooong time (and have given up) before you get to the last big step. So reward yourself as you go. If you took a breath, got on your child’s eye level, and repeated your direction before yelling when your child didn’t did not immediately respond because she didn’t hear you the first time, tell yourself “I did a great job being patient!” After you do that five days in a row, schedule a special lunch with your friend. Changing things is hard, and if we never get rewarded for doing hard things, we will stop. Rewards will keep us positive and motivated.
  • Be accountable. Tell other people what you are doing. If you make your plans public so people will ask you how those plans are going, you will be more motivated to stick to them. And set your friends up to be cheerleaders, not naggy-reminder-people. So let them help you celebrate when you have successes and ask them to support you with phrases like “I know you can do this” or “You’ll do it next time”, when you are not yet where you want to be or didn’t do what you planned.

Change is hard. But it is possible if you have the motivation to do it. That’s not the only tool that you will need, but it does increase the chances that you can make that change. So start that journey by making a decision that matters to you, being positive about it, and setting yourself up for rewards along the way!


Image: © MarieMaerz|


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Katherine Pears
Dr. Katherine Pears is a senior scientist at Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC). She earned her Ph.D in clinical psychology and has worked with OSLC since 1998. Katherine is the principal investigator and co-developer of the Kids In Transition to Schools (KITS) program. Currently, she oversees all the clinical and research activities for KITS. When she’s not in her office, you’ll find Katherine in the kitchen whipping up her latest creation or outdoors hiking a scenic trail.


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