Filed under: Motivation
When you set lofty goals, it’s exciting to envision lofty results. This should (and can) inspire you to put in the hard work needed to accomplish these goals. But indulging in fantasies of how things could be down the road might make them feel so tangible that you don’t do what’s necessary to get there.
A more realistic approach is to picture not only where you want to go but also the obstacles that might prevent you from actually getting there. You’ll either decide that the goal is out of reach, or you’ll make plans to deal with the obstacles in order to get to where you want to go.
Here are some steps to help you overcome obstacles and reach your goals:
First, identify an important goal that you think you can actually achieve, but one that’s still a bit of a challenge. For instance, maybe you’re aiming to improve your APFT score by 20%.
Next, think what it will really mean to you when you accomplish your fitness goal. Maybe you picture yourself being more active with your family at home and then performing well during a mission to succeed and protect others.
Then consider where you are now and think about what stands between you and your goal. You can still keep your eyes on the prize. But you need to honestly recognize the obstacles. Maybe exercising in the dark makes you nervous, or you’re less organized than you could be, or you’re tired from not getting regular sleep, so it feels like an uphill battle.
Finally, strengthen your awareness and face the obstacles with an “if…then” plan. Here’s an example: “IF my fear of nighttime running creeps up, THEN I’ll put on my high-visibility clothing and stick to well-lit streets.” Here’s another: “IF I find myself disorganized and grasping for time, THEN I’ll walk around the block while planning my day.” Or how about: “IF I feel tired when I come home this evening, THEN I’ll take a short walk or jog and go to sleep right after.” If…then plans help you face your fears instead of hiding from them.
This four-step method can help you shift from just dreaming about important goals to tackling obstacles on the path to accomplishing them. And you may find this works even better if you combine it with other techniques such as setting SMART goals.
Think of a goal that you’ve been working for lately or that you’re about to go after. How about all those New Year’s resolutions? Do you know why you want it? In other words, what’s your motivation? Do you simply love what you’re doing, or is there a reward you are pursuing?
Being clear about what motivates you can help fuel your motivation with intention. For example, if you’re a runner, maybe you love the feeling of pushing yourself hard with training runs. On the other hand, maybe it’s the end result—the accomplishment—associated with completing another marathon that’s the fuel to keep you going or even push you to the next level.
There isn’t one right form of motivation, and your motivators might be a mix of little steps and big outcomes. Remember to enjoy the steps along the way; they can make the experience more enjoyable. But sometimes remembering your ultimate goal can help you persist on days when you’re just not feeling it.
Often when you’re pursuing a goal, you’re part of a larger community, and you may find that just being involved is motivation itself because of the people you meet, the places you see, or the experiences you have along the way! It’s true what they say: The journey matters.
Have you ever wondered how different people’s perceptions of the same thing can be so drastically different? Take exercise, for example. You know it’s good for you, and most people should be doing more of it. Yet when asked, some people will say they love to exercise, while others see it as an overwhelming and impossible task. Our perceptions say a lot about what we value, how we’re feeling, and what we desire, which in turn affects motivations, actions, and even physical performance.
You probably find that the goals that seem more in reach are more desirable (for example, money, food, or a finish line) than the ones that seem further away. For example, when you’re at the end of a race, and you can see the finish line in front of you, you’ll probably estimate that the finish line is closer to you than it really is. Whether or not the goal is actually closer, believing that it is triggers excitement and effort towards achieving these goals.
That’s all well and good if you’re already out running that race, but sometimes getting off the couch is the hardest thing to do when you’re out of shape. Runners who are less fit and less motivated estimate distance to a finish line as being farther than do runners who are fit and more highly motivated. So even if you want to get in shape, sometimes your poor fitness can affect your perception of being able to achieve your fitness goals.
While negative perceptions might make it harder to get in shape, this doesn’t mean you can’t get in shape just because you’re less fit. Keep your eye on the prize! Exercisers who focus on an end goal and ignore the distractions around them perceive their goal as being nearer and actually perform better; most importantly, they don’t consider the exercise as difficult.
So, if you see your goals as being closer to you in your mind, you will have something to look forward to. This “prize” could be anything. It could literally be the finish line; it could be the next milestone on your route, such as the building at the end of the block; or it could even be a post-race reward, such as a healthy post-workout smoothie. Remember, some goals are harder to achieve than others, but you can stay the course by imagining what is coming and keeping the self-talk positive. This will help keep your motivation high and the prize within reach.
What do you value? It’s an important question to ask yourself—often.
When you figure out what matters most to you, it can help guide what you do, even when you’re at your lowest. Values help you make big things happen—and little things along the way too.
In identifying what you value, consider aspects of your life now or how you’d like it to be in terms of family, independence, adventure, stability, compassion, financial security, integrity, health, outdoors, and so on. Sometimes a key word or group of words says it all. Sometimes the essence is best expressed in a statement such as, “I am a healthy family man.”
Warfighters know the importance of values. Values are embedded in military life and center on excellence. The Warrior Ethos, for instance, helps Airmen reach and maintain an optimal state of readiness and survive the rigors of operational demands and life in the military.
When you know what you value, and you act in line with that, you experience a sense of clarity. When there’s a disconnect between what really matters to you and your behavior, however, you can either ignore it (through distractions such as drinking, drugs, video games, and reckless behaviors) or you can give yourself a gut-check and take action.
Try asking yourself these questions:
- What do I value most?
- Do I view each day as a chance to better myself and learn from my successes and failures?
- Do I pursue excellence (not perfection) but act with compassion towards myself and others?
- Do I maintain balance and perspective between work and the rest of my life?
- Do I respect other people in my day-to-day life?
- Are my actions in line with my values?
There is no one right set of values, and there is no one right set of answers to these questions. Whether you call it a “New Year’s resolution,” or use a different name, launch 2015 by giving yourself honest answers to these questions and staying on target with what really matters to you.
Some intense military training, such as in the Special Operations Forces, screens personnel by ultimately selecting those who can handle extreme adversity. In fact, how you view stress can have a big impact on whether the stress you experience is helpful or not. When you have a positive interpretation of your stress—that is, “eustress”—you may feel “amped up” enough to perform your best without experiencing any negative effects.
How do you experience stress in a positive manner? Try reframing it. Your situation doesn’t have to “suck”—it can just be a challenge that ultimately helps you grow more resilient. When you use this approach, it’s easier to take on whatever comes your way instead of engaging in unhelpful practices that may just increase your stress. Learn to find meaning in what’s difficult with your word choices. Here are some examples of statements you may find helpful:
- “Go beyond!”
- “I can!”
- “I am!”
- “Makes me stronger.”
- “For my buddies.”
- “For good.” (Or if you are spiritual, “For God.”)
- “Feel it!”
- “Dig deep.”
- “You got it!”
- “It’s all good.”
The list goes on. Figure out what words or phrases help you switch from seeing stress as a negative to feeling it’s just another challenge to tackle.
For more information on how to handle stress, check out HPRC’s Stress Management section.
The state in which athletes perform at their best is often referred to as “the zone,” but researchers refer to it as “flow.” This experience of being completely immersed in an activity involves:
- Clear goals and immediate understanding of whether actions are helping or hurting progress towards goals.
- Intense and focused concentration on the present moment.
- Merging of action and awareness.
- Absence of self-consciousness and anxiety.
- Time seems distorted (slow in the moment and fast retrospectively).
- Targeting of your attention where it is most needed.
- Challenges or opportunities feel like a stretch but still match your skill level.
- Feeling in control and prepared to face whatever happens next.
You can experience flow in myriad ways, whether you’re engaged in combat, playing competitive sports, or raising children. Flow can’t be forced, but you can set the stage for it by learning good stress management and practicing key skills through repetition.
“Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” - Lou Holtz, NFL and NCAA coach
Identifying the differences between these three things—ability, motivation, and attitude—is very important to performance optimization. Assessing your ability to perform a task is where optimization starts. Whether or not you feel like doing something when the situation calls for you to perform, motivation will power you to complete the task. Finally, having a positive attitude about your performance and how things turn out can make the difference between simply getting the job done and performing optimally.
“Garbage in, garbage out.” - George Fuechsel, IBM Programmer and Instructor
What you put in your mind and body has an impact on your performance. Surround yourself with positive people who can encourage you to build the motivation you need to maintain high performance during hard times. Replace negative thoughts and conversations with “I can…” statements. Nutrition also has an impact on your performance. Fueling yourself with high-performance foods can help you perform at your best consistently. Like a car, you cannot run on empty nor fuel yourself with empty calories. The Warfighter Nutrition Guide is an excellent resource for information about performance nutrition. For even more information on fueling performance, explore HPRC’s Nutrition domain.
Exercising outdoors can be a fun way to get in shape, enjoy the beautiful weather and do something fun as a family. No gym or equipment is necessary for a run on a trail, bike ride, or hike—and the scenery is much better! Kids can use their scooter, skateboard, or bike to keep up with mom and/or dad. You can even include strength exercises during your outside adventure! A playground or park can be a great destination for some exercise with children. Monkey bars, park benches, and other fixtures found at playgrounds can be used for pull-ups, tricep dips, and core exercises. Here are some additional suggestions from HPRC on exercising without a gym or equipment. And before you step outside, check out these tips if you plan on hiking or running on a trail.
Working out by yourself is fine if you’re self-motivated, but getting a buddy to tag along can provide the motivation needed to really ramp up your workout. Let’s face it—a bit of friendly competition can help you push harder than if you were alone. In fact, research has consistently shown that performance is substantially improved when you exercise with someone (even a virtual partner)—unless the workout is complex or involves tasks that require coordination, when the performance can degrade (i.e., "choking under pressure"). So, for best results, practice your difficult routines with a trainer, and then engage in healthy competition to optimize your performance. Keep in mind that not just any friend will do. It’s best to get a buddy whose skill level is similar to your own.