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How To Motivate Yourself To Actually Achieve Your Goals

Starting something new is hard. It can even be a little terrifying. Maybe you don’t know where to start, or maybe you’re scared of failure. But the only way you’ll ever get anything done is if you just get up and do it. Here’s how to conquer those fears, get off your arse, and actually achieve those goals.

Title image remixed from Leremy (Shutterstock).

We all have unfinished projects, and a lack of motivation is one of the biggest reasons we don’t accomplish them. Maybe it’s that book you’ve been planning on starting for National Novel Writing Month; perhaps it’s the new job you always find excuses not to search for; maybe it’s the abundance of artistic talent you waste sitting on the couch watching a movie marathon.

It’s easy to continually put off new projects in favour of sticking to the status quo. But as Mythbusters host Adam Savage points out, when we set our minds to something, we all go through the same process:

(1) I don’t know how, (2) I can’t afford to pay someone else to do it, (3) I have to do it, (4) hey, that wasn’t so hard!

Getting off your arse and getting things done is not easy — nor will it ever be — but it doesn’t have to be hard. If you have the right plan and attitude, you will be a lot more likely to succeed. In fact, getting off your arse and doing something is incredibly easy and only requires a few steps:

  • Find your goal: You don’t even have to do anything — just sit and think about what you want to do.
  • Research: The more research you do, the easier the task in front of you is going to be. Heck, you can do anything if all it takes is following directions.
  • Set deadlines and stick to them: Setting deadlines is easy — just pick a date. Keeping yourself to them is a bit harder, but you can work a rewards system into it to keep you on track.
  • Give yourself the time to work: At least 15 minutes a day. That’s easy, right?
  • Start: Seriously, all you have to do is start into it — if you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll keep it up.

The whole process of getting off your arse and motivating yourself really is that basic. But if you’re struggling with it, lets take a look at some of the tricks you can use to keep yourself going.

Find Your One Goal And Write Your Manifesto

It seems simple, but if you’re in a rut and don’t know what to do, it’s important to figure that out first. Start with a single, concrete goal. If you have trouble focusing your goals, the hierarchy of goals can help. Don’t go overboard — you’re more likely to accomplish goals when you stick to just one. So pick the one thing you’ve been wanting to do for a long time — that novel, the new job or that art project — and just think about it for a while. Creativity site 99U calls this your “thinking” time. Don’t act yet, just think:

It is no coincidence that the motivation to think and the motivation to act seem to strike us at different times. Research by psychologists Arie Kruglanski, Tory Higgins, and their colleagues suggests that we have two complementary motivational systems: the “thinking” system and the “doing” system — and we’re generally only capable of using one at a time.

This is where the manifesto comes into play. When you’re thinking about what you want to do, write out a manifesto that describes your goals. A personal manifesto might sound over the top, but it’s a great way to get your goals and motivations in check while pumping yourself up enough to get started. The entire point is to declare your principles and create a call to action — in this case, that call is to yourself. The Art of Manliness suggests you pick your topic, set down your principles, and use affirmative language in your manifesto:

I didn’t use phrases like “I want to exhibit strength and control…” I used the more powerful “I WILL exhibit strength and control…” This may seem minor, but if you use active language, you’ll take it much more seriously. You may wish to punch up the language even further, by using the present tense: “I exhibit strength and control.”

Your personal manifesto should concentrate on your goal — the one thing you would do right now if you knew how to do it. Don’t think about the “how” yet, concentrate on the “why” and the “what”. Don’t worry about length, and don’t worry about grammar. This isn;t a document for the world. It’s for you to figure out what it is that is driving you to get off your butt and start something.

When you’re figuring out your goal, think small, and don’t start doing anything until you have an idea of where you want to end up. Once you have an end goal, it’s time to figure out what you need to get there. Photo by lululemon athletica.

Research What You’ll Need

Dropping into a project or goal without research is a recipe for disaster. But it’s also important that you don’t overdo the research and talk yourself out of starting something. Figure out what you need to get started and get to it.

Of course, what you’ll need depends on what you’re working towards. Books are always great for tasks such as home improvement and DIY, as is YouTube. For computer based skills, our Night School guides will get you started on lots of different projects.

For less concrete projects — say, that graphic novel idea you’ve been sitting on for years — it’s a good idea to hunt down forums or dig through Reddit’s creative subreddits to find like-minded people to ask for help. Photo by Nadina Helen Bakos.

Set Deadlines And Stick To Them

Deadlines and goals are one of the best ways to keep yourself on track regardless of what you’re aiming for. When you tell yourself, “I will finish this by [date]“, it gives you something concrete to work toward.

If you’re struggling to meet that deadline — or you just can’t seem to take a self-induced deadline seriously — you might need to try a few different things. One of the best ways to meet deadlines is to tell your friends or family, or if you have to, do the whole project in public view. It’s also good to work in a reward if you meet the deadline so you can celebrate when you’re finished.

You have to figure out a way to make your own arbitrary deadlines work for you. Make your plan and stick with it. Remember: progress is a better motivator than money. Photo by Dafne Cholet.

Give Yourself The Time To Focus

Work on your project every single day, regardless of how much time you can dedicate to it. This is one of those instances where Jerry Seinfeld’s advice to not break the chain of work is really helpful: make a calendar on your wall and give yourself a tick every day you work on your project. It will keep you motivated to continue.

The easiest way to stop a project before it even starts is to claim that you “don’t have enough time” to dedicate to it. But in reality you don’t need as much time as you think. Writer Mark Frauenfelder suggests even 15 minutes a day is enough:

What if I gave myself 15 minutes a day to get away from the computer and work on a project? And I think almost anybody can give himself 15 minutes a day. But it really adds up and after a month or so, that’s a considerable amount of hours that you’ve been able to devote to making things.

Fifteen minutes isn’t much time. If you can afford more time, do it. One way to find that time is to program your schedule so you’re forcing yourself to work on your goals every day. Photo by Lisa Yarost.

Just Start Working

Ultimately, no amount of preparation is going to do you any good unless you sit down and get to work. We say this often: getting started is everything. Give yourself 10 to 15 minutes every day to work on your goals or projects, and start doing it no matter what. If it’s not clicking after those 15 minutes of minimum activity, you can walk away knowing you at least accomplished something. Chances are you will actually make some significant headway, and once you’ve started, you’ll be shocked to find how quickly that time adds up. Before you know it, you will actually have something worthwhile achieved. Photo by Chris Thomson.

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