Making it to the gym regularly. Reorganizing your office. Choosing to eat better. Making that dentist appointment you’ve been putting off. Starting that business.
We all have these things that seem to live perpetually on the bottom of our to-do lists, and never actually ever get done. Whether they’re big projects or tiny tasks, we find them entirely overwhelming and sit around waiting for motivation to hit us before we attempt to tackle them.
Sometimes those things require overwhelming upkeep need to be added into our daily or weekly habits and routines, like regularly making time for the gym, meal prep, or self care. Sometimes they are overwhelming one-time to-do’s like cleaning out the garage, writing that overdue thank you note (why does that one always seem so daunting?!), or donating those old clothes. And sometimes they’re both - something that takes both a big initial kick and regular upkeep, like finally creating and maintaining that blog, or starting the new side hustle you’ve been dreaming about, which can seem doubly overwhelming.
With all the responsibilities, stress and directions we get pulled every day, between work, kids, home, family, friends, money, health, pets, housework, and so on, most of the time we barely have our head above water and are struggling to keep up as is- let alone have time or energy to give to learn Spanish. If you’re anything like me, the more to-do’s pile up, the more behind I get, and the more stressed out I become, I tend to shrink away, shut down, do less, and become almost paralyzed by ALL THE THINGS. Which then becomes the feedback loop from hell, as more things pile up and all I can do is watch with anxiety and horror, motionless, with eyes like saucers as the stress level rises and rises. Then I’ve really gone and fucked myself. Sound familiar?
So. Whether you’re pinned under an ALLTHETHINGS 21 car pile up, or you have things generally under control but just can’t seem to ever get yourself to do that one thing you’ve been wanting to, where do you find the motivation to make a change?
Here’s the truth, and it’s probably one you don’t want to hear, but it’s important: the lightning bolt of motivation will not appear out of blue sky and strike down upon you the will to make a change. Though every so often, a rogue spark of inspiration may hit (maybe from reading a book or seeing something that triggered an action or idea), if you are living your life scrolling instagram for that one inspirational post to catapult you into lasting action, you’re making a grave mistake, and here’s why.
Motivation doesn’t appear until action has been taken. Yeah, let that one sink in. Read it again, say it out loud, write down, and believe it, because it’s science. (But really though: Newton's first law of motion is the concept of inertia: bodies at rest tend to stay at rest and bodies in motion tend to stay in motion). You know before when I talked about that really shitty do-nothing feedback loop? Well it works the opposite way too. When you take action, whether it’s big or small, the feeling of reward and accomplishment is almost always great enough for you to want to take another step or do it again. Taking action is where you find motivation. It doesn’t come from nowhere, it comes from you.
One of my favorite takeaways from Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project, was her idea that before she started anything, she needed to “tackle a nagging task”. (Read: that thing that’s been full on squatting on your to-list for so long that’s thisclose to actually owning it). What you’ll find is that when you just WOMAN UP and tackle that oh so annoying task, you’ll feel rejuvenated and immediately think, “ok, what next?”, ready to take on the next thing. It won’t be long until you’re a full blown productivity Sharknado, knocking out all those emails, chores, and errands you’ve been putting off for months.
You want to make it to the gym 4 days a week but where do you find the motivation? Do you sit around thinking about when to do it, and then dance around deciding if you feel up to it today? NO. You lace up your walking shoes and put a leash on your fur baby (or strap on your human baby, or put a leash on your human child or strap on your fur baby, I mean really, no judgement here) and you get outside. (And then do it again tomorrow, and the next day)
The sweet, sweet wave of momentum here will be instantly noticeable, and you may decide to turn those walks into longer walks or runs, or trade in that time for the gym, now that you know you can carve out 60 minutes to make it happen. And what you’ve managed to do then, is make it part of your routine- you’ve made it a habit, which is exactly what you want.
People ask me all the time where I find the motivation to work out and eat well. On the workout side, I do it because it’s simply habit for me at this point, plain and simple. It’s what I do. I wish I had something more romanticized to say about that, but this is the secret about motivation: it doesn't last forever. I'm rarely "motivated" to go to the gym every day. I started CrossFit one day, fell in love with it, went 3-4 times a week, and it became my routine. I’ve been doing it so long now that when I have a week where I don’t go as much or at all, I feel off, my mood sinks, my sleep suffers, and I get into a funk. So my "motivation" for continuing to go, you could say, is to not feel crappy. (Have you seen my Snapchat chat on this topic? It's over in the VIDEOS tab!)
And when it comes to nutrition, I choose food that will support me feeling good in the gym- so it’s no surprise that when I’ve been out of the gym for a while, I don’t make the best nutrition choices. Because when I eat well, I feel strong, and feeling strong in the gym makes me feel unstoppable, and that feeling gives me life, and so on (the positive feedback loop). And it all began with me just taking action, taking a risk and walking into a gym one day.
The point here is that the concept of motivation is a slippery one to grasp, because not only do you have to create it yourself, but it doesn't last. When you've created the spark and the will to make a change, you've got to act on it to get momentum going, and then actively work to keep it up. The "motivation" may fade away in time but what you're hopefully left with is a lasting habit, mindset, routine and lifestyle.
And here’s the best part: more often than not, these action steps are transferrable! Meaning, cleaning out your closet or painting your living room may VERY WELL grant you the motivation to lace up those running shoes or do a meal prep sesh, and vice versa. Because the fastest way to feel like you're in control and on top of your shit and doing the things you want to be doing, is to get on top of your shit and do the things you want and get in control. ACT and then ride the wave of momentum.
So no matter what you are hoping to tackle or accomplish, here are some action steps to do right now to start making some shit happen:
- First things first. If you’re stuck under the ALLTHETHINGS stress accident and need some time away, take it. Take a weekend off of everything, clear your mind, delete social media apps, take baths, etc. Take the time to tune out the noise, reclaim your headspace, find your energy and refresh your life. This is important.
- Next, use that clarity to decide what you really want to do. Do you really want to CrossFit 4x a week or would you rather take a hip hop class? Are you needing more time away to decompress on the regular? Are you really excited about starting a blog or is it just what you think you should do? (A whole post on "shoulds" coming soon). What is it that you want?
- Write out your to do list(s) and the things you want to accomplish in no particular order- just all the shit that needs doing. If it helps you to write separate lists from each area of your life (housework, work, side hustle, etc), do it. Just get it all out of your head and to a place you can see it.
- Comb through your list and rewrite it based on priority. If you know a few tasks are time sensitive, push those to the top, and the things that can wait go to the bottom. (Take a hard look at the things “that can wait”. Are any of those things that you’ve already been putting off for a long time?) Figure out what's important, and then:
- Tackle a nagging task. The thing that you think about and groan over while you’re trying to fall asleep, the thing that gives you anxiety when you remember you’ve been ignoring it, the thing that full on nags you, stresses you the fuck out and you really, really don’t want to do. Think like Nike and just FUCKING DO IT. (Sorry for yelling I’m just getting excited here ok?)
- If getting active is on your wishlist, tackle a nagging health task too. Lace up your shoes, pop in P90X, join that gym, sign up for that dance class you’ve been dreaming about, arrange for child care to allow the time for it all, etc. Just take one step, do one thing, no matter how small.
- Book it in. So now that you've got the annoying stuff out of the way and you have some order to your life, make the appointment, schedule in your gym days, reserve your spot in class, clear a morning for decluttering your office, etc. Actually put this stuff into your calendar and respect it's place in there. This time you're not pushing it off for later- it's booked in, you've made the time for it and you're getting it done. (Bringing a friend along for the ride can up your chances of sticking to it).
- Keep putting these things on your calendar for at least 8 weeks- by that point things should become routine, but until then, make sure you create the time and respect your promise to yourself.
- And when you whittle away that to-do list, rinse and repeat.
Cuz here’s the bottom line: it can feel oh so convenient and cozy and easy to think that these things are just out of our hands- that we have no say or control until the elusive Motivation Fairy chooses to bestow us with a sprinkle of go-get-‘em dust, but that’s just not how this works. The things we want in life become ours when we choose to make it so, and then take action. When we look them right in the face and attack them head on, when we step out of our comfort zone and make a change (cue Man in the Mirror). Action first, motivation second.
So here’s your go-get-‘em dust. What are you going to do with it?