Lifestyle change: Motivation and Rewards (part 3)

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Tipi Koivisto
Coach, Founder
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Time to read:
7 min
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Björn Kappel (Psychologist)

8. Motivation

"What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals." -Henry David Thoreau

Actually I am already repeating myself, because if you have good enough reason(s), you don't need to worry about motivation. You will find the time for your effort and push through any discomfort you may have to do the things you need to do. I'm talking about "the why" in the question: "What do you want and why?"

There still will be a moments for everyone when we need a gentle kick in the butt or a hard slap to the face. There are thousands of tricks and ways to motivate yourself. Some of the tricks are scientifically studied to be successful, some common sense and some just don't work*. You can make an educated guess, which of these motivational measures might work for you, and then test it out. If you learn one to three tricks, that motivate you, and you actually apply them, good for you! I hope they will give you some leverage, in whatever you are after.

For me, the motivational tricks never worked that well. At least not consistently. Secondly, I don't like the idea of always playing tricks on my mind, manipulating myself, spending time on motivation or needing to make an effort in the long run. I want the behavior to become natural at some point - or at least as effortless as possible. So let me suggest a couple of other strategies on how to go on with motivation. If you apply these two to your lifestyle change process, you will not only succeed sooner, but reap the benefits of getting to know yourself better.

1. Set the environment to support your goal(s)

Motivation is only a part of setting yourself up for success. It's the reasons you do the things you should. So what if your environment could motivate you all the time? It would push you in the right direction and keep you out of temptation. It would make starting the task easy and repeating the job as effortless as possible. On the other side, it should not disturb your accomplishments or get you into trouble.

When you think about your environment, the first thing that comes to mind is probably your apartment. It's also the most important one, because we spend the most time there. But it can also be your work and the way you go to work. The environment here is broader and includes your city, people, clothes, car, shopping mall, and everywhere you spend your time.

How do you hack your environment then?

When you are dealing with an addiction, the environment should make the beginning of a negative behavior (cue / routine) as hard as possible. E.g. If you try to get rid of sugar, it's pretty hard to avoid putting it to your mouth if you keep it around. Maybe you have heard someone saying: "The choice of what you eat is made before going to the supermarket." Which means that what you bring home, you will eventually eat. And if you don't have a shopping list before going to the supermarket, you will buy stuff you don't want - and eat later. Secondly, get rid of all reminders (external triggers) that might make you do something you don't want to. If there is an app on your phone you don't want to use, get rid of it. Or if there are seductive fast food restaurants on the way to work, choose another route.

If you are setting a positive goal, make the beginning of the task as easy as possible. If you want to start doing sports in the morning, set up the gear and water ready the previous night. You can even place your alarm clock away from the bed, so you need to get up to turn it off, then you are already on the move. If you want to eat more healthy, keep plenty of your favorite health food always available - and only the foods you want to eat.

Here is a simplified HOW-TO:

a) Positive goal: Easy to start. Make it fun to do. Build positive triggers.

b) Negative behavior: Get rid of any reminders. Make it impossible to begin.

I like to picture myself as a stupid ape, who just do certain things, but is able to learn a bit. If you don't like to think of yourself as a stupid ape, maybe you can accept the fact that you are a human being reacting to things - and who is not able to control herself every once in a while. It's just something in the environment, or in you, which triggers the behavior. Setup your environment to support you and you will reap the benefits every day. The environment can be your worst enemy or best ally.

2. Know yourself

This is the holy grail of the whole lifestyle change. The most difficult one, but also the most rewarding one.

Self-efficacy is a concept which is defined as "people's beliefs in their ability to influence events that affect their lives. This core belief is the foundation of human motivation, performance, accomplishments, and emotional well‐being." (Bandura, 1997, 2006) Or simply the belief that one can achieve their goals. It's like the opposite of learned helplessness**, which is the concept of someone believing that there is nothing they can do to escape their current situation. Simply, we could say that, if you have a lot of self-efficacy and low levels of learned helplessness, you have a better chance of achieving things. So how do we get more self-efficacy and get rid of learned helplessness? Well, like the name implies, the helplessness is learned, so you can also unlearn it by teaching yourself that there is more than one way to react to certain situations.

The moment you set a goal and begin to work on it, you also start to learn about yourself, if you stay mindful. Sounds complicated, but it's as simple as asking yourself: "How the f%+! did that happen?" and "What made me do it?". In psychology this is called Reflective Self-Awareness (RSA) or just self-reflection. If you practice self-reflection often enough, you will get good at it. Not only will you know what makes you tick, but at the same time it gives you a realistic picture of:

  • What you are capable of achieving?
  • How much effort you need to put to achieve goal X?
  • When to start your goal and how long it will take to achieve it?

The best way to get more confident, that a change is possible and to learn about yourself is to start practicing! Set a goal that you will 100% achieve and then do it! When you have achieved one little behavioral change, you can go after bigger, longer and more difficult goals. Because self‐efficacy is maybe the most important factor in changing daily habits, increasing it needs experience. Start small like "Drink water first thing in the morning". You will learn change is hard, but definitely doable! As a bonus, the first Eureka! effect comes, when preparing the water glass already in the previous evening makes the job waaay easier!

Achieving a goal is not just about deciding to do it, but to actualize it, and therefore timing plays a role. If you know yourself, then you know when to begin, how much energy you need and how long you need to prepare to pull through. For example, it's unrealistic to start losing weight and doing fitness before Christmas, because the whole month will be full of irregularities like traveling and gourmet foods. It would be just setting yourself up to fail.

I wrote before, that you can make an educated guess about which motivational trick might work for you. If you know yourself well enough, you will also know what makes you thrive and what does not. You will know, what are your triggers, and how to find your "WHY's" when you need it. Learn what kind of person you are and you will find out what motivates you in every situation - by changing the environment, pep talk, or whatever it takes. Be creative!

To sum up: We know that a conscious decision is not enough to achieve a goal***, so you will need all the motivation available. When you get the environment right and begin to understand your own behavior better, your chances of winning daily improves significantly. Even failing gets easier, because you recognize the reasons for it and know you how to improve the next time! There is no "right way" to reach a goal - just make it happen - whatever it takes! Nobody cares where you get your motivation, but usually positive is better. Rage and revenge can also work, when get in shape at the gym, but try to formulate it in a more positive way. The only person you are accountable to at the end is you. :)

I even go as far as suggesting that you forget the ways to motivate yourself altogether at first. Concentrate all your energy to changing your environment to be as supportive as possible for you goal. It seems that positive life outcomes (better earnings, health, social relationships) are not about willpower and self-control, but about not needing to use the self-control capabilities in the first place! Just like one can endure the hunger diet short term using self-discipline, but it's impossible for the long term without getting a rid feeling of hunger. Build the surroundings to support your goals and "the greatest human strength" comes with it. Which does make sense, because you don't need to resist the temptations all the time.

If you still have time and energy left, invest it to reflect and study you behavior. Find the ways that makes you successful and you don't need to hear advice from anybody ever again!

Because motivation is a complex topic, we will be releasing an article about it in the near future.


* Which I include here in the same category as harmful and demotivating. The procedure just doesn't get you towards your goal.

** Some think learned helplessness is a major cause of depression.

*** Science talks about the intention behavior gap.

9. Rewards

Think about this: If you would improve yourself 1% every day for a year, you would improve 3800%*. This doesn't really mean anything, but it demonstrates that a little improvement every day makes a huge difference, because of the compound interest principle. The point is to realize that a small change will have a huge impact in the long term, because the behavioral change won't just go away after 365 days.

Because everything is connected, sometimes the effects are unimaginable. If one loses fat tissue by cutting sugar, they think it only affects their weight. But actually it e.g. affects how they look, increases their energy levels, and improves their cognitive abilities. Weight loss even has negative consequences, like the need to buy new clothes, because the old ones don’t fit anymore. When selling the old ones at the flea market, you might get some money back and clean out your closet. Maybe you even meet the person you fall in love with, because you had the improved self-esteem to open your mouth when he was visiting your booth. Fast forward thirty years and you will still be able to play with your grandchildren because you made the lifestyle change - you are an example to them without diabetes, without depression, and without the risk for work disability. Who knows, but it affects always more than you can think of. And because we set positive goals, the impact is positive - more positive than you can realize for your well-being.

Have you ever worked on something, where you needed to push yourself and then succeeded at the end? You didn't really feel like doing it, but you did it anyway. Maybe even got some positive feedback. Felt good, right?! Remember when we talked about the happy hormone cocktails? That's what we get immediately after introducing a little self-regulation and achieving even a small victory. The bigger the victory, the sweeter the cocktail.

The most rewarding thing still is to explore who you are as a person and how you operate in this world. Every time you fail or succeed, you will learn something about yourself. What made you behave the way you did? How can you succeed next time? Why did you fall into that temptation again? What makes you do the things you do? When working with yourself the other side-effects include more self-control, autonomy, freedom, general happiness, and getting the life you desire. You might even get addicted to change and self-improvement, because you want to test your limits and reach even higher in life. Or just earn a bigger and stronger cocktail.


* 1*(1+0,01)^365 = ~37,78


10. The long term pleasure principle

Because we only have one life, we should live it the way we want to - not what other people or institutions want. Previous post already gave some questions to help to find your intrinsic motivations and what you really want. When you dig out what drives you, and you set a goal according to those inner values, you will immediately increase meaning, focus and vision in your life [g1, g2, g6], because you get something meaningful to pursue.

Lifestyle change is about introducing more pleasure to life. It's about leaving unwanted behaviors behind, which make us miserable. It's even better than buying something, because it's a long term ongoing project - without a buyer's regret, which you can get as a bonus from material purchases. I have never met a person who is not happy about making a positive change. I can't give you a 100% satisfaction guarantee, because you are in charge, but I can promise, that you will be happier than investing to material purchases.

What if you had a magical ability to change yourself and become whatever you want? To make you do whatever you want? You can learn to do that, which is one of the core ideas of Habinator. Don't get me wrong: The app is just a tool to help you. Nothing or nobody can make the change for you, they can only support you. Take responsibility for your own well-being and make the change happen. The App only ever gets better as it matures - and so should you!

Last updated on Sun, 12 Jan, 2020