I wanted to do something epic with my life, but somehow, no matter how hard I tried, I kept running into walls…
For every painful step forward, it felt like I was slipping 2 steps backwards.
The more I tried to accomplish my goals, the more I ran into a pesky little rebel that kept sabotaging my dreams.
I think he actually enjoyed it too!
Do you battle Procrastination? Distractions? Low Motivation? Self-Sabotage? Low Energy? Anxiety?
This is normal, welcome to humanity!
I dealt with all the same crap most of my life, so here’s my secret that helped me take control of my life and obliterate the prison that held me back.
This is what finally boosted my motivation, increased my willpower, and got me back in control of my life:
1. I started to notice that the people I surrounded myself with affected my work ethic. If I was around lazy / retired people, I would unconsciously mimic their behavior. If I was around a bunch of hardworkers, I would unconsciously mimic their work ethic to a certain degree. Changing my friends made a big difference. Once you fix this part of your life, it’s also a big relief because you don’t have to keep worrying about it. Performance will almost automatically improve without you putting in much extra effort. I know it’s hard to change your friends, but it’s worth it if you are serious about doing something with your life. So start surrounding yourself with hard work. Hardworkers on Youtube, hardworking friends, hardworking newsletters, hardworking magazines, hardworking accountability buddies, etc. Adding hard working friends is just as important as REMOVING TOXIC LAZY PEOPLE FROM YOUR LIFE. Their attitude is infectious. Your brain will start to move towards the average of the people you associate with.
2. I also noticed that formally writing goals down helped me reach my goals. But some goals didn’t work out for me, so I looked back on which goals succeeded to find out why. I noticed that when I only picked one goal, I was able to succeed, but choosing to focus on more than 1 goal somehow made it impossible to achieve anything. So start removing goals. If you have a video game goal, remove it. If you have a weight lifting goal, remove it. Date night goal? REMOVE IT ALL! You get the idea. Keep removing goals until you are only focused on the ONE main goal.
3. Writing down your goal is a great first step, but you can increase its power by being extremely specific. You can actually double the odds of achieving it by doubling your clarity. Write down exactly which actions you are going to take. When will you start each day? How will you perform those actions? What will you be wearing when you perform those actions? Where will you perform those actions? When will those actions be due each day?
4. I found that I could increase the chance of taking action by formally committing to the goal by signing off on it. First I would write down a consequence for not achieving the daily minimum workload. This could be a natural or self imposed consequence. For self imposed consequences you could burn a $100 bill if you fail to meet your daily minimum. Or you could donate $100 to a charity that you hate. You could admit an embarrassing personal fact to everyone on facebook, etc… Something needs to be at stake. Then sign off on it.
5. I found that repeating my goal to myself every morning, afternoon and evening made it even more likely that I would do it. Write it and rewrite it often to keep it fresh in your mind.
6. I’ve also noticed that breaking my goal into smaller steps made it more likely to get the ball rolling for me because smaller steps are easier (low ability required) and less overwhelming (less fear and procrastination). By small steps, I mean as small as you need to go. If you need to break your task into 5 minute micro tasks to get started, then do it! If you need to break it into 1 minute tasks, then do it! AS SMALL AS YOU NEED TO GO. The smaller it is, the less threatening it is, and the more likely you will actually START.
7. On days that I’m really not motivated even one tiny bit, I noticed I can start taking action easier by counting down from 5 and then just start making small movements. Later I realized that moving my finger a quarter of a millimeter will start getting the motor part of my brain going. Then I move the rest of my hand, then my arm, then move my body, and use the momentum to start a small 30 second version of the task I’m procrastinating. This works like magic for me!
8. Momentum seems to help with motivation and keeps the actions going once you get started. So it’s important to start taking action as much as possible to build up momentum. Make it sustainable momentum by enjoying the process and the progress. Build daily actions up and keep maintaining the daily momentum as a priority. If you lose momentum, brush it off, you’re human… Just get back up by starting as small as you need to, and work yourself back up again one task at a time.
9. Walking outside for a bit helps me clear my head and get the motivation chemicals going in my brain like dopamine, serotonin, etc. Speed walk or start jogging to get the heart pumping and gain even more of those motivation chemicals! The motivation lasts for hours after a short jog.
10. I’ve also noticed that removing internal and external distractions keeps me more focused on my goal. Removing external distractions requires changing your environment, removing unwanted apps, noises, etc… but to remove internal distractions I learned that I needed to listen to my emotions and write all my thoughts down so my brain was more empty than full. If it’s something that needed to get done, I’d put it on my calendar. This reduces anxiety and keeps you focused.
11. Moving all my tasks to the calendar has completely changed my life! I used to put tasks on a todo list and the list would quickly get bloated, old, distracting and scary. This created more anxiety, as the list kept growing more and more out of control. Eventually I built these 4 habits that fixed all my task and scheduling problems:
- I decided I was not allowed to eat breakfast until I looked at my calendar for the day. Why? I finally had enough one day when I missed an appointment with an important client. I figured out what went wrong: I didn’t have any idea what my day looked like because I didn’t review it first thing in the morning. This lead to habit #1: I would forever after make sure I reviewed my day before breakfast. I made sure I had the highest priority tasks scheduled during my work block. This solved the problem of going through the work day not knowing what I needed to do, and made sure I was ready for my team & client appointments. This also lead me to getting more things done that were scheduled, which boosted my feelings of “self efficacy” and made me motivated to do more.
- At the end of the day, I would review how my day went, and score my consistency level (from 0-10). How well did my actions match the tasks in my calendar? I would try to figure out what went wrong and see if I could make a 1% improvement for tomorrow. The aim is to make my actions 0.1% – 1% more consistent (on average) with my plans each day. This is sort of like a fun game to work on and compounds into enormous productivity gains over 6 months!
- Next I would reschedule any new or unfinished tasks for tomorrow. This was usually just a quick drag & drop in Google Calendar. I made sure I was ready with all the important tasks for the morning. For tasks that were no longer relevant, I would just delete them. This made my calendar clean and organized.
- I also built 4 main blocks of time into each day that made my life easier: Morning routine, Work routine, Relax Routine, Sleep Routine. Adding the “Relax” & “Sleep” routine to my schedule made it easier to wind down and get a good sleep. Maybe it’s because I felt like I had “permission” to unwind and get a good sleep, or maybe it became clearer and more important. The good sleep directly caused a great morning routine, which directly caused my work routine to go extremely well. This translated to high productivity. So for me success starts with the “Relax Routine” happening on time no matter what at 5:30pm.
12. If a distraction or temptation comes along to throw me off my goal, I found that resisting it and ignoring it amplified its power, but putting it off and procrastinating it for 10 minutes tricked it somehow. It stopped bothering me, and usually drained its power enough over time to prevent it from taking me off course.
13. Some temptations are so big and enticing that they can easily derail us from our goals. So what can we do about it? Here’s the thing … I started to realize that my temptations were kind of like false advertising. They promised a lot, but were not painting an accurate picture of reality, leading me to disappointment. For example, I might be worried about a client project, so at the end of the day I would feel tempted to watch a new show on Netflix. It sounds enticing, so I go binge watch it on Netflix. But 3 hours later, did I really feel any better? The truth is, I felt worse. We’re doing things like this all the time. We follow our temptations because they promise us happiness, but we fail to recognize that they don’t really satisfy us. They don’t help us get closer to what we really want out of life. Rather than beat ourselves up over this “failure” and promise ourselves to do better, it’s important to pause and pay attention to the real cause: My brain’s reward system misfired. It promised me bliss, but it lied to me, and lead me to a disappointment instead. In these moments of disappointment I learned to update my brain by asking myself: “Is this what I really wanted? Can I trust this kind of temptation in the future?” The next time my brain tempted me, I would remember that this exact temptation lied to me before, and can’t be trusted. Some healthy skepticism towards our desires is useful, and will help us stay on track!
14. I also trained my brain to reduce overall distractions and to stay focused by meditating each morning. During meditation my goal is to try observing the sensations in the body, the breath and the thoughts. The point is to be an observer and not get lost. If you get lost in your thoughts, then catch yourself as early as possible each time and focus back on the breath and body. Become the observer of the thoughts, not the thinker of the thoughts. Don’t judge yourself, just watch the thoughts as they come and then let the thoughts go on their own. This training improved my focus and self control. I still do this and have made meditation a part of my daily routine.
15. I built a morning routine to help me automate a lot of actions without exhausting my willpower. This helped a lot because I’m not a morning person. How did I build my morning routine? Repeated training helped a lot. For example I started doing my morning routine 10X per day to make my morning routine stick. My morning routine became more automated over time, freeing up mental resources for more important tasks like working on my goals.
16. Asking myself questions seemed to tap into my unconscious wants and desires, giving me more willpower so I could function optimally. I ask questions like “what do I really want?”. “what can I work on next to reach my goal?” or “will I get my most important task done?” Somehow these questions made a part of me spring to life, ready to take action.
17. I also noticed I am weaker when I try to “control” or “fight off” my thoughts and emotions. I learned to work WITH my emotions rather than AGAINST them. I became much more capable when I learned to accept my thoughts and emotions as they are. I don’t fight them as much anymore, but that doesn’t mean they control me. I don’t agree with everything my mind comes up with. I realized I don’t have to believe or act on my thoughts and emotions. I can act in spite of them via visual/kinesthetic expectation. I can simply think about what my body is going to do next, and just do it, no emotion needed. It’s not “fun” this way, but it’s not “negative” either. It’s just “movement of the body”, and it’s enough to get started which usually brings emotions and momentum along afterwards. It gets the work done when your thoughts and emotions are not cooperating with your big goal. I used to think I needed my emotions to fall into line first, but I think it might be the opposite: actions first, emotions second.
18. I also found procrastination was stopping me from achieving my goals. I found out that procrastination was just an avoidance response, so when I feel like procrastinating, I ask “What am I afraid of? What am I avoiding?” Once I get clear on that, I realize my procrastination is usually just plain old anxiety stopping me. And luckily anxiety is my new super power.
19. I finally learned that anxiety and stress are just a form of energy (or fuel) for the body. Depending on how we judge it, we can make stress work for us or against us. I found a way to turn anxiety into courage and put it to work for me. Anxiety used to bring me down into a state of despair because I interpreted it to mean “I’m not capable” but I found out I could interpret it in a positive way that powered me up. It starts by acknowledging the anxiety and focusing on its effect in my body. I welcome the anxiety as evidence I must care about something. So I ask myself “What is it that I care about?” This helps me focus my mind on the goal, so I can get ready to charge towards it. In this moment of anxiety I next pay attention to my body and notice that my body is actually getting stronger, not weaker. I’m getting excited, my heart is pumping faster and sending more oxygen to my brain, and sending more adrenaline into my system, giving me the energy I need to face the challenge with courage. Then I smile and use that energy to take action towards my goal immediately.
20. One day I noticed that I was exhausted and couldn’t get anything done, but SOMEHOW I was still able to help others … strange right? I didn’t know what I had tapped into at the time, but later I found out that the brain’s reward system releases dopamine when “caring for others”. This dopamine can be used for motivation and courage. Later I started realizing I could hack the brain’s motivation system with this knowledge. So if you need to get something done, just think about the people you care about while performing the actions. For me: “I’m doing this for my kids!!” is a great way to boost motivation! 🙂 This also has a bunch of other great side effects such as lifting your mood, and increasing your sense of purpose and meaning. Selfishness has the opposite effect … who knew!?
21. I also found that if I can remember my why (the thing I really want) and visualize it more clearly so that my long term goals are right in front of me, then I’ll tap into more willpower and energy to act on my goal. This doesn’t mean daydreaming about what you want, and doing nothing. Lots of new age gurus talk about this, but that doesn’t work for me at all. Daydreaming is an escape. Instead use contrast: Look at what you want and then look at what is getting in the way of obtaining it. Then focus on removing the obstacle so you can turn your dreams into reality. If you need a quick boost of motivation just ask yourself: “Why am I doing this? I’m doing this because I care about _____”
22. I found that being self critical and shameful is useless because it drains motivation. Instead, it’s more useful and motivating to see yourself as human: “it’s ok to make a mistake, I’m human just like everyone else!”. Forgiving yourself somehow makes you more motivated, not less. This was so counterintuitive to me that it took a long time for me to accept this fact. But it’s true. Basically being overly critical creates guilt and pain that makes the action less motivating in the future. So err on the side of love and forgive yourself. When you are sitting in the forgiveness mindset, you have more motivation, discipline and a clearer perspective. This makes it easy to see what caused the mistake to begin with, so you can make corrections.
23. Taking care of your body via exercise, sleep and eating better can increase your willpower easily. For me, not getting enough sleep will deplete willpower and focus the fastest. So now I prioritize sleep like I prioritize breathing oxygen.
24. I also found that difficult tasks can be made more fun by looking for the joy in it. We can even pair unpleasant tasks with something more rewarding, just like a good marketer would do. Promise yourself rewards for doing the difficult tasks, and make it more pleasant with music, movies, popcorn, chocolate, celebrate with a night out, go on vacations, etc. I saw one guy outlast everyone else in the group on a super painful endurance task that had to be repeated daily for months — how did he do it? By doing the painful task while watching his favorite movie. So add a reward.
25. I found out that people who had the highest endurance towards their goals relied more heavily on pride. Once I learned this, I started being more consciously proud of my efforts and this began to create a positive cycle of motivation for me. So don’t forget to pat yourself on the back. Be proud of your effort, rather than filled with shame, negativity or indifference. With pride, you can turn the pain of difficult actions into triumph that endures as part of the identity you forge.
26. Getting an accountability partner or coach. This sounds like a cheat, I know, but it really works. Having an accountability buddy that you follow up with daily can keep you on track with your goals. It’s probably best if it’s not a family member, but that’s just me.
27. Reciting your values increases your willpower whenever you need it. It’s sort of like reaffirming who you are — that sense of pride! — while activating a team of people cheering for you, turning you into your best self.
How do values work? Your most inspiring values are a part of your authentic identity. Your identity has motivation built in because its job is to create a stable sense of self. Your identity is made of values and strengths that are built up over time by your past actions and experiences. Your identity will defend who you are with your life, for example:
- If someone offends your mother, religion, tribe or family, you’ll likely feel the pain that motivates you to defend your identity or your tribe.
- If you try doing something “way out of character”, you’ll often feel something “awkward” that pulls you back into being your authentic self.
- Some people would rather suffer tremendous hardship than admit any kind of defeat.
This is all due to the power of your identity (the ego)!
So whenever you want to tap into the motivation that comes from your identity, just reaffirm your authentic strengths and values by saying something like “I’m honest with others ” or “I am patient”. Or be more specific like “I enjoy helping my family and clients”.
Your values are likely shared by others in your tribe. So when you activate your values you feel aligned with the group, and feel accepted by others. You belong and matter here. This connects you to your tribe and higher purpose. This in turn activates a number of brain systems connected with self-worth, energy, motivation, courage, focus, attention, learning, caring and serving others. It is very recharging, motivating and inspiring.
28. My inner rebel kept doing the exact opposite of what I asked it to do. I found myself resisting calendars, alarms, plans … everything. Everything I was supposed to do had a huge backfire effect.
So I tried an experiment: I told myself I should stop working for a month. I knew I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills, so it triggered a panic response and I heard myself say: “No! You’re not going to stop me from working!!!” and I felt a huge surge of motivation to get to work! Wow… I figured it out. My inner rebel was motivated against things it “should” do because it was standing up for something bigger than a “should”. The rebellion was caused by the feeling that the “Should” side of my brain was bossing around the “Want” side of my brain too much. So all I had to do was use reverse psychology using the word “Should”… ie. “You should stop working for 1 month!” and I could control my inner rebel. Although this worked, I later found out that I didn’t need to use reverse psychology that much to stay motivated. All I really needed was to listen to my long term desires and remember my BIG WHY.
In the long term I found that persistence and consistency slowly “broke” my inner rebel — in a good way. At first it was painful, like I was torturing myself, FORCING it to do boring, mundane, terrible things that I hated … stuff called “work”. Then I decided to interpret this mundane outside force differently. It was aligned with my long term goals and coming from me after all wasn’t it? So really this pain was just “growing pains”. This pain was a good sign that I was moving towards something new and better. I was building a new me. And it worked.
Eventually a new identity emerged: “My consistent self”.
It was something I worked hard for, something I was proud of, and now it was precious to me! And like a new baby I was going to defend “my consistent self” with my life! It’s still important to schedule fun spontaneous things, and find the fun in everything I do, but I don’t do it at the expense of my long term goals. And I will never consciously try to harm “my consistent self”, no way!
29. I also realized that my energy levels were higher in the evenings. I guess I’ve always known that I’m not great a morning person, but for some reason I always fought myself over this and tried to become a “normal” morning person. I never thought to put my nature to work for me. Everyone is different, but basically if you track your effort and productivity hour by hour for 5 days you’ll start to see a pattern… Put this knowledge to work for you! Work on the most important tasks when you are at your peak energy state each day.
30. Reaching your long term goals is about prioritizing them over your short term or impulsive goals. And it turns out we are more likely to do the long term tasks if we care more about our future self. I found that building more rapport with my future self helped me channel my natural caring energy into a long term goal to help this person. You can do this by texting or emailing your future self. Or you can try visualizing your future self. Put yourself in your future self’s mind, and try feeling what it feels like to be “me in the future”. Get as detailed as you can. Who are your friends? Where do you live? What are your activities? Your clothing? What colors do you see? What emotions do you feel in the future? There may be things blocking you from bonding with yourself. For example if you don’t have a positive picture of yourself in the future, or if you are scared of “aging” then you may have a blind spot that is keeping you from bonding with your future self, which may keep you stuck in an impulsive, temptation driven mindset. Try to see aging as a process that makes you happier, wiser and more capable. Reconnect and bond with your future self. See your life from a 10,000 foot perspective. Imagine walking, but each step is a year instead of a few inches. This is your life, and you need to see the long term perspective more clearly so you can prioritize your actions better. Your future self is awesome and is depending on your actions today!
Whenever you are lost, review this list. You will probably find the answers are in there.
After solving these problems, I was able to scale my business to over $42k per month.
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I ran my own successful agency since 2007, helping my clients earn $161M. I started mentoring other agencies fulltime in 2018, and would love to be your ally and friend to help you reach your goals!
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