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How to Get (and Stay) Motivated

Have you ever wondered why change is so hard? Why do we struggle to close the gap between where we are, and where we want to be?

Let’s say you want to lose weight. Your thought process may unfold something like this: I need to lose twenty pounds. Oh no, summer is coming soon. That means I have to lose at least two pounds per week. Can I do that? Do I even have time? No, I don’t think I can. This isn’t going to work.

Okay, let’s hit the pause button. Do you see what’s happening here?

As we start to think about a goal we want to accomplish, we tend to jump ten steps ahead. We feel overwhelmed so we shut down and do nothing. Then to make matters worse, we beat ourselves up for procrastinating.

But here’s what’s interesting: procrastination is, in fact, our brain’s coping mechanism for stress. Contrary to popular belief, it does not reflect our attitude or work ethic; it doesn’t mean we’re lazy or incompetent. When we procrastinate, it simply means we’re stressed.

The human brain is designed to protect us and magnify risk to pull us away from a perceived problem. Our brains stop us from doing things that could hurt us – things that we perceive as scary or difficult.

If you’re struggling to achieve a goal, here are four steps you can take to get (and stay) motivated:

  1. Take action now

The moment you hesitate, a stress signal is sent to your brain. You have a small window to move from idea to action before your brain kicks into full gear and sabotages any change in behavior.

Many of us buy into the false idea that we have to feel ready in order to change. We think to ourselves: At some point I will have the courage. At some point I will have the confidence. This is not true. The truth is, you will never feel ready.

“The fact is that in most cases action precedes motivation – that is, once action has been initiated motivation tends to gather momentum and it becomes increasingly easy to continue what has been started,” says Psychologist Clifford N Lazarus, Ph.D.

In other words, don’t wait to become motivated to take action. Take action, and you will become motivated.

  1. Start with something simple

Once you get started, the momentum will begin to build. This is the part where your brain starts to help you. Unfinished tasks are more likely to get stuck in your memory, a psychological principle known as the Zeigarnik effect.

“What the Zeigarnik effect teaches is that one weapon for beating procrastination is starting somewhere…anywhere,” PsyBlog reports. “Don’t start with the hardest bit, try something easy first. If you can just get under way with any part of a project, then the rest will tend to follow. Once you’ve made a start, however trivial, there’s something drawing you on to the end.”

  1. Set achievable goals and enjoy the small victories

The key ingredient to achieving a big goal is momentum. How do you build momentum? By making progress. To do this, you need to set small realistic goals – and as you achieve each goal, this will build your confidence and give you the motivation to keep moving forward.

Lewis Howes, entrepreneur and New York Times bestselling author, breaks down the process in his “Goal Setting 101” list:

  1. Review all of the goals you’ve set in the past, but did not accomplish.
  2.     Identify ONE goal from that list that you’d still like to accomplish
  3.     Boil it down to a smaller goal – one that you can accomplish in three to seven days
  4.     Take action and complete it
  5.     Pick another small goal
  6.     Get it done
  7.     Do this until you’ve got three to five completed goals under your belt.  Each of which is a little bigger than the one before it
  8.     Go after your big goal


  1. Stay focused on your progress, not the outcome

At some point, you will come to a crossroads when you can choose to either allow the challenge to hold you back or use it to propel you forward. Remember how far you’ve come and how hard you’ve worked. Don’t dwell on your mistakes – learn what you need to learn, and then let it go.

Most importantly, embrace the journey. Don’t wait until you’ve accomplished your goal to be proud of yourself. Celebrate every step you take along the way.

With Lewis Howes at his book launch for “The School of Greatness.”
How to Get (and Stay) Motivated

Kaitlin Vogel

From covering health and wellness content to neuroscience to relationships and dating advice, I’m committed to creating content that matters. My goal is for readers to walk away feeling empowered and motivated – whether it’s to pursue their dream job, strengthen the connection with their partner, or follow mindfulness strategies to relieve stress and anxiety.

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APA Reference
Vogel, K. (2018). How to Get (and Stay) Motivated. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2018
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