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The Most Ignored Strategy For Staying Motivated

Are you trying to make positive changes in your life?  When we want to do something differently, say, to stop smoking, curb our temper or exercise more frequently, we often start with enthusiasm.  But habits are hard to change. After an initial burst of energy, it’s easy to fall back into old patterns of behavior.

What we too frequently ignore when we try to make changes is what is happening around us that either enhances motivation or encourages us to slip back into the status quo.

When you are trying to make changes, what happens as soon as you act in a particular way has an impact on whether you will stick it out.  Say, for example, you’d like to exercise more often.  We all know the long-term benefits of exercise, but what happens as soon as you make the decision to exercise? 

Do you have to pull yourself away from the TV or out of bed?  Do you think about what you’re missing by exercising (lunch with friends or quiet time to yourself in the evening)? Does someone in your life encourage you to skip it, just this once?

Or do you imagine some much needed quiet time for yourself as you exercise? Or think about how you will feel less stressed after a quick jog?  Or do you have a friend encouraging you and suggesting that exercise would be a fun way to spend time together?

To stay motivated, it’s essential to pay attention to the thoughts that happen at the same time you’re trying to make changes.  If exercising more often is paired in your mind with missing relaxing time in front of the TV, you’ll likely lose your enthusiasm for exercising.  On the other hand, if exercising means you get a much needed break and some time with a friend, you’re much more likely to stick with it.

It’s not necessary to allow chance to determine whether or not you stay motivated. If you want to achieve your goal, you can actively seek out ways to pair positives with steps towards it.

You’re more likely to repeat an action when something positive occurs with it.  Pay raises, promotions and bonuses are positives that make it more likely for employees to do good work.  There are also natural rewards that help keep us motivated, for example, feeling a sense of pride in achieving a difficult goal.

People have a tremendous effect on whether we stay motivated.  A smile, “good job!” or validation of your efforts will go a long way towards keeping you going when you’re spirits are lagging.

Try this:

If you’ve got a specific goal you’re trying to achieve or a change you’re trying to make, consider making a list of the positives that you could pair with actions toward your goal.  Can you call a supportive friend when you resist the urge to go for a smoke break, or can you focus in on the feelings of pride and accomplishment when you control your temper and resolve a conflict assertively?

Ask yourself how you can make a conscious effort to arrange for positives to support the changes you want to make. Too often we leave our motivation to chance or become self-critical and resigned to staying the same.

You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

Target photo available from Shutterstock.

The Most Ignored Strategy For Staying Motivated

Christy Matta, MA

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APA Reference
Matta, C. (2012). The Most Ignored Strategy For Staying Motivated. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 May 2012
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