To motivate or not to motivate — the best strategy to achieve your long term goals may not be what you think….

How do I continue to do something that I started and loved?

Because you relay on motivation to carry you through and motivation fluctuates.

So if you rely on motivation to achieve your long term goals, you are likely to either dump the whole thing at some point or go through never-ending cycles of trying to motivate yourself and losing it, and trying to motivate yourself again.

Motivating yourself to achieve your goals is a very inefficient and quite ineffective strategy.

Stop wasting your energy and your time.

So what to do instead?

Many people have already told you about the power of willpower and self-discipline. Which is great if you have it in abundance.

But many of us don’t. Plus, it appears that self-control is a bit of a myth and loses its effectiveness further down the line.

So what’s left? Darkness and despair?

Nah, there is still hope for people with poor self-control — environmental design.

If I set myself a long term goal, like learning a new skill, writing a book, I design a system that will get me to my goal.

I use the initial motivation for a goal to design a motivation- and willpower-independent, system using behavioural economic/psychology tricks and an honest understanding of my own weaknesses, as well as the constraints and limitations of my personal, social and physical environment.

Here is more about my system:

  1. I find a cue in the environment.
  2. I find a cue in the environment I’m supposed to perform the behaviour I want to perform, e.g. I go for a run on days when I need to wash my hair. If my hair looks like it needs washing — it’s the run day.I also put my running gear first thing int he morning on days when I run.
  3. I’ve heard of people who put their running/sport shoes by their bed or in the entrance to their bedrooms, so that these shoes are the first thing the person trips over when getting out of bed — and she/he knows — it’s the workout day
  4. I clear my environment of temptations as much as I can.I want to limit how much crap food I eat — I don’t buy crap food. I want to avoid distractions from social media — I turn off all the notifications etc.
  5. Research proves that humans are very bad at estimating how well we will cope with temptations. It’s called cold-hot empathy gap, nicely summarised by Beimeister ‘It’s really easy to agree to a diet if you’re not hungry’
  6. I make my Desired Behaviour the default option.This is the extreme approach to Temptation elimination. I create situations where there is just no other option, but the Desired Behaviour.On the running day (remember: greasy hair in the bathroom mirror first thing in the morning), I’ve got my running gear already on, so all I can do is to go for a run.
  7. I want to snack on fruit — I only have fruit to snack on. I want to write when I sit to write, I arrange my workspace in the way that all I can do is write.
  8. I assume there will be temptations, no matter how much I try to clear my environment off them. So I introduce extra Decision Points for my Desired Behaviours, in case I was to steer off the chosen path following temptation.In a nutshell, I make it harder for myself not to do what you want to do. When I sit down to write (e.g. working on a post or book), I ‘chain myself to the desk’ that is sit in a way where I’m stuck behind a big table, in a corner, with another chair and a fiddly curtain blocking my way out. Even if I do get up to wander off, the time and effort required for me to get away from my writing space is enough for me to pause and rethink. More often than not, I just return to writing.
  9. Here is more about my system: Hack Your Habits The Smart Way
    And even more in my new book
    Hack Your Habits.
  10. I have written about similar issues before:
  11. Joanna Jast’s answer to What is the secret to self discipline?
  12. Joanna Jast’s answer to How do I create a new habit, for example exercising, studying a lot, and eating well?
    Joanna Jast’s answer to How can I keep myself motivated despite hard times?I hope it helps
  13. Joanna

Originally published at www.quora.com.