Successful Habit Formation = (Motivation + Repeatable Action)
We all set goals for ourselves. Now, whether we reach our goals is a totally different story. A big reason why people don’t reach their goals is because (1) they are not motivated enough to take action, and (2) their motivation diminishes after a period of time, before they have a chance to build up strong habits.
In this post, I’ll show you how to hit your goals independent of motivation by building lasting habits.
Motivation Drives Our Actions
Motivation is the desire to do something. It helps us set goals and trigger actions that bring us closer to our goals.
Anything can motivate us. A young man could be motivated to go to the gym by the desire of attracting women. A student may be motivated to work hard in school by the opportunity to get into a great university.
Motivation is the fundamental force that drives our actions. As such, we place it on a pedestal.
A person who is highly motivated is considered to be ambitious and hard-working.
A person with little motivation is seen as lazy and complacent.
So then having motivation is all you need then to be successful, right?
Motivation is Unreliable and Fickle
Unfortunately, the answer is “no”. Motivation is unreliable. In fact, motivation is just a buzz word.
Yeah, I said it. And I’ll say it again.
MOTIVATION IS A BUZZ WORD!
Why do I say that? Because motivation and inspiration are fleeting emotions that come and go.
When your motivation is triggered by something, you get pumped to take action. But before long, your motivational fuel runs out and you need another fix.
Most people get really motivated to do something at first. Then over time, their motivation diminishesas they revert back to their old ways. Their motivation levels may fluctuate slightly over time, but it will be much less than it was in the beginning.
So what’s the solution here?
Motivations Coupled with Repeatable Action Build Lasting Habits
The solution is to couple motivation with actionable steps. In other words, to build lasting habits. The more you repeat an action, the easier it gets, until it finally becomes a habit.
Habits remove your reliance on motivation to take action.
Successful People Have Strong Habits
When we think of success, we tend to think of the end result: the fame and the fortune. We forget that these are simply the by-products of success, not the essential components.
So how does one become successful?
Robert Collier, an American self-help author from the early 20th century, attributes success to building strong habits. He writes:
“Successful people aren’t born that way. They become successful by establishing the habit of doing things unsuccessful people don’t like to do. The successful people don’t always like these things themselves; they just get on and do them.”
Many research studies have found that high-achieving individuals share similar habits. This LifeHack article examines just a few of the habits of successful individuals (Read: This is What the Schedules of Successful People Look Like).
I encourage you to incorporate some of these habits into your own life. Below, I will share with you how to go about building lasting habits that are there to stay.
Build Lasting Habits That Are There To Stay
There are two steps to build lasting habits:
- Establishing repeatable actions.
- Removing the opportunity to opt out*
The second point is particularly important. If you give yourself a chance to say yes or no, you are only relying on motivation to get you over the hump.
I will illustrate this step with a personal example. In January 2015, I resolved to wake up early and exercise 4–5 times a week to be more healthy (Learn More: Prioritize Yourself by Waking Up Early)
Establishing Repeatable Actions
To accomplish my goal, I decided to sign up for morning fitness classes at my gym. The classes started at 6:30am, so I had to wake up early.
My repeatable actions were then:
- Sleep by midnight the night before
- Wake up at 5:45am
- Leave home by 6:00am to walk to the gym
Giving Myself a Chance to Opt Out
With these three repeatable actions in mind, I decided to give this a shot.
The first week was difficult. I did not want to wake up at all. I set my alarm for 5:30am so that I could spend 15 extra minutes rolling around in bed. Afterwards I would muster all the motivation I had to get out of bed.
To my surprise, I was able to go to the gym on all my scheduled days that week.
As the second week came by, my motivation was beginning to wane. The 15 minutes rolling in bed became 20 and then 25 minutes.
Halfway through the week I ended up missing my first class.
I thought that missing my first class was just a minor blip. Mistakes happen sometimes and so I didn’t think much of it. I just kept with my morning routine.
But my motivation began to fluctuate. Some days I could wake up easily, and other days I just couldn’t.
I began to miss more and more classes. Something was wrong.
Identifying the “Opt-Out” Point
I realized that the 15 minute period I gave myself to wake up was the problem. That period of time was when I made the conscious choice to stay in bed or to wake up.
That period of time was the “opt-out” point.
But what if I didn’t give myself the chance to make the choice? What if there was no opt-out point?
Removing the “Opt-Out” Point
With that in mind, I modified my routine. I did most of my preparation work the previous evening.
Before I slept:
- Pack my gym bag
- Prepare my clothes for the next day
- Set alarm for 6am
- Sleep by midnight
Wake up at 6am and immediately leave for the gym
This meant that the decision to leave home was made the previous evening. Waking up and going to the gym was just the final steps of an already-triggered process.
My morning routine was now straightforward. I didn’t have any more trouble attending my classes. I also didn’t care how I felt or how motivated I was in the morning. It wasn’t about motivation anymore, it was about executing the game plan.
Removing Motivation from the Equation
I removed the opt-out point by removing motivation from the equation. I did this by:
- Doing prep work the evening before — this reduced the number of steps I had to do in the morning.
- I gave myself less time to make it to the gym — the artificial time crunch gave me urgency to get out of bed quickly.
Motivation was what got me to decide to wake up early and exercise. Once that decision was made, my day-to-day motivation levels shouldn’t be part of the equation.
Here’s are some questions to ask yourself so you can identify the opt-out point and to remove motivation from the equation:
- What are the moments in which you decide NOT to do something you originally set out to do?
- How can you bypass those moments? Is this something you can prepare for beforehand?
Habits are the Foundations of Long-Term Success
When you become motivated to make a change in your life, use that motivation to think of actionable steps. Once you have those steps in mind, just do it. Take action. When you decide to do something and continue to do it over a period of time, you will build a lasting habit.
Motivation gets you started, HABITS keep you going.
Habits Represent Continual Improvement
The most successful people have strong habits that make up who they are. Habits represent continual improvement, or a long-term investment on yourself.
Take dieting for example. Don’t be the person who goes on a short-term diet to lose weight in time for summer. These types of people are the same people who gain the weight back over winter and have to do it all over again. In the long-run, these people waste a lot of time.
Resolve to make permanent improvements in your life through good habits
Take, for example, a person who decides to eat healthier from now on. The person slowly modifies his or her existing diet to be more nutritious and wholesome. The process takes quite some time and requires a lot of trial and error through the steps we described above. But the lessons last a lifetime and have huge implications on this person’s long-term health. On top of that, this person is beach-ready all year round.
What are You Waiting For?
Think about some of the goals you have. What motivates you? How you can achieve your goals by building lasting habits?
If you need a burst of inspiration, read my articles:
Victor runs The Remote Lifestyle (http://theremotelifestyle.com), where he teaches you step-by-step how you can become a successful digital nomad.