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4 Ways to Override Motivation and Get Stuff Done

Motivation is overrated, because the brain can rationalize any behavior. Use these scientifically backed behavioral principles and stop relying on will power to get results.
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Do you even lift bro? No matter what you bench press, no matter how good you look in your lulu lemon tights, and no matter how good your intentions are, if you don't get up and put in the work, none of the rest of it matters.

Here are four techniques that you can use when you're just not 'feeling it'.

Principle: The Five-Minute Rule

If you ever have a big task that needs to be done, but that sounds like the last thing that you would like to do, force yourself to start the task and do ONLY five minutes' worth of work. Whether that's sitting down to write a few sentences of an article you've been putting off, cleaning the room, or doing your homework. Often times all it takes is 5 minutes to get into a rhythm and find your flow.

What often happens is that after five minutes, you're so engrossed in the task that you find it easy to finish, but even if not, and you're still feeling bogged down after five minutes, get up, walk away, and try another five minutes later on.

Application: Put on the Clothes

If you're the type that gets up early to lift or run and that sounds like the farthest thing away from what you want to do on a cold morning, tell yourself that all you need to do is get out of bed, and put on your workout clothes and shoes.

It's much easier if these are already out, visible, and you don't need to go rooting around in your closet to find them. Once you're up and dressed, the temptation to go back to bed is much less.

Principle: Competition

One thing that drives type A people is the constant desire to win. However, if there's nothing on the line, or no constant reminder of competition, it's easy to let this powerful principle go to waste.

CrossFit does a great job of tapping into the competitive spirit, with record boards, and just the fact that you're working out with a group of people doing the same workout so you always know how you measure up.

Application: Make a bet

If you don't have a competitive community built into your gym, find a friend and make a bet. The bet can be something as simple as "Most times to the gym in one month", or something more intense like how many reps total with a body-weight squat, deadlift, and bench press.

One caveat is that the prize (or punishment) has to be something significant. If you're only betting a beer on your month long gym bet, that's not going to be enough to get you out of bed in the morning. However, if 500 dollars is on the line, there's a much higher incentive to hit the weights.

My friends and I once had a bet where the loser had to get a nose piercing. I lost.

Principle: Temptation Coupling

Temptation coupling is simply pairing one 'negative' stimulus, like working out, cleaning the house, or working on a big project you've been putting off, with a positive stimulus, like listening to an addictive audio book, eating a donut, or buying a new toy.

A study by Katherine Milkman, a professor at The Wharton School, showed that participants were 40% more likely to go the gym if they had a really interesting audio book to listen too while they were there. Those efforts increased to 60% if they were prohibited from listening to the audio book outside of the gym.

Application: Enjoy the gym with a good book or music

When you hit the gym, have a reward system in place. (hint: a donut isn't the best option). If you have a great new album that you want to listen too, or you're in the middle of a highly addictive book that you don't allow yourself to finish outside of the gym, that positive stimulus will be enough to push you past any initial hesitations.

If you hit the gym 10 times in 2 weeks, buy those new shoes or workout pants you want, and then only wear them when you're exercising. Anything to pair fun activity with something that you're not as thrilled to do.

Principle: Accountability

In my personal experience, clients who are accountable to me to finish their program are 4x more likely to follow through with exercise, which makes this an extremely powerful principle.

By having a coach to report back too and say you either did, or didn't finish your workout program, and ate according to the guidelines set out for you, it adds an extra layer of difficulty to making the choice to have the 3rd gin and tonic. Because we all know where that leads.


Application: Have a Plan

If you know that in a given week, there are 5 workouts that you must complete in 7 days, that reduces the need for willpower to get you to the gym, because now it's not a question of "if" you'll get the workouts done, but rather "when". This change in mentality is small, but makes a huge difference in your perception and behavior.

Even though buying a program can seem like an unnecessary cost (especially when your gym offers classes), the benefit in terms of motivation is easily worth the cost. And that doesn't even include the muscular development that you'll get from following a carefully laid out coaching program from a professional who knows and cares about you.

Go Get It!

Motivation is overrated, because the brain can rationalize any behavior. Use these scientifically backed behavioral principles and stop relying on will power to get results.