How to create motivation to move forwards on your goals

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How do you motivate yourself to take action towards your goals when you feel completely stuck and unmotivated?

Have you identified goals or things you’d like to achieve – such as a project you need to complete, an initiative you’d love to get off the ground, or you want to lose weight, or start and maintain an exercise regime – but you can’t seem to move forwards on them?

You are not alone. I’ve felt all of these situations at one time or another and it can be quite draining and frustrating when you know you want to achieve something but you can’t make yourself take the steps that are needed to get you there.

But there is an approach that has worked incredibly well for me which I’ll describe in this blog. 

Connecting to the ‘why’ of your goals

For many of us, we can come up with goals or objectives in life. But I believe you really need to connect powerfully to the ‘why’ of those goals. Why do you truly want to achieve that and what impact do you want it to have on your life? You can then intensify that vision of what achieving the goal will give you. These two powerful ‘tricks’ sound simple and it might be easy to gloss over them, but don’t! I know from recent experience that they can really kickstart the motivation you so badly need to move forwards.

Let me give you an example and then I’ll explain the method used to connect to the ‘why’ that could help you kickstart your own progress towards your goals.

My sheer laziness and huge resistance to any activity

I could not, for the life of me, motivate myself to exercise. I had previously gone through a pretty fit phase in my mid-30s, but when I found out I was expecting my third child, it all stopped.

When that adorable little third child turned three, however, it dawned on me that this was no longer a reasonable excuse for my complete lack of activity.

I spent all day hunched over my computer and all evening on the sofa. I knew this was a horribly unhealthy way to be. But I made lots of excuses: I just couldn’t possibly find time to exercise, not even getting out the door for a 20 minute walk; I had a knee injury a while back so couldn’t possibly run anymore; it’s too hilly where I now live so cycling is too hard; I’m not the kind of person that would stick to going to the gym; exercising is boring, and so on.

Whenever I thought about taking action and making a change, my mind very effectively protected me from any potential unpleasantness and reassured me that I’d be more comfortable and better off staying where I was.

But the result of this inactivity was that when I looked in the mirror I was unhappy at my shape, my complexion, and the puffiness around my face. I wasn’t terribly overweight but I wasn’t healthy or in good shape either.

Finally I decided it was time to sort it out.

For me, having external help is something that had worked for me in the past.  So I decided it was time to visit my NLP-trained life coach Tommy Gentleman (who you can read about in this blog too). I sat there and owned up to the fact that I was completely lazy and couldn’t be bothered to motivate myself to do any activity, but that I wanted this to change.

He then ran through a simple but powerful exercise that completely changed my motivation which I describe below so you can do the same.

How to connect to your ‘why’

Make sure you have enough time (15 minutes) to invest in this in peace with no interruptions. On a plain sheet of paper draw a table (as in the example you can see below).

NLP technique for motivation blank

Close your eyes and really invest in visualising the following scenarios.

Scenario 1: The Status Quo
You carry on as you are now with no activity (or eating the same way as you’re eating now, or taking no action towards your goal).

One-year horizon: Think deeply about how you feel one year from now. How are you spending your days? See what you’d see, and hear what you’d hear (basically engage as many of your senses as you can).

Once you’ve visualised as clearly as you can, think of a single word that sums up your feeling. Write that word on your sheet of paper.

My thoughts: Feeling frumpy, unenergised, lacking motivation but still working hard at my desk.
My single word: Lethargic

Five-year horizon: Fast forward five years, what’s the situation now? How are you spending your days? What’s happening with your family, your environment, your work, your own body and health?

My thoughts: Starting to feel older than I should at 45, overweight, miserable, heaving myself around and squeezing into my car, feeling somewhat embarrassed by my appearance and concerned about my health.
My single word: Miserable

20-year horizon: Fast forward and think about where your life is 20 years from now?  Visualise yourself and how you feel physically and mentally, and hear and see interactions with your family and friends. This was the big one for me!

My thoughts: I could see myself as a grandparent with grandkids running around and me saying “I can’t play with you, I’m too tired”. I saw myself collapsing on the sofa and falling asleep – missing those precious moments with my family, which is the most important thing to me. I imagined the reactions of my children rolling their eyes and feeling fed up that I wasn’t engaging. And my grandkids finding me boring. I then saw myself hobbling to the car with a stick!
My single word: Depressed

Dramatic, perhaps. But effective. Apparently while going through the ‘staying the same’ scenario, my face was reddening and being screwed up without me even realising, and I felt very emotional and on the verge of tears. Yes, you have to be willing to be vulnerable and even embarrassed if you work with someone else on your own self-improvement!

Then move onto…

Scenario 2: Making a Change

Now you run through the same exercise across the same time span. But this time you imagine you’ve made the change and feel the impact that change has had on your life in these different time periods.

One-year horizon
My thoughts: Feeling pleased with myself and perhaps a little big smug that I’d managed to sustain a year of exercise. I felt energetic and could picture myself almost bouncing around and looking trimmer.
My single word: Energised

Five-year horizon
My thoughts: Wow! I feel good and so happy with myself. I’m in great shape. Incredibly lean, fit, wearing amazing clothes and my kids are growing up respecting their mum and feeling motivated themselves to maintain a fit lifestyle.
My single word: Thrilled

20-year horizon 
My thoughts: The same setting as in Scenario 1 – the scene with my kids and grandkids. But this time, I’m fully engaged. I’m playing with my little grandkids, rolling on the floor, lifting them up and they are giggling in delight and loving the time they spend with their grandma! And my kids feel proud at the example I’m setting them as a grandma. I feel so content and healthy and vibrant and I’m enjoying life to the full.
My single word: Vibrant

My piece of paper looked like this:

NLP technique for motivation

The Results So Far (Year 1 Report)

At the time I didn’t know how powerful the exercise I describe below could really be. But one year on and the visualisation I had about my future once I’d made a change has come true. I feel so much fitter, trimmer, very pleased with myself about the results I’ve achieved and the new lifestyle I’ve adopted, and so much more energised than I was.

The first steps of putting it into practice

Rewinding to a year ago I’ll explain the process of how I went from this fairly quick visualisation exercise to the results I’ve achieved so far…

I walked out feeling optimistic but a little scared. Would I really be able to take those first steps I needed to make this work and change years of a lazy habit?

The reality with any change is that you still have to put in the effort. I had to force myself to take those first actions of getting my gym kit on and actually doing that first half hour session on my rower and cross-trainer (from my earlier fit days), or finding a workout on youtube to follow at home, or packing my gym kit for a stay at a hotel and actually getting up to use their gym.

But the resistance to it was much less. 

I didn’t have the same arguments in my mind about all the problems or all the reasons why I shouldn’t do it; instead I felt like I was just going to do it even if I didn’t want to. Almost like I had no real choice, I just had to push myself to take those first steps. And so I did.

Those first few weeks are where the hard work lies to establish your new habit. But for me, with the resistance from my mind reduced significantly, I was able to do it.

As with any change, once you get through that initial hard part, the key is to turn it into a habit for it to be sustainable. I now have two set days I always go to the gym for certain classes now and another day I pick each week for the gym or a home workout – it’s just how my life is now, and I love it.

Add some accountability and some friends…

Two other things also helped me to build the early momentum.

The first was that I felt accountable to Tommy. He’d asked me to message him and tell him how many sessions I’d done after the first couple of weeks. This also drove me to succeed and make that first push to make it happen.

And secondly, I do think there’s also something to be said for the ‘asking the universe’ theory. Just being aware of something you want, having visualised it, I think you become more switched on to opportunities that arise that can help you move towards that goal. I was chatting with friends about my NLP session and how I’d just started exercising again when one of them said they had corporate membership of a local gym but never went. I leapt on this and we all agreed to join and go to a class together each week.

I never believed I needed to have friends around to motivate me to exercise but it really did make a difference. Whether I wanted to or not I went to that weekly Grit class because I’d committed to it with them. It then opened up so many more opportunities for different ways to exercise (including my favourite Zumba strong class) that have made it much more enjoyable for me than the cross trainer, which I find pretty boring!

How does it work?

This is very unscientific and more of a gut feeling based on all the thinking and reading I’ve done around this. But I believe that my conscious mind was firmly on the goal of getting those six workouts over the course of two weeks completed to start with, and then joining the gym and figuring out the right classes that I would enjoy enough that I’d want to go.

Meanwhile, my subconscious mind was firmly on the vision I now had for myself of being in incredible shape so that I could be a very active parent, and eventually (hopefully) grandparent that my kids would be proud of, and so that I could fully enjoy life as I get older. My subconscious mind got rid of the barriers I’d constructed and focused on supporting me to achieve the positive vision I had put in place.

Intensifying the vision

You can do more work on the positive visualisations of your future (see some examples of how to do this from my review of the NLP weekend I went to here). But I didn’t know about this at the time, so it worked with the exercise described above.

One final thought: A lifestyle choice will help you overcome obstacles

In the past, I may have been motivated enough to start a new goal, but in my mind I always felt that there would be something that would knock me off track and then it would be over. I wasn’t capable of sustaining long-term change.

I was wrong. This kind of thinking isn’t true for any of us. But it may be a very real objection you’ve created for yourself. Question it. Is that really true? But also connecting to the why gives you a bigger longer-term picture to motivate you to make this a lifestyle choice.

So when I broke my foot after about six months of my newfound love of exercise, I was gutted. My most immediate and most upsetting thought was that it was going to knock me off my exercise regime and I felt I was really starting to see results that were now going to be ruined.

But something had changed. Although I was worried, in the back of my mind I knew I’d be straight back to my workout routines as soon as I was able because my perspective was entirely changed.

My focus on fitness wasn’t a short term fix, it was a lifestyle decision I’d made and my broken foot was just a mere (frustrating) blip in the long-term vision I had created for my health.

As soon as I could, I made it back to the gym and my exercise classes and it didn’t take me very long at all to get back to and then surpass where I was with my fitness and results.

Using this technique on other goals

You can use this technique for other goals too. In my early planning for the next stage of my life (which resulted in The Life Reporter) I had done so much work to get to the point where I felt I’d really honed in on the direction I wanted to take it. But for some reason, I still wasn’t moving forwards on it.

I suddenly thought of this exercise and wondered if it would work for this too. So I sat down with another piece of paper with the same table on it. I visualised the different scenarios:

  1. If I just stuck with my existing business and never got my plans for The Life Reporter off the ground.
  2. What might happen if I launch The Life Reporter.

I’m happy to say that as a result of that I felt clearer about why I wanted to put in the effort it was going to take to launch something entirely new. And I immediately started writing more blogs, and getting a launch plan defined. Again, it still took a lot of work to get to the point where I could launch it, but I felt more driven to persevere through the work. I had really connected to the ‘why’ of my goal.

Let me know if there are any goals you feel stuck on, and try out this exercise and let me know how you get on in the comments below.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Samantha Fulton

    Great blog, makes a it of sense and is very thought provoking. Table is written and I’m hoping I will be able to stick to it – thank you for an inspiring post!

  • Jo Webb

    Very insightful and inspiring! Thank you for a great post!

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Progress report for the get the life you want seminarmorning routine