01/13/2012 08:28 am ET | Updated Mar 14, 2012

10 Techniques to Increase Motivation and Willpower

For many of us, the New Year represents a time to reflect upon and resolve to follow through with healthy changes we want (and need) to make. In the beginning, keeping up with a new exercise or eating plan, for example, generally comes pretty easily. Motivation and willpower are high -- quite evident by the packed gyms we see every January. But after a few weeks, motivation tends to lag and willpower runs dry, and we revert to our former, less-healthy ways. For most people, it's not intuitively obvious what to do to preserve our resolutions and reach our goals, but cognitive behavior therapy (a form of psychotherapy that targets maladaptive and unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviors) can help boost our ability to stay on track (and get back on track when we lapse).

This blog will be the first in a series designed to teach you specific cognitive (thinking) and behavioral skills that will help you increase your motivation and willpower whenever it begins to lag. I will use dieting and healthy eating (and weight loss maintenance) as the major example, but the techniques I will describe may be applied to other goals as well: sticking to a budget, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption and becoming organized, to name a few common ones. Below you will find a list of essential skills. I will describe how to implement them throughout this series.

Techniques to increase motivation:

  1. Develop a reasonable goal and a reasonable plan.

  • Create a list of reasons why it's important to you to reach your goal, and read this list (even when you don't feel like it) every morning and whenever when you're tempted to deviate from your plan.
  • Give yourself credit whenever you engage in behaviors designed to help you reach your goal or avoid behaviors that would steer you away from your goal.
  • Set up a plan to be accountable (to yourself or to another person or group).
  • Respond to sabotaging thinking.
  • Identify obstacles and problem solve in advance.
  • Prepare for feelings of discouragement, disappointment and deprivation.
  • Decide on how you will reward yourself when you reach sub-goals.
  • Focus on the experiences you deem "worth it."
  • Get back to basics when you get off track.
  • It is important to learn these skills so you'll be more easily able to boost your motivation and willpower when the initial steam and novelty inevitably wear off and the going gets tough.

    For more by Judith S. Beck, Ph.D., click here.

    For more on success and motivation, click here.

    J. Beck. (2007). The Beck Diet Solution: Train Your Brain to Think Like a Thin Person. Birmingham, AL: Oxmoor House.

    J. Beck. (2008). The Complete Beck Diet for Life. Birmingham, AL: Oxmoor House