What is the single best way to stay motivated and energized every single day? How do highly successful people maintain their motivation--and continue to chase their toughest goals--through an entire year?
A reader named John recently contacted me with a similar question. He wrote, "I'm currently working in investment management, a challenging job and a competitive environment that requires extra hours. Also, studying for the CFA-an average of two to three hours a day for six months. This is doable without any doubt, but how can someone keep the same energy and motivation?"
At this time of year, you may be asking a similar question. Perhaps you're reflecting on the past year and wondering why you weren't able to stay focused on your goals from 11 months ago. Or perhaps you're planning your New Year's Resolution for 2017 and wondering how you'll stay motivated long enough to actually accomplish it.
Many Ways To Drive Motivation
They say, "success leaves clues" and I've had the opportunity to spend time with many self-made millionaires, Olympians, Marine Corps generals, Fortune 500 CEOs, Navy SEALS, Congressmen, and countless other high achievers. But before I reveal the single most effective motivation technique, let me acknowledge that there are many things that can help you drive and maintain motivation. For example:
Goal Setting & The Goldilocks Rules--goal setting is one of the most powerful psychological tools we have, but the trick is in setting the right The great thinker and writer James Clear calls this the Goldilocks Rule. If your goal is too hard, it will lose its power as you consciously or unconsciously determine it's just unrealistic. If you set your goal too low, it will also lose its power as you will assume you'll hit it no matter what. As Clear writers, "humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right."
Higher Purpose--Despite the innate power of goal setting, a longer lasting fuel for motivation is having a higher purpose. Simon Sinek has popularized the concept of knowing your "Why." It's your true purpose or belief that inspires you. Whether your motivation is to lose weight, stop smoking, get out of debt or launch a new business, ask yourself "why" you want to do that. In fact, ask several why's in a row and you might be surprised at your answer.
Accountability Partner--who can help you to keep your commitments? It's easy to break a promise to yourself, but far harder to admit your failure to a friend or colleague. Ideally, your partner is on the journey with you. Perhaps a running buddy who meets you in the park at 6:00 AM, or a fellow writer who tracks her daily word counts. But even an "independent observer" can sway your behavior. I have my assistant ask daily, "Did you work out? How many clean meals did you eat? How many hours did you write? How many thank you notes did you send out?" She actually tracks my data on an Excel spreadsheet and shares back the results and trends each month.
The #1 Way To Stay Motivated
While there are many great tools to drive and maintain motivation, one is more important than all the others. What is it?
Prime your body.
The reality is that you live inside your body. Motivation, a mental state, is influenced by environment. And the environment of your mind is your body.
Think about it: how motivated do you feel when you have a high fever? How motivated do you feel when you have stomach flu? How motivated do you feel when you have a migraine headache?
Motivation can only be maintained when you feel energized physically.
Four Ways To Maximize Physical Energy
First, focus on quality sleep not quantity of sleep. Just yesterday I was watching a Facebook Live video from fitness guru, Joe Wicks. Someone asked what he thought of pre-workout energy drinks (many hardcore workout folks drink high caffeine energy drinks to maximize their effort during their work outs). Wicks answer, "The best pre-work is a good night's sleep." For my productivity book, I interviewed 13 Olympic athletes about their productivity routines and almost all of them talked about sleep as "recovery."
Yes, ideally you should get eight hours of sleep but for most of us, that isn't just realistic. But you can improve your deep sleep, which is the sleep cycle that is most restorative. You are likely waking up many times throughout the night without realizing it. Think of your bedroom as a sleep sanctuary. What can you do to make sure the temperature is just right, and that it's as dark and quiet as possible? Room darkening blinds are ideal, but a good sleep mask can do the trick, too. Telling your partner to keep the TV off in the bedroom is a must, and don't forget to tell your teenagers when you are going to bed so they can keep it down too.
Second, drink a lot of water. When you wake up you are already about 1% dehydrated, and most of us never fully hydrate. Studies show that even mild dehydration leads to loss of focus, decision making, creativity and yes, energy. You'd be surprised at how much water you need to keep your mind at its best. Remember the phrase, "half you hydration." This means you should take your body weight (in pounds) and divide it in half, and that's the number of ounces of water you should take in each day. I weigh 170 pounds right now, so I divide that by two, and get 85. I drink 85 ounces of water a day. That's a lot of water! To help, I use a Nalgene water bottle and throw a few lemon slices and cucumbers in for a bit of flavor. On the weekends I'll just carry a gallon jug of water with me throughout the day with the goal to empty it.
Three, don't skip meals. Your new mantra: Food is fuel! There is probably nothing more controversial in the health and fitness world than what and when to eat. High protein diets, vegan diets, bullet proof coffee for ketosis, fasting days, so many options! For myself, if I want to optimize for motivation and energy (not rapid weight loss) I consume five small slow-carb meals a day. I used to skip breakfast thinking I was saving time and calories, then I'd binge lunch of a sandwich or slice of pizza, and wolf down a big dinner of whatever. What I experienced was wild swings of glucose--the fuel for your brain--as I'd go from waking up to low glucose to flooding my body with carbs, and then the inevitable carb crash. I'm at my best when I'm eating similar to a Body for Life plan or a Tim Ferriss slow-carb diet plan.
Fourth, daily exercise. Don't panic, just move! You don't have to become a hardcore Crossfit'er (although kudos if you are). You don't have to spend an hour a day in a gym (although that would be awesome). You just need to move in a way that gets your heart beat way up for twenty minutes a day. For most people, a vigorous walk around the neighborhood or on the treadmill each morning does the trick. A yoga session or after work pickup basketball game is great. This isn't for long-term health benefits, although there are. You are moving for 20-minutes a day for same-day energy and clarity. Research is clear, 20-minutes of cardiovascular activity increases blood flow to the brain and gives you an immediate boost of energy, clarity, focus, and creativity.
Whether you are just trying to power through long days of work and family, or you are trying to crush your New Year's resolution, to maintain mental motivation, focus on your body.