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    How to Stay Motivated in Life by Building Psychological Momentum

    How to Stay Motivated in Life by Building Psychological Momentum

    Spring is a special time—a time of new beginnings, a renewed sense of optimism, and refreshed energy that allows us to get excited about life.

    But what if you can’t seem to get yourself out of your winter rut? It’s one thing to spend a day or even a week eagerly working toward your goals, but it’s another to sustain that motivation over a long period of time.

    Motivation is difficult to sustain over the long term because, fundamentally, our brain operates on a reward-expectation system. When you’re motivated to do something, you naturally expect the enjoyment of your end goal to feel rewarding in some way.

    If after weeks or months of doing the same thing, fulfilling these expectations is no longer enough for us to keep up our motivation, you may feel dissatisfied and lose interest in continuing to pursue your goals. So what can you do if your motivation is starting to run out?

    Thankfully, a lot. You just need to understand how your brain operates and capitalize on the psychological phenomenon known as momentum.

    Motivation vs. Momentum: What’s the Difference?

    First, a distinction: motivation and momentum are not the same thing.

    Motivation is your general desire or willingness to take action toward a specific behaviour. Momentum is your ability to persist on a consistent basis toward achieving a long-term goal.

    For instance, you may have a lot of motivation to eat healthier because it can greatly improve your health, however this motivation might be hard to sustain if you don’t have an effective plan or system in place for how to do it.

    You can be motivated to do something, but without momentum your chances of giving up after you’ve exhausted yourself are high. Think about it like a car: motivation is the gas, but the momentum lies in the engine. You can get your car to go forward, even without a ton of motivation, as long as you build up enough momentum.

    The Power of Positive Feedback Loops

    The difference between motivation and momentum is also why so many people fall into a motivational slump. This happens when you feel like you’re constantly starting over after every slip-up, which is very discouraging.

    Luckily, this can be fixed by setting up positive feedback loops, where instead of quitting after one mistake, your brain reinforces the behavior it wants to make habitual by creating coping mechanisms to help you recover when you fail.

    For example, let’s say your goal is to get up and work out in the morning. This means you need to set an alarm at a certain time (motivation), but if it goes off and you just keep sleeping, how do you motivate yourself? By reminding yourself what a great feeling waking up early will be when you can take advantage of that time (reward) and then getting excited about doing that tomorrow (momentum).

    If you did this a few times, your brain would start to get used to having enough momentum to wake up on time to work out. The more positive feedback loops you set up for yourself, the faster and easier it will be for you to build up momentum.

    How to Create Positive Feedback Loops That Build Momentum to Sustain Motivation

    Of course, it’s not that straightforward. We can’t just set up these positive feedback loops and expect to be intrinsically motivated from then on. When you start pursuing a new goal, your brain is in a neutral state—it doesn’t know whether or not you will stick with the activity long enough for momentum to build up.

    To give your brain incentive to keep you on track, you need to create the right conditions for the positive feedback loop to kick in and start working. Below is a list of three such conditions:

    1. Set Up Contingency Plans

    If you want to be able to sustain momentum over longer periods of time, it’s important you have contingency plans to help cope with setbacks.

    For example, if your goal is to work out daily, you might set up a system where the gym you go to (or tracking app you use) always knows when you’ll be missing, or have an easier activity in your back pocket (e.g., “If I miss my workout today, I will do 15 minutes of yoga after work”).

    You can also add a number of “slack days” to your schedule, so you know it’s okay if you miss one day. These contingency plans will help your brain feel more secure and relax about its decision to continue pursuing the goal.

    1. Set Up Short-Term Rewards

    To sustain momentum, you should also create short-term rewards that are related to your long-term goal.

    For example, if you want to stop drinking soda for better health, one reward could be switching from sugary sodas to diet soda for a few weeks—this will allow your brain to get used to the positive change and have something fun to look forward to in the short term.

    1. Use Your Emotions (Don’t Tempt Fate)

    The human brain is driven by emotions, and when we make decisions it tends to lean away from negative emotions and toward positive ones.

    For example, let’s say you want to eat more fruits and veggies, but your fridge is filled with sugary desserts. If you end up eating a pudding cup for lunch or dinner, your brain will get flooded with negative emotions like guilt and defeat—which makes it less likely to make the same mistake again.

    However, if you were able to get home from work and make an awesome salad before getting tempted by the dessert in the fridge, you would feel good about your decision and be more likely to make it again the next day. By taking emotion out of the equation (or at least limiting its effects), you allow your brain’s reward system to choose how it wants to respond rather than letting emotions control your behavior.

    By setting up these three conditions for yourself, you’ll have a much easier time building up momentum and sustaining your motivation. And as you start seeing results and getting more positive feedback, your brain will become more invested in making sure you keep going.

    Are there any other tips you have that may have helped you build psychological momentum and stay motivated while working toward a goal? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

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