If you ascribe to the ego depletion theory of motivation then you’ll believe that it’s a finite resource. Even if you don’t give much credence to this way of thinking, everyone can certainly do with a boost in motivation levels periodically throughout the year.
If you’re struggling to find the motivation to make it to the gym or hit the road, why not try one of these psychology research-backed ways to boost your willpower and desire to keep working towards your goals.
1. Harness the power of peer pressure
While peer pressure usually carries negative connotations, research shows that it can be a powerful motivator for both positive and negative behaviours.
For example, researchers at the University of Iowa found that self-managing teams demonstrated increased performance when they were cohesive and cooperative. While this application is grounded in the workplace, the same principle holds true if you join a training group or sports team who are all working towards the same or similar goals.
This is a message echoed by The Longevity Project, a decades-long study that followed over 1000 people from youth to death, which found that: “The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. For people who want improved health, association with other healthy people is usually the strongest and most direct path of change.” Other research also shows that people tend to develop the eating habits, and even career aspirations, of those around them the more time they spent with their peers.
2. Reward yourself
Rewarding yourself is undoubtedly the most common motivator because it works. The problem comes in when that reward is counter-productive to our goals. This is why health and fitness experts often advise against using food as a reward mechanism. Rather stick to rewarding yourself with experiences or perhaps new workout clothing.
Financial rewards are also extremely effective if you can find someone who is willing to bankroll this type of approach. For instance, a 2009 study published in the Journal of the Econometrics Society, Econometrica, titled Incentives to Exercise by Gary Charness and Uri Gneezy, looked at the use of monetary incentives as a motivator to exercise and found that people who were paid $100 to go to gym doubled their attendance rate. It is a powerful motivational tool that has been successfully implemented in wellness reward programmes such as Discovery Vitality Rewards. Joining such a programme may, therefore, help to boost your motivation levels. The trick is to find those with the rewards that are most meaningful to you.
3. Maintain a positive mindset
Studies in psychology have found a direct link between a person’s emotions and their levels of motivation. People who try to accomplish tasks with a negative mindset are far more likely to quit before accomplishing their goal than those who started out with positive thoughts. For this reason, it is best to think about the positive aspects of your impending workout rather than any negatives. As an example, if you’re heading out for a long run or ride consider how good it will feel to get outdoors, with the wind and the warmth of the sun on your face, rather than how difficult it will be.
4. Commit to consequences
Another powerful motivator is a type of commitment device that imposes meaningful and serious implications should you fail to achieve a goal. For instance, research shows we’re more likely to follow through on our goals if we make them public by sharing them with friends and family.
The other commitment device often cited as a powerful motivator is the threat of financial loss, but this too needs to be meaningful to be effective. For example, committing to pay your gym partner every time you miss a gym session has been shown in numerous studies to be highly effective in ensuring adherence to an exercise programme. It is also one of the reasons why paying for a personal trainer increases gym attendance.
5. Give yourself a fresh start
A study conducted by researchers at the Wharton School of Business found that temporal markers – time-based landmarks that prompt us to start afresh, like New Year’s day or the first of a month – help boost motivation by helping people to let go of past failures and promote a positive perception of potential future outcomes.
The researchers suggest that inter-temporal markers – fresh start moments between major temporal markers – can also help to boost or renew waning motivation levels. The key to success with this approach is to keep setting smaller, attainable goals to renew your motivation and commitment at regular intervals as you continue to progress towards the attainment of a big overall objective.
Author: Tanja Schmitz
Founder and Editor of Fitness Magazine. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.