Most, if not all of us have experienced a lack of motivation at some point in our lives. It seems like we’re always ‘starting over’ or needing to ‘get back on track,’ particularly when it comes to our health & fitness.
Some people can show up day after day, repeat the same task over and over again, and be as motivated as ever. For example, a professional golfer can practice the same swing day in and day out for a year, and never lose motivation.
On the other hand, some people can show up for a few sessions, but as soon as they lose motivation or it no longer excites them, they’re off to find the next hype.
Why is it that some people stick with their habits – whether exercising or eating healthy or learning a new language – while most of us struggle to stay motivated?
According to James Clear, “One of the most consistent findings is that the way to maintain motivation and achieve peak levels of desire is to work on tasks of ‘just manageable difficulty’.” (Clear 2018, p. 231)
For example, imagine we were trying to play a serious tennis match against a five-year-old. We would quickly become bored. It’d be too easy. We’d win every point. In contrast, if we played against a professional tennis player such as Serena Williams or Rafael Nadal, we would quickly lose motivation because the match would be too difficult.
Now, consider playing against someone of equal ability. We would win a few points, and we’d lose a few. We could win, but we’d have to work really hard. “Your focus narrows, distractions fade away, and you find yourself fully invested in the task at hand.” (Clear 2018, p. 231) This is an example of a challenge of just manageable difficulty.
The Goldilocks Rule
“The Goldilocks Rule states that 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.” (Clear 2018, p. 231)
The key is to be ‘in the zone’ and fully immersed in an activity. Where we make small improvements over time, and the challenge keeps us fully engaged.
“Improvement requires a delicate balance. You need to regularly search for new challenges that push you to your edge while continuing to make enough progress to stay motivated. Behaviours need to remain novel in order for them to stay attractive and satisfying. Without variety, we get bored. And boredom is perhaps the greatest villain on the quest for self-improvement.” (Clear 2018, p. 233)
Falling in love with boredom
“Mastery requires practice. But the more you practice something, the more boring and routine it becomes. Once the beginner gains have been made and we learn what to expect, our interest starts to fade.” (Clear 2018, p. 234)
The majority of us can relate to this. We exercise for a few weeks or months – it’s all new, we feel good, we make rapid progress. But over time our progress slows down and we begin to lose motivation.
“The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom. We get bored with habits because they stop delighting us. The outcome becomes expected. And as our habits become ordinary, we start derailing our progress to seek novelty.” (Clear 2018, p. 234)
This is perhaps the reason why so many people jump from one workout to the next, one diet to the next, one gadget to the next. “As soon as we experience the slightest dip in motivation, we begin seeking a new strategy – even if the old one was still working.” (Clear 2018, p. 234)
As Machiavelli noted, “Men desire novelty to such an extent that those who are doing well wish for change as much as those who are doing badly.” Think about that for a second; we could have an extremely successful business, seemingly ‘have it all,’ and yet at the hint of a dip in motivation, we would completely change direction for the sake of novelty!
We all have a goal or a dream that we would like to bring to fruition. At GF Fitness we believe that the key is to be consistent. “If you only do the work when it’s convenient or exciting, then you’ll never be consistent enough to achieve remarkable results.” (Clear 2018, p. 236)
Of course, there will be days when we feel like quitting; when we don’t feel like showing up; when we have a perfectly valid reason to not do the workout. “But stepping up when it’s annoying or painful or draining to do so, that’s what makes the difference between a professional and an amateur … the only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over and over. You have to fall in love with boredom.” (Clear 2018, p. 236)
Those who seemingly have an endless amount of motivation and thrive in life feel the same lack of motivation as everyone else. The difference is that they still find a way to show up despite the feelings of boredom.
A famous quote by Bruce Lee comes to mind. “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
Before we make a change or give up, let’s ask ourselves if the strategy truly isn’t working, or if we’re simply just bored.
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Clear, J 2018, Atomic Habits, Random House Business Books, United Kingdom [Accessed: 16 March 2020].