The problem with achieving your goals is that they are easy to set, but hard to act on. If you’re like me, you love to write long bucket lists of goals you’d love to achieve someday and wonder how to increase motivation to achieve them. For example, “Pet an elephant in Thailand” has been on my list for almost 10 years now. Has it happened? Have I even tried to make it happen? Not a chance. On the other hand, I wrote, “Go to graduate school” on my list and received my acceptance letter less than six months later.
It might be obvious that the life-changing relevance of petting an elephant and going to graduate school are very different. While I’d like to believe that petting an elephant will change my life, I imagine graduate school holds a larger impact. Regardless, why has one goal sat on my list for almost 10 years, while I was able to knock out the other in less than six months? Well, let me introduce you to the motivation equation.
If you're wondering how to increase motivation towards your goals, it isn't as simple as finding one answer that will launch you towards success. Our motivation changes from goal to goal and from moment to moment. When we set a goal, there are a number of factors that come into play that determine the efficiency with which we achieve it.
Believe it or not, desire is only a small part, as desire inhabits the world of our day dreams more frequently it does our practical world. While we may have a strong desire to take fancy vacations and live lavish lifestyles, we are more likely to take action on goals that make sense in the trajectory of our lives than those that don’t.
However, even when we can tell the difference between a fanciful and a practical goal, motivation can be hard to pin down and understand. Why do our goals go unrealized? Why is motivation so hard to come by? How do we increase motivation? Let’s explore the components of motivation so that we can start to take action and cross goals off our bucket lists.
The Components of Motivation
Life Changing Potential:
Going to graduate school had a very high potential to change my life. It would determine my future career, foster my social circles, and influence where I would put down roots and start my life as an adult. It would help me think critically about new ideas, dream bigger about my potential, and impact the way I viewed and thought about the world. It would make me who I am today and will be in the future. This is about as life changing as it gets. While it can be hard to know the life-changing potential of a goal before experiencing it, we usually have a general idea.
I’m not saying that the people around me were staging protests against me going to Thailand to pet an elephant, but they weren’t paying for my plane ticket either. On the other hand, when I decided to go to graduate school, I was grateful to have both monetary and emotional support from my family, friends, and community. In addition to my parents graciously reopening their doors to me, I was able to pick up odd jobs around town to cover my expenses and had more than enough classmates to commiserate with over a pint of ice cream when finals rolled around. I was lucky to have a great deal of support in my venture to go to graduate school which, not only made it easier from a logistical and emotional level, also held me accountable to the goal.
This is no small thing when considering the motivation behind a goal. Let’s be clear that we are talking about investments already made. Prior to making an investment, this can actually be a deterrent. For example, going to Thailand to pet an elephant would be a large investment of money and vacation time. If I had already made this investment by buying a plane ticket and taking time off of work, there’s no doubt I would follow through. However, the idea of such a large investment is daunting enough to squelch what little motivation I have to complete this goal. In essence, a large investment is motivating once it is made, but not before. I made a large investment of time and money to realize my goal of going to graduate school. Once this investment was finalized, I wanted to make it worth it and became very motivated to see the goal realized.
When I decided to go to graduate school, I put everything else on hold. For better or for worse, my entire life was focused on the goal of receiving that acceptance letter. My other commitments didn’t get in the way, as I was lucky to have little else on my plate. Had I needed to balance a number of different priorities though, it would have been a challenge to stay focused. Motivation isn’t an endless resource and we often disperse it among the various aspects of our lives. If I’m simultaneously working towards a promotion while training for a marathon, I will need to decide how to allocate my time, energy, and desires to meet both goals. While we can strive for balance, it’s a reality that the more commitments we need to juggle, the more we also need to compromise and dilute our motivation toward any one goal.
The Motivation Equation
Now that we’ve explored the components of motivation, let’s put them together into an equation to help you discern your current level of motivation for each of your goals and how to increase motivation moving motivation.
For each of your goals, rank the following factors from 1 to 10, with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest:
Then plug your numbers into the following equation:
LC potential + Relevancy + Support + Investment – Commitments = Motivation
The higher your resulting number, the higher your motivation to complete your goal will likely be. Here’s how my scores broke down for my goals of going to graduate school and petting an elephant in Thailand.
It’s no wonder petting an elephant in Thailand has sat on my bucket list for 10 years. While my desire to achieve this goal may have been high, the factors contributing to my motivation to achieve it weren’t adding up. It’s clear that my life was pointing me towards graduate school, which lead to a higher motivation to realize that goal. These motivation numbers, aside from being interesting, can give us insight into what might be sabotaging our progress towards our goals and how we might go about resolving it.
Knowing why you are struggling to accomplish a goal is an important first step in discovering how to increase your motivation in the pursuit of it. There is a lot of guilt that comes with making a list of goals and seeing many of them unfinished years later. Instead of studying the reasons behind why we aren’t motivated, we often feel like failures and as though there’s something wrong with us. This equation takes away that guilt by telling you the exact components of your life and circumstances that are derailing your motivation. If you realize that you haven’t been motivated to complete a goal because it isn’t relevant to your life and you have a full plate of other commitments, you now have something to work with besides guilt. You can feel better knowing that once these circumstances change, so too will your motivation to pursue the goal. It isn’t that you’re a forever failure, but that this goal doesn’t make sense for your life at this point in time.
In addition to eliminating your guilt, these numbers tell you how to increase motivation by gaining control over it. Looking at my equation for my motivation to pet an elephant, I know what areas of my life need to change in order to jumpstart the motivation to achieve this goal. Even though it’s disheartening to see that I basically need to turn my life upside down to push this motivation number up, I feel confident knowing that it is at least in my control. If I wanted to, I know I could make changes to my life to make this goal a reality. This is a lot more comforting than thinking I’m a failure at achieving my goal and not knowing why.
One of my favorite figures in the goal setting world is Jeff Sanders of the 5 am Miracle. In one of his posts, he talks about how quickly his priorities changed when he set his sights on writing a book. As he demonstrates, your motivation can change in an instant. Don’t be discouraged if you have goals that seem like they will sit on your bucket list forever. It may only take one quick change to reorient your motivation towards that goal and start you on your path to achieving it.
Take Action to Increase Motivation
Go through your list of goals and apply the motivation equation to each of them. Once you have your numbers, determine whether there are small changes you can make to make these numbers higher. If not, ask yourself if it is a goal that is meaningful to you and whether it should stay on the list. As is the case with my elephant goal, there will be some goals you will want to keep on the list even if your motivation level is low. Who knows, your circumstances may change someday, which may change your motivation levels and make it easier to have your goals become a reality.
For goals you have yet to set, use the motivation equation to gain perspective on how challenging it will be to rally your energy to pursue the goal. With foresight, you will be better able to prepare yourself for motivational challenges. If you have a lot of other commitments on your plate, little support, or an inability to invest an adequate amount of time and energy to your goal, you can be on the lookout for motivational slips. Also, knowing your motivational level ahead of time lets you decide whether you want to change various aspects of your life to make your motivation level higher. You may only need to make a few minor tweaks to your life to increase your motivation, which will make your goal easier to achieve.