The only strategies you need to know to keep yourself motivated.

Alex Booth
9 min readJan 28, 2021

What my own journey to self improvement has taught me about achieving your goals.

Photo by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you how important self improvement is. The clue’s in the name, really.

Over the past 10 months, I have made it my mission to try embrace the power of self improvement. To improve the quality of my life.

It’s been hard going — I’m not going to pretend otherwise — but I am slowly seeing results.

In doing daily yoga, for example, I can now crouch down without my knees feeling like they will pop out of their sockets. My sleep has also improved massively now that I don’t wake up every night with crippling back ache.

Having made made it my mission to try and write every day, I now find myself more easily able to assemble words into some semblance of meaning. I can focus at the keyboard for longer, too.

The thing is though, it has taken time to reap these rewards. Self improvement is not a quick fix. It takes a lot of hours, dedication (not to mention copious amounts of caffeine).

Most importantly, though, as I have come to learn, self improvement takes motivation.

My motivation education

It’s fair to say that, I have learnt an awful lot about motivation this past year.

What’s pretty clear is that it is impossible to enforce positive change in your life if you give up after a week.

This is where your motivation comes in to play.

Putting it bluntly, motivation is the most powerful weapon you have to drive yourself towards a goal.

However, as I’m sure you know from numerous attempts at New Year’s Resolutions, sometimes your motivation can run dry.

If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. According to a study conducted by Strava, in looking at how long New Year’s Resolutions are maintained, 80% are abandoned by the second week of February.

Pick up that rock

Looking back over this past year, I have come to the conclusion that motivation is a bit like trying to push a massive rock down a hill.

It takes a lot of initial effort to get anywhere at all.

You may feel tired and frustrated. You may want to give up.

However, once you’ve put that initial graft in — once you’ve heaved the rock over the precipice and let it fall — momentum takes over.

Once this happens, your good intentions become habit. Just like a falling rock doesn’t need too much more interference, good habits can become automatic. They become a part of you.

And herein lies the problem.

Motivate yourself to form good habits

Lots of articles quote 30 days as being the length of time required for a new behaviour to become a habit.

Make it this far, and the change to your life becomes easier and more pronounced.

I’m not too sure where that number came from. I certainly haven’t found anything to back this statement up, other than it being a nice, round number.

The reality is, that it developing good habits take a lot longer than 30 days.

In conducting an experiment in the 1950’s, plastic surgeon Maxwell Maltz determined that it took, on average, 66 days for a behaviour to become a habit.

Often, it can take a lot longer.

If Strava are to be believed, though, people will give their quest for self improvement far sooner than this. And, so they deprive themselves an opportunity to fully develop life changing, self-improving habits.

Tapping into our motivation is vital, therefore, to keep adopting new behaviours until they become habitually ingrained into your being.

Only then can we really reap the long term benefits of self-improvement.

And that got me thinking.

How can we avoid falling into the trap of ‘giving up’? How can we keep our motivation fuelled to the point our practices of self-improvement become second nature?

Read on to find out.

1. Track and visualise your goals

One of the simplest strategies to keep yourself motivated has Jerry Seinfeld to thank for its popularity.

In a backstage encounter, an aspiring comedian — Brad Isaac — asked Seinfeld for his golden tips for success on the comedy circuit.

According to Isaac, this was Seinfeld’s response:

“He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.

After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”

Even though Jerry Seinfeld later distanced himself from the notion, the name had stuck. The imaginatively named ‘Seinfeld Strategy’ was born.

Yes, it’s got a name that you probably haven’t heard of before. Yet, the premise of ‘very visually tracking your progress’ should look and sound familiar.

After all most Fitbits, Apple Watches and health apps utilise marked calendars in similar ways.

There’s a good reason for the little ticks on these virtual calendars.

It’s because it keeps you motivated. Being able to visually see your progress towards a goal is an incredibly powerful motivator.

So why not tap into this power? Stretch your artsy skills by crafting yourself a two month grid.

You could get yourself a piece of paper and scrawl a calendar on it? You could buy a fancy wall planner?

Or, if you favour a more technological approach, you could download a habit tracking app.

Whatever it is, start tracking your journey towards self-improvement. Don’t break the chain.

After all, if you can visualise your progress, you are far more likely to push through.

2. Give yourself an out

I have said that I have tried to write every morning.

I’d be lying if I said it was plain sailing.

Some mornings I feel full of the joys of Spring. I load up my laptop, sit down and let inspiration spew forth from my fingertips.

A lot of the time, though, it’s a very different story. I won’t bore you with the details, but there’s a fair amount of grumbling.

In these situations, I often find myself repeating the same phrase:

“Just a couple of minutes. If I don’t feel like it, I can always leave it for today”.

The capacity to give yourself an ‘out’ is pretty important. It gives you a choice. If you choose to duck out, fine. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that.

If you don’t though, the fact you have chosen to continue (despite the option to sit in front of the T.V.) is a powerful motivator.

It taps into something called the self-determination theory. That is, freely exercised will can keep you going far more than just brute force of will.

Whatever underpins it, this strategy works. Since adopting this approach (and despite coming close numerous times) I have never abandoned my morning writing.

3. Sell yourself a carrot

As nice as it would be, writing is not my full time job. For that, I have teaching.

And, as a teacher , one of my most unpleasant jobs is marking books. It is the work equivalent of a black hole. A gaping chasm that consumes hours of your time without breaking a sweat.

When, after a long day in the classroom, you are faced with a stack of 60 books to mark, your motivation is tested to the extreme.

That’s when it’s time to introduce the carrot.

The carrot and stick approach is a well established strategy for motivating workers. I’m sure you’re familiar with it.

Through rewarding positive behaviour (the carrot) and punishing negative attributes (the stick) the idea is to foster a more productive workplace.

Now, I don’t necessarily subscribe to using the ‘stick’ to motivate myself. The thought of having to mark a set of books is punishment enough, without additional self-reprimand.

That said, I am a firm believer in the power of carrots.

How small rewards lead to big motivational gains

In order to keep me motivated, I offer myself small, token rewards.

In the case of my marking the most common of these is this:

“If I mark 10 books, I can have a cup of tea”.

As someone who is a) from England, and b) possesses an unhealthy obsession with caffeinated beverages, this is a pretty good incentive to get through those 10 books.

Motivation becomes a lot easier if it can feed off enjoyment. If you give yourself something to look forward to (even if it’s just a hot drink) you’d be amazed at how more inclined you are to push through.

If you’re finding it difficult to keep motivated, integrate rewards into the mix.

From personal experience, I tend to find that the use of rewards are more effective if spaced at increasingly lengthy intervals.

After my 10 book tea reward, it might take another 20 books before I allow myself the pleasure of a biscuit.

This way, you don’t permit yourself to become desensitised to the motivating effect of work-reward.

4. Allow yourself to skip a session

I know this sounds like a strange thing to say.

Particularly when I have previously stated that it’s really important to both stick with something every day and track your progress.

You will read certain posts on motivation to which the prospect of quitting (however briefly) is sacrilege! Something to be avoided at all costs.

Sometimes, that advice is sound. Quitting smoking, for instance, is not great if you have a day off every week.

I understand why that’s not sensible. After working hard every day on something, the danger is, after skipping a day, that you’ll be back to square one. That you’ll lose momentum.

That said, I believe that giving up for a day or two has two main benefits:

It enables flexibility.

I am a big believer that positive change in life needs to work for us as much as we do for it.

The reality is our lives are often hectic. Sometimes you will find yourself juggling seventeen work and family commitments at once.

Whilst in these moments, your motivation can become centred on dealing with these problems.

It’s true, the likelihood is that doing that spin class will make you feel better. Sometimes, it is more important than ever to keep the push towards self-improvement when times are tough.

However, don’t let yourself become a slave to the routine of self-improvement. The more you push yourself against something that you don’t feel like doing, the more you will find that all enjoyment for it is extinguished.

Keeping something going even though you hate doing it is commendable.

I don’t know about you, though, but I would start to question the positive impact of something that made you miserable whilst doing it.

Sometimes, the occasional break can act act as a refreshing tonic.

It can help you refocus. It enables you to take a step back and (hopefully) make you realise how much you enjoy it.

It can fuel your motivation

As I’ve said, for the past 10 months I have tried to write every day.

It was fine for the first few months. By month 4, though, things got tough. The days got darker and darker, and my teaching workload got higher and higher.

It got to the point that I got tired. Writing every morning was tough.

Slowly, I felt my motivation dwindle.

Until I missed a day.

It lit a fuse. It frustrated me.

I have said that I don’t really think using the ‘stick’ to punish yourself into motivation is necessarily the best idea.

The feeling of having missed a day was all the stick I needed.

Not only did the day missed make me realise how much I enjoyed writing, I am now motivated just as much by this enjoyment as I am by fearing the sensation of missing a day.

The double effect of the sense of perspective offered from missing a session, plus the annoyance of not writing formed a powerful cocktail of motivation.

And you know what? I’ve not missed a day writing since.

Final thoughts

So, there we have it. Four tips to help you tap into your motivation and drive yourself towards self-improvement.

There are plenty of other strategies to fuel your motivation. These are the four that I have turned to most over my self-improvement journey. I hope they prove equally useful for you.

Now, what are you waiting for?! Get out there and elevate yourself. Just remember to stock up on carrots first.

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Alex Booth

Using educational insight and bad jokes to promote personal and professional development. Find out more at www.edugoat.com