When you hear the word “mindfulness,” what images cross your thoughts? Most likely images of meditation or quiet and deliberate studying. Now what images come to you when you hear “motivation”? I’m guessing it may have been a loud and energetic speaker, a runner gritting their teeth to power through exhaustion to reach the finish line, or another damn eighties movie training montage. One of these words conjured bliss, the other bombast. Why would I put them together like that in a title?
Simple: You need one to temper the other.
Simply put, “mindful motivation” is crossroads between the willpower to make a change and the discretion to evaluate the effort. In fact, without some analysis of methods and metrics, motivation can end up going nowhere. When a person gets a big spike of willpower when they make the decision to drop some weight or learn a new skill, they relish in that new goal high and go balls to the wall with effort, until the fire seems to just burn out.
With a little foresight though, you can keep that fire burning.
A common pitfall with new undertakings is a fixation on the end result, along with the inevitable disappointment that results when you can’t drop twenty pounds in one month or win the local Super Smash Bros. Melee tournament after a few weeks of training. We don’t prepare ourselves mentally for the times of slow progress, the plateaus, and the setbacks. Fixation on the end result is where motivation goes to die.
Complete the Mission Before You Complete the Game
An important component of mindful motivation is the recognition and embrace of incremental progress. If you’re aspiring to bench press 200 pounds when you can barely push the bare bar up, that end result is going to look awfully far away. The key here is to recognize and celebrate the minor victories along the way. Celebrate adding five pounds to your bench. Celebrate reaching two hundred then three hundred subscribers on your YouTube channel.
In an article for the Harvard Business Review, writers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer put forth the progress principle, based on their study of various creative thinkers over the years. They stated, “Of all the things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work. And the more frequently people experience that sense of progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.”
In Layman’s terms, that means that a small victory gives us the spark to work towards the next small victory. Gamers are already conditioned for this: video games are not one continuous slog from start to finish. They’re divided conveniently into levels or missions. Completing them gives a small the player a small sense of accomplishment that takes them into the next level then the level after that. After forty hours of fighting monsters, crossdressing, and breeding giant chickens, they finally face the weird mutated form of an angsty pretty boy trying to destroy the world with a meteor.
Treat those tiny bits of progress like missions, and treat the larger goal like the entirety of the game’s plot.
Analyze Strategize Optimize
Another component of mindful motivation is working smart in addition to working hard. To go back to the video game analogy, you’ve got to strategize these missions on your quest to reach your goals. When progress seems to slow down, like several weeks stuck at the same weight or just not being able to get that guitar song right, take a step back and analyze the situation. Think about what you’re doing, and what could be done differently.
If you’re trying to lose weight, research your methods to see if you’re doing something wrong. If you feel like your cosplay crafting skills just aren’t improving, research different techniques to try. The old adage is that insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result, so find something different to try. Getting embroiled in a task can create a feeling of “tunnel vision” that blinds us to other options, so it’s helpful to get outsiders’ perspectives or new information. Once again, I must hearken back to my favorite Shakespeare quote:
Just the same, it’s helpful to keep track of your progress, preferably in a physical or digital form you can look back on. Write what you did to practice that week. Log your weight loss. Journal about thoughts on your progress. This helps with the incremental progress method described above, since you can evaluate both your victories and your setbacks. A record of your wins can help you power through a plateau, and a record of stumbles can help you identify weaknesses in your methods.
Keep Thinking, Keep Fighting
Fighting spirit is great, but it’s wasted without careful thought to apply it. Mindful motivation lets you anticipate and avoid pratfalls, as well as save you time and effort by avoiding dead ends. Augment your will power with some brain power, and you just might find yourself accomplishing your goals sooner than expected.