(Somewhat revolutionary) plot twist: You don’t need much day-to-day motivation to achieve your goals.
You do need some strong conviction behind you to set a goal, and a good amount of motivation to strategize how you’re going to make that goal into a reality. If you’ve strategized well, though, you’ll barely need any motivation when it comes to the day-to-day carrying-out of said strategy.
When I first came to college, I had that conviction: I was going to do well here, make something of myself, and use my work to open up opportunities that would never have been open to me before. That was a pretty lofty goal, considering that I had skated my way through high school and was used to doing nothing but online shopping, playing RPGs, and browsing Internet forums in my “free time.” I wasn’t used to working hard (or doing my homework ever), hadn’t so much as touched a self-improvement book, and had no idea how I was going to accomplish what I’d set out to do.
I did know a lot about one thing: habits. I knew that they were what had dragged me down in high school, and I also knew that they would be the key to my success in college.
The power of habits and how to create them
I observed that, if I stayed up until midnight trolling the Internet, I’d be lazy and complicit the next day, and probably the day after that. Conversely, if I made a “general rule” for something — such as “I will always respond to a text the minute I get it” — and stuck to it, it was really easy to keep doing. Then it became an automated thing that barely required thinking, much less motivation, on my part. I resolved to make some general rules to reverse my bad habits first, and then a few more for learning economics, my major and an area of study I’d never touched before at the time.
Thanks to these general rules, I was able to keep up with seven classes’ worth of work, complete all but one of my required courses for my Economics degree, and still have a social life as an eighteen-year-old who barely knew what she was doing. Let me stress that one more time: I went from a lazy piece-of-shit high schooler to a high-performing economics student within weeks because of the general rules I set for myself. The social life was largely limited to weekends, but I was still able to form close friendships, go on ridiculous adventures, and get to know people despite the course load I was taking.
The rules ensured that I was consistent and simplified my life to an enormous degree. For example, if I responded to every text immediately, I would never accidentally leave someone “on read”, and for texts that required immediate action, I’d get that action done, which made me feel a lot less lazy in general.
Here are some general rules I made my first year:
Force yourself to just do the thing whenever you’re procrastinating
If you come across a word or concept you don’t understand, look it up and keep searching until you can explain it to someone else
Keep your alarm clock across the room
Your feet must hit the floor between the first ring of the alarm and the second
Turn off the alarm before five seconds go by, and don’t get back into bed
Head to the bathroom and get ready right after you turn off your alarm
I still do these things, along with:
Get at least 6 hours of sleep a night
Wake up at 5 AM unless you won’t get enough sleep that way (ex: if it’s already 1 AM and you have to set your alarm)
Keep your keys in your purse when not using them
Keep Christopher on top of your closet when not using him
Drink a glass of water whenever you feel down
Keep your glasses in your backpack when not using them
Write in your journal whenever you are planning/upset/need to think about something
Highlight and/or write down compelling quotes whenever you run across them
Log whenever you switch from one activity to another
I’ve continued to implement general rules into my life whenever I have large goals, because motivation is fickle, while habits are automated. Do you think I’d be up this early writing this article if I hadn’t made it a habit? ?
Yeah, me neither.
Breaking down big goals into little rules
The key of general rules is that they’re super easy to remember and even easier to implement — if following a rule requires any sort of cognitive load whatsoever, it’s a sign that the rule should be simplified.
If you have a fairly large goal, you can break it down into general rules that, when put together, makes the whole process run so smoothly that you’ll be amazed it works. Let’s say that your goal is to have a clean room at all times, even though you’re a slob of the highest degree. You can break this down like so:
All books go on the bookshelf
All loose papers for X class go in X folders
If a folder gets too large, go through it and remove unnecessary items
Fold and put away laundry as soon as it’s done
All shirts go on the top drawer
All dresses are hung up in rainbow order
No hanger must exceed three dresses
The wallet will always go beside the blue candle in the top drawer of my nightstand
All shoes go in their specific locations in the shoe rack
And so forth. With these rules, you’ll never have to waste time looking for your keys or your favorite sweater or your wallet — you know where they will be, at all times. You want the rules to be really fucking simple, as in will-remember-when-blackout-drunk level simple. I remember a night, soon after I’d turned twenty-one, where I stumbled home and passed out in my bed with my makeup and shoes still on … but not before I remembered to put my keys, wallet, and bag in their respective places. That’s the level of internalization you want to be at with these things.
Seriously, that’s all there is to it. If you break down your goals into general rules and then actually follow through with them, they’ll become habits before long.
This shit is powerful. I really didn’t feel motivated this morning, but thanks to the general rules, my feet hit the floor right after the first ring of the alarm clock, and before I knew it, I was sitting on my usual “writing couch” starting this article.
General rules lead to almost mindless goal completion, which leads to hella life upgrades because of completed goals. You don’t need motivation! Automate that shit and make it work for you. ♚