Category Archives: Life Advice

Don’t Get Derailed: 4 Tips on How to Stay Focused and Motivated

You can google this topic and find 1 million different strategies, some are great, and some aren’t. I’m going to share my 4 top tips for this, because brevity is key. I could be checking Twitter or Instagram instead of reading a dissertation on motivation ? Here we go: 

1) Clearly Outline Your Goal and Specify for How Long

This is a two parter, but they go hand in hand, so here we go: In goal creation, you need to be precise and manageable. Give it a measurable amount of TIME or some other unit of measurement you can do each day.

Write a book by next month? Maybe not! Now, write 250 words everyday towards your book? Yes! Write for 5 minutes everyday? Now you’re onto something! How long will it take? Doesn't matter--you are going to do 250 words or 5 minutes every day. Don't stress about completion timelines.

I’m a runner, so I’ll use another example. When I started running, I could run for about 60 seconds before I felt like I had to die. An experienced runner told me to just increase how far I run every day, by 1% to 10%. Yes, a gain as small as 1% is still a gain. So, the next time I ran, I literally ran for 62 seconds (it was hard!), then next time 68, etc… it didn’t take long before I could run for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc… After 9 months I ran my first half marathon, finishing 50th place. I couldn’t believe it. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “run away returns”… If you are always gaining, at some point, you will have come so far you won’t ever believe it. 

The main idea is we often underestimate the power of defining a large task clearly and then doing it bit by bit consistently. We also underestimate the power of giving the task a time unit value, like 5 minutes per day, 0.5% more per day, or some other quantity.

Not only this, but we are what we do. This means that you build a 
habit by doing it everyday—doesn’t matter whether you spend 1 minute doing the task or 1 hour. Build good habits by doing small, manageable tasks each day. In time you’ll find yourself doing them for longer and longer once the habit is formed. Rome wasn’t built in a day! 

2) Flip the Way You Think

Phrase your goal in a way that makes you realize the loss of not doing what you are doing.

Using the book example above, instead of making your goal: “I’d like to write a book because I think I have something valuable to share with the world”, try “The world has a lot to lose if I don’t write my book, because it’s a great story/is a unique perspective”.

This works because research shows that humans are loss averse… meaning we’d rather keep what we have versus gaining a new thing. It’s a subtle shift in your thinking that is part of your toolkit of keeping yourself motivated and accountable to yourself. ​

3) Do It No Matter What. Even If You Do It Badly

I am attributing this idea to Dr. Jordan Peterson, who is the first person I learned the concept from in his book 12 Rules for Life. This is one concept that has changed my life in ways I can’t even begin to say, but I’ll try. 

Peterson attests to the idea that a task, done badly, is still a task complete. Not only will you feel good about having the task done—rarely is anything worthwhile completed in one go. Now you have a rough copy that you can edit and work on—make it better. Think of it like a first prototype in a line of prototypes, eventually culminating in a final product or idea.  But if you aim for perfection right from the get-go, you’ll get burned out or just plain never finish.
 
This has changed the way I handle all my work—in combination with doing tasks bit by bit every day, and becoming comfortable with having a messy, sloppy, poorly formulated version of something, it gives you something to build on, and the final product has always been better in my experience as a result of this process. 

4) Don't Break the Chain

We can thank Jerry Seinfeld for this one, and Brad Isaac for passing along the story. The short of it is, the great comedian Jerry Seinfeld swears by the following the strategy:

Get a big calendar and put it somewhere visible. Every day you complete the task you have set out for yourself, put a big X on that day. Do this every day. Over time, you’ll have a “chain” of X’s…

Usually seeing your progress like this gives you another reason to not put off your task for the day, you won’t want to break your streak of X’s… keep the chain going! 

That said, don’t sweat it if you don’t manage it one day. The point is to try your best to build up a long chain of X’s as motivation to continue. 


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