We have all heard that it takes will power and motivation to achieve anything in life, but is this really true? When you think of the person who is diabetic and has everything to lose yet still drinks soda and eats sweets. Yet, this same person is highly successful in their job. They clearly have motivation and they clearly have willpower. We know we have willpower to get things started and over the line. We know we have reasons to be motivated but we are not able to make the changes that we want to.
You may have experienced it yourself. You may have said, “I’m going to get up early and workout every single day for the next month and after day 6, it isn't as fun as you would have hoped. The scale might not have moved, you are sore and your willpower and motivation to get up early to workout has faded.
This happens all too often in everyday affairs. We set goals for ourselves, but there is always a missing ingredient to make sure that goal gets accomplished. We have the motivation. If I don't get healthy now, I will pay for it later. I have the ability because I have a gym membership. The problem is I’m missing a cue or a prompt. Maybe I need to change my route on the way home from work to go by the gym and this could be my prompt. Or maybe you do drive by the gym and you do have the ability to go in, but you lack the motivation. Or maybe you have the motivation, you have the prompt. but you are missing the ability. If we are missing one of these ingredients, we will not do the behavior. What do we do when we are missing one of these ingredients?
So, if we want to change a behavior that will have an impact on our lives all three of these ingredients have to be present simultaneously. The key however is that we have to make it as easy as possible to make it work and we have to feel good about it. We will take the working out example again. When we set goals to make it to the gym, it always seems to be an all or nothing thing. I’m going every day this week no matter what. While there is nothing wrong with that goal, we not only have to make it easier for ourselves, but we have to feel good about it too. We have to enact positive self reinforcement after we accomplish our goal. Not at the very end of the goal, but after every little success along the way. If we tell ourselves good job and smile as we pull into the parking lot of the gym and when we walk out of the locker room ready to go and after each set and at the end of the session, we are creating positive experiences every step along the way telling your body, “Hey, this feels good”. The more frequently we praise and appreciate ourselves, the more the body will want to repeat the behavior.
In order to change behavior, we have to have a prompt, we have to have some motivation and we have to have the ability to do the behavior. Once all 3 ingredients are in the pot, the flavor comes from the positive, feel good emotions that we attach to those behaviors that make us want to repeat the behavior. However, attaching those positive emotions to our behaviors has to happen immediately after the action.