4 Steps to Increase Your Motivation

Written by
Michael Wells

4 Steps to Increase Your Motivation

And Improve Your Life

Written by
Michael Wells

4 Steps to Increase Your Motivation

And Improve Your Life

Written by
Michael Wells

"What keeps you motivated to keep going with your routine especially on the days you want to just stay in bed?"

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Motivation is often thought of as a mysterious and unpredictable force.

Sometimes it's there, and sometimes it's not. It seems to come and go like rain, and this makes building solid routines challenging.

Here's my well-tested 4-step process for creating motivation, which I use every day for myself and with my coaching clients.

#1 - Accept that it won't always feel fun

No doubt, you've observed that when it comes to motivation, your brain is conflicted in all kinds of ways.

  • Yes, you'll feel too lazy to gym even while you want a better body. It will feel hard to turn off Netflix and get off the couch, even though you're hating yourself for being lazy.
  • Yes, you'll crave pizza even when you're trying to lose weight. Or maybe your thing is ice cream, instant noodles, or chocolate... when confronted with foods you crave, you'll feel compelled to binge even though part of you totally can't enjoy it.
  • Yes, you'll feel lonely, and socially anxious at the same time.
  • Yes, you'll want to save for that house, but desperately want that vacation and that new wardrobe, simultaneously. Life is hard.
  • And yes, you'll even crave relationships & sex with that girl ( or guy ) who you know isn't any good for your future. Not even a little.

But I know what's good for me... my life will end up better if I go to the gym regularly, eat right, save money, go socialize, date high quality people.

All of these things create a better future for me. So why don't I always feel motivated?

Really it boils down to one word. Evolution.

From a evolutionary standpoint, your brain has developed 3 different layers, which have 3 different goals.

Meet Your Reptile Brain

Your Reptile Brain is concerned with your immediate survival. When there is anything to be afraid of, it speaks up, and creates anxiety. When there is an opportunity, it demands that you pursue it. Calories!? Absolutely. Sex!? Yes, please. It really doesn't care about the future, because in its view, there might not be one.

"Eat that pizza NOW, dammit."
Sincerely, your reptile brain

Meet Your Mammal Brain

Your Mammal Brain is more concerned with relationships and social connection. It's the part responsible for wanting to be accepted & liked by others. It's the part that feels love ( different from lust, which is reptile brain ), and its related emotions- jealousy, heartbreak, and yearning ( missing someone ).

"Better hold onto that chick, even though she's not been all that committed. You don't have anyone else right now."
Sincerely, your mammal brain

Meet Your Human Brain

Your Human Brain is the rational part. By itself, it doesn't really have emotions in the way that the reptile and mammal brains do- and it has the superpower of being able to predict and imagine things differently than they are right now.

It's the part that our goals and ambitions come from. Building a company. Owning a house. Creating an awesome family. Self-development. Understanding Life, and the Universe.

It's very important, but when confronted by your emotional brains, it's often quite a struggle.

Conflict and confusion, everywhere

In any given situation, each of your 3 brains will have an opinion to share- and those opinions often conflict with each other.

It looks like this...

Situation: Pizza

  • Reptile brain: Fuck yeah!
  • Mammal brain: Maybe I should share it with my friends.
  • Human brain: Hell no! I'm trying to lose 5 kgs!

When you understand that you can understand why acceptance is so important.

Acceptance is simpy understanding why decisions don't always feel clear, and why emotions often pull or push you in unhelpful directions.

Nothing wrong with that.

It's how you're designed.

Accept those emotions for what they are- signals from your brain, designed over 320 millions of years of evolution. Feeling frustrated with yourself or angry at your emotions won't help.

Observe those emotions and thoughts with interest. Learn from them.

Process them as best you can, and then make the best decision for you, that ultimately gets you the best life you can.

The ability to have clarity on that struggle, and the ability to clearly choose the best path for your life, is what we define as emotional maturity.

#2 - Re-frame your expectations

Don't expect the positive feelings to motivate you before the action. Often, these feelings come after.

Doing things that are good for you, like eating better, going to the gym, or studying hard, are particularly challenging because the reward is delayed, and that makes it difficult for your reptile brain to see.

We're used to quicker rewards....

Eat food, feel good. Eat sweets, feel energized.

But the most valuable things in our lives often require consistency to develop. Things like;

  • Going to the gym
  • Investing, or saving money
  • Building a great social life
  • Improving your nutrition
  • Learning skills, or getting a degree

All of these things can improve your life in huge ways... but if you expect to feel excited every day while pursuing these things, think again. There will be days you feel inspired, and days that you just won't.

You don't choose your emotions, but you do impact them significantly by choosing where to focus your attention.

You can improve your enthusiasm by focusing your attention on how you will feel, when the payoff happens.

For example, how good would it feel to look in the mirror and feel fit, healthy, and sexy?

If you're not sure, find photos of people who represent your physical ideal. That's your goal. You're going to create that for your own body... imagine yourself having achieved that.

How good would it feel to see your bank account grow, and to need to work less? Or simply to worry less about life emergencies?

How good would it feel to pass that exam effortlessly because you studied, and understand that material?

Some things, like going to the gym, can have much quicker emotional rewards. You might notice that right after you work out, you feel great. Endorphins, testosterone, lowered cortisol... they feel incredible. Recognize those rewards as valuable. You'll find that it's easier to start working out, feeling completely unmotivated, when you have a clear expectation that you're going to feel awesome right afterwards.

#3 - Define your non-negotiables

In building habits, consistency is everything.

If you want to build a good exercise habit, it's essential to make "go to the gym" or "go for a run" a non-negotiable. No matter what, rain or shine, you're committed to make that happen.

Simply decide that it's not even an option to skip that daily exercise. However, once you're at the gym, the level of effort you choose is up to you.

See how that works?

Your non-negotiable is "go the gym, six days a week, no matter how I feel." The flexible part is that depending on how you feel each day, you can choose what to work on, how hard to push yourself, and how long to stay.

You'll find that when you separate "go to the gym" from "work myself to exhaustion" into two separate concepts, it's much easier to get your butt to the gym. That part becomes relatively easy, because it's relatively pain-free.

Once you're there, you get to re-evaluate, and you'll find that most days you'll feel, "well I'm here... I should do something at least." And then once you begin exercising, it begins to feel good quickly.

Why does this work?

When you choose what to give attention to in this way, you're playing with your mental dynamics by eliminating the predicted pain.

When your rational mind thinks...

I'm going to go to the gym, and grind weights for an hour. It's going to be exhausting, and I'm going to be sore tomorrow.

Your reptile brain sees that and will look for any possible way to derail that. Why? Because that gym goal feels conflicting with its own survival programming. Why the heck would you waste calories, that might keep you alive? Why the heck would you run, when you're not being chased?

On the other hand, when your rational mind thinks...

I'm going to the gym. Then we'll see what happens... I might just get a coffee.

Your reptile brain sees that and says...

Sure, why not? Fresh air sounds good. I could use a leg-stretch.

It doesn't resist, and if you structure it right with a promised reward, it might even support your mission.

Wait... did you say coffee? I like how you think...

Structure helps

With habits and consistency, structure helps a lot. Build these things into your day, even if it's only 5 minutes at a time.

For me, I generally find the greatest success putting physical exercise at the start of my day, for four reasons.

  • I'm not fully awake yet, so I'm not distracted by work projects.
  • I have more time-freedom before my clients start calling me.
  • I feel great after gym, and that adds enormously to the rest of my day. That alone is worth it.
  • I can reward myself with things that I like... a protein shake, a coffee, time visiting my favorite cafes.

Journaling, by contrast, I find the greatest success at the end of the day.

  • I'm winding down, my attention can turn fully towards the past 24 hours, rather than being distracted by today's tasks.
  • I have a day's worth of experiences to reflect on.
  • I'm physically relaxed, and in a more chill state of mind.

You'll need to experiment to find what is most effective for you.

#4 - Reward yourself, consistently

When an immediate reward is not built in, create one.

Eating a cookie has a immediate reward built in. It tastes nice, it's sweet, it gives you energy.

Going to the gym and working hard comes with a longer-term reward- that great body might be 6 months away.

To get around that, give yourself an earlier reward, directly after each gym session.

Here are some that work for me.

After going to the gym- and only after going to the gym...

  • I get to have a tasty smoothie that I really enjoy, or a great-tasting peanut butter protein bar.
  • I get to go for coffee and enjoy some writing at my favorite cafe.
  • I get to eat a tasty breakfast, one I really like.
  • I get to go socialize with my friends for a morning walk.
  • I get to go home and do a bit of computer gaming before I start work.

The rewards you choose should be something you really enjoy, and it's important that you only get to have them as a reward after your challenging task is complete.

You'll notice that this sounds a lot like how you'd train a puppy, and I find this very relevant. Your mammal and reptile brains work pretty similarly... and you can train them too.

Key Points

Here's a quick review.

  1. Expect things that are good for you to feel intensely uncomfortable at the beginning. 320 million years of evolution means that your brain is designed to feel conflicted about that.
  2. Don't worry, you'll appreciate those incredible rewards later. Try to make them as clear and visible as possible. This is why vision boards help, it connects more directly to your reptile brain.
  3. Show up, no matter what. Don't negotiate with your brain with questions like "do I feel like gym today?" because some days you'll get a resounding No. Don't give your reptile brain a vote when it comes to the things that are important for your future... make showing up non-negotiable.
  4. Rewards are important. Don't abuse your reptile brain, it's not your enemy. Reward it in a way that aligns with your future goals. Dieting? A weekly cheat meal can help. Doing something hard? Build in a healthy reward, just after you complete that hard thing.

Try these 4 steps out. I hope they work as well for you as they do for me.

First published on 
April 11, 2021
. Last updated on 
April 13, 2021

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