Young woman with headphones on an elliptical machine.

Motivation is the elusive unicorn behind everything we do. Some mornings your feet hit the floor and you are ready to tackle the day, and other mornings brushing your teeth is an accomplishment. As you continue to read, keep that in mind, “…brushing your teeth is an accomplishment.”

We are a few days into the new year, and you may have set some goals for yourself. Maybe they are lofty, or they are simple goals you have set for yourself. Regardless of the goal, there is one factor that directly impacts the success or failure of achieving it, and that is quite simply motivation.

So how do we stay motivated? Typically, when we look at achieving our goals, we think to ourselves, “I have motivation which leads to action and ultimately results.” Sadly, that is not how it works. I know what you are thinking, “That doesn’t make sense.” At first glance, I would agree with you.

I had a severe misunderstanding of this process for years and years and years (Do you get the impression that I have messed this up myself and failed numerous times?) Misunderstanding this process makes you feel like a failure. We all have goals and not achieving them feeds into a flawed perception of self and can eat away at our confidence.

Here is how to find motivation. The first step is action. We have to buckle down and push through somedays. Life isn’t easy; we are always busy and often feel fatigued. If you are like me when I am short on time what gets cut? Sleep. Why on earth would I do that? It’s the opposite of what I should do. When you are tired; action is slower, so this domino effect just snowballs, and before you know it the task that needed to be done on Tuesday is still on our list on Thursday. So step one is action and in order to do that we need to eat and sleep well. Action is step number one.

Step two is to see some results. Do you love to mark tasks off of a to-do list as I do? I get a ridiculous amount of joy from making that line. I’ll admit it; sometimes I write things on my list that I have done just to mark them off. Results aren’t just seeing something done, and in fact, it can apply to almost anything. Your results may be more health-focused. Perhaps you shaved time off of your mile run; you shed a few pounds or your blood pressure or cholesterol numbers are improving. We need to see results.

Finally, seeing results creates…. Wait for it…. Motivation! The actions we take to create results and motivation is born out of the results. Have you ever gotten up on your day off and went for a walk or cleaned out a closet and found yourself moving on to the next project, and then it’s 4:00 and you realize you’ve been organizing and cleaning all day? You feel accomplished. This is action, results and motivation in practice.

You are not going to wake up with a fire in you to conquer the day each morning, and if you are like me brushing your teeth is an accomplishment some mornings. Sometimes I have to make myself work out, go for a walk or lift weights. The results from those actions help motivate me on those days when “I’m just not feeling it today.” Next time you aren’t feeling motivated look at the progress you have made. Maybe it’s a notch in your belt, a shirt that fits, a number on a scale, less back pain or any result of the actions you have taken. Remember we aren’t motivated to do something and then see results. First, we take action, then see results and that fuels our motivation.