You know that feeling when you start something new, feel excited to get going, only to find that your motivation fades almost as quickly as it came? Motivation can be downright unreliable. It’s the party friend you met in college who always gets you out of the house on a Friday night, but whom you’d never trust to drive you to the airport on a Saturday morning. It’s the thing that gets you excited to try something new, stops by to hype you up occasionally, but probably won’t stick around for the hard work needed along the way.

Determination, on the other hand, is your supportive grandmother. They heard you commit to your goals, and won’t let you back out until you’ve followed through. Determination is the voice inside your head saying “you’ve got this” when your alarm goes off at 5 am and gets you out of bed when you’d rather go back to sleep. It differs from motivation because it doesn’t wait for you to want to do something, and instead, it relies on your habits and rituals.

Also read: You Need to Hear This if You Aren’t Where You Want To Be (yet!)

Why you need habits & rituals

Your habits and rituals are found in pretty much everything you do throughout your day: waking up at 6 am is a habit, washing your dishes right away is a habit, using your signal light is a habit. The best way to use determination over motivation is to focus on the habits and rituals that you need to form to accomplish your goals. Focus on two main areas to work on this: creating systems, and prioritizing your mindset.

Think of systems as sort of like the routines you follow throughout your day. Whether you love routines or hate them, you likely follow some sort of rhythm. Grabbing a coffee and then using the bathroom in the morning is a routine. Leaving the house at the same time and taking the same route to work is a routine. Creating systems for your goals helps to fit them into your routine. One highly effective way to do this is to take a ritual or habit you already do (such as drinking your morning coffee) and couple it with something new (such as reading a few pages of your book). The goal is to start small and to focus on the tiny tweaks you can make to your day to achieve your goals. Another way to create a system is by blocking off time specifically in your day. When you think about it, you’ll book time for things such as a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with your boss – you need to do the same for yourself. 

Our lives and the world around us are constantly changing, and there will be times where particular areas of your life will require more of your attention – the same goes for your needs. Getting comfortable looking inwards allows you to identify which of your needs are being met and which areas need a little more work. If you have a newborn baby, most of your attention will probably be focused on the baby, and your number one need for yourself will likely be to sleep as much as possible. When baby starts sleeping a little more and you’re feeling a little more rested, your new priority may be to get dressed and ready for the day to feel like yourself again. The goal with self-care is to get comfortable identifying what’s going on in your life and which of your needs require attention to make you the best version of yourself. 

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The Power of Your Mind

Creating a system or a routine is a great beginning step, but you need the determination to follow through, which is where your mindset comes into play. When your alarm goes off in the morning, you have two choices: to go back to sleep or to get up. When you are half asleep, in the middle of a great dream and an ultra-comfy bed, your motivation to get out of bed will likely be pretty low. However, if your mindset immediately focuses on all of the things you’re grateful for, or the things you’re are gaining by getting up, then you’re essentially clearing the pathway for your determination to get out of bed. Shift your mindset to focus on the things you want, not on the things that you don’t want. 

Have you ever heard the expression, “whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right”? When you really step back and think about it, this Henry Ford quote holds a ton of truth. Our mindset is so much deeper than we may even realize as it impacts virtually everything we do. Our brains are incredibly complex, and while there is a lot of discrepancy about how much we consciously access, the general consensus is around 5-10%. This means that roughly 90-95% of our brain is subconscious. Just let that sink in for a second. Without us even realizing it, our brains are constantly working hard for us. Unless there is something directly inhibiting our abilities, we breathe, walk, and grab a glass of water beside us without thinking much about it. But your subconscious brain has some more tricks up its sleeve, too.

The reason why your mindset is so important is because your subconscious brain is always listening. The more you tell yourself something, the more you will start to believe it is true, and the more your subconscious brain will file it away as a fact. And since we love to be right, our brains will look for confirmations to believe these things are true. For example, if you are constantly talking about how poor your memory is (even as a joke), your subconscious brain will file that away as a fact (“Got it! We suck at remembering things, good to know!”), it will look for confirmations to prove it is true (“Ugh, where are my keys? Oh wait, they’re in my hand. Gosh, I’m so forgetful”), which then reaffirms the belief, sending yourself into a cycle. Pay attention to the things you’re saying to yourself, and prioritize replacing the negative beliefs with positive ones. Instead of focusing on how tired you are at 5 am, focus on how excited you are to start the day. Or, instead of focusing on how you never stick with your goals, focus on how much you’ve grown and how proud you are of yourself. The more you focus on your mindset, the more you’ll stay determined with your goals, and the more you’ll stick to your systems to get you there.

Remember that your habits will take time

According to Healthline, it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit and an average of 66 days for a new behaviour to become automatic. In other words, it’s going to take time for your new habit to form. Especially when you are just starting out, remember that your motivation will come in and out, your mindset may get shaky, and you may find it difficult to stay determined. What sets you apart and helps you stick with your goals is the ability to keep going. Get comfortable with being a beginner, remove the guilt (motivation comes and goes, don’t take it personally), stay focused on your goals and be kind along the way.

Fall in love with your goals

Let’s go over what we know. We know our motivation is flakey, that we need to rely on our rituals and habits to stay determined through our systems and mindset, and that it’s going to take time to do. Along the way, fall in love with your goals. Think about this with any big goal out there: if you want to buy a house, the thought of saving up for whatever you can afford will feel more distant and unattainable than dreaming of a specific style of house or neighbour you’d love to live in, the smell of cinnamon rolls you’ll bake on Christmas morning, or how you’ll decorate your front porch. Having a positive emotional attachment to your goals helps you fall in love with them, which can help to keep the journey more encouraging and exciting. Write love letters about your goal, create a vision board, journal, visualize it, doodle on the side of your paper about how much you love it. Fall so in love with your goals that you can’t help but smile ear to ear when you think about them. And if you aren’t totally there yet, start off small – make a list of the things about your goal that make you happy. Don’t focus on what you dislike or feel discouraged by now. Focus on what will be, and don’t stop dreaming.

Love yourself along the way

It is okay if you aren’t exactly where you want to be – that doesn’t mean it won’t ever happen. Take care of your mental health, prioritize rest, take things as slowly as you need to, and love yourself along the way. Slow progress is still progress, so don’t give up.

How to Stick to Your Goals When Your Motivation Isn’t Enough