Coaching Techniques

Action Causes Motivation, Not the Other Way Around

We all have goals and dreams, but if you wait until you “feel like” taking action then you’re unlikely to make them a reality. Here’s what to do instead.

Have you ever had the experience of setting a goal, then waiting until you “feel like it” to take the next action? And if so, how did that turn out?

The intention to start a new habit or make a change might be very clear-cut and concrete. Maybe you want to:

  • Get up 15 minutes earlier each day to add yoga into your morning routine
  • Draft one new chapter each week for that book you’re planning to write
  • Go for a walk at lunchtime instead of eating at your desk
  • Or something like the above… you get the drift

If you’ve gotten so far as articulating your intentions with some specificity (as in the examples above), congratulations! You’re off to a good start in terms of creating goals that have a higher likelihood of succeeding. 

But then what?

Does setting an intention provide enough motivation to actually get going and follow through?

For some people, perhaps. But for the rest of us, it’s all too easy to get derailed along the way. In fact, the top two reasons people don’t follow through on New Year’s resolutions come down to lack of discipline, or a failure to carve out space in an already-busy schedule. 

You know what we’re talking about! When the alarm goes off at 6:30am, you might sleepily hit the snooze bar because you don’t feel like getting up just yet. Snooze again, and poof! There goes that morning yoga practice. 

Putting goals off until tomorrow is common to the human experience. And leave it to the Ancient Greeks to come up with a fancy term for it: The Akrasia Effect. Or for those who prefer plain old English: procrastination.

Waiting until you “feel” motivated to act on your intentions is a trap.

How we feel from day to day can be a fickle thing. Truth is, we're wired for instant gratification. When it comes to acting on behalf of our desired future state of being, our moment to moment feelings aren’t the most sturdy hook to hang those goals and aspirations upon.

So what can we do instead?

Tips for Stimulating the Desire to Act

Consider these five strategies drawn from the science of coaching to move from intention to action.

1. Dig deeper

What we think, feel, and do each day is directed by our subconscious mind far more often than we realize. Studies conducted by neurobiologists, cognitive psychologists and others have shown that anywhere between 40% to 90% of human behavior is habitual. 

This helps to explain why it can be so hard to shift into new behaviors. Even as you have a goal in mind (getting up earlier) your subconscious may be pulling in a different direction (sleeping in) by default. 

This subconscious tug toward maintaining the status quo helps to explain why you might not “feel” like taking action. But once you know this is what’s simmering below the level of your conscious thoughts, you can make a plan to constructively overcome it.

To really find out what lies beneath the surface, it’s helpful to also pay attention to your limiting beliefs. You know, those pesky thoughts that tell you what’s not possible, or what you can’t do.

Ready to learn how? Check out the podcast Gremlins (And How to Quash Them).

2. Understand how to make - and break - a habit

Why is it so hard to swap out a bad habit for a better one? MIT professor Ann M. Graybiel wondered the same thing, so she studied it. And what her team of brain researchers found has helped shape our understanding of how the mind works. 

For better or worse, our habitual choices get wired in.

Take making different food choices as an example. Reaching for a cookie as an afternoon snack instead of carrot sticks can become a well-worn highway inside the brain. The resulting neurological “Habit Loop” explains why it takes so much effort to change that (or any other) behavior pattern. 

In his book The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg draws from this MIT research to break down how we can interrupt our patterns to make lasting change.

Steps to Rewire A Habit Loop:

  • Identify the routine (What do you want to change?)
  • Figure out the cue (What sets the behavior/pattern in motion?)
  • What’s the reward? (What are you getting out of it?)
  • Experiment with new rewards (What else might satisfy that craving/desire?)
  • Isolate the cue (What’s going on that leads to the cue/craving/impulse?)
  • Make a plan (Disrupt the pattern with a new response)

3. Believe in your ability to succeed

Self efficacy is the belief that you have the capability to achieve your goals. It’s also a psychological theory that’s particularly useful in coaching, and comes out of research conducted by Albert Bandura.

A simple way to achieve a greater sense of self efficacy (and by extension, motivation) is by setting yourself up to achieve a series of smaller wins as you progress toward a larger goal. 

When you break down a project into bite-sized chunks, you’re building momentum. And as you log a series of positive experiences over time, it strengthens your belief that you can take on even bigger challenges in the future.  

But that’s not the only way! According to the research, we can build self efficacy through:

  1. Mastery experiences (achieving “wins”)
  2. Vicarious experiences (seeing others succeed)
  3. Verbal persuasion (being told you are capable)
  4. Emotional states (feeling healthy and well)

4. Cultivate good vibes

Positive psychology research has shown that positive emotions not only feel good, they also improve our health and stimulate a growth mindset. The more moments you experience inside a broadened mindset, the more you can fundamentally change who you are, and become a better version of yourself.

You don't have to be a "glass half full" kind of person for this one to work! It’s possible to generate optimism. Simply cultivating optimistic thoughts produces the same chemical benefits as if you’d naturally felt it to begin with.

Optimism training is a skill that can be learned. Positive psychologist Barabara Fredrickson heralds taking the time to call in positive emotions as one of the core things we can do to build up our resilience. 

5. Get an accountability partner

We are more likely to follow through with our action steps when other people hold us accountable and support us. So if you really want to create momentum, find an accountability buddy or hire a coach!

Life coaches help translate insight into action, adding rocket fuel to the process of achieving goals, aspirations, or dreams. Together, coach and client define a future vision, and develop a tactical action plan to achieve the client's specific goals. A good life coach understands theories and models of change, and brings tools for self-inquiry, focus, and accountability to the table. 

It's a fact: the process of making change is more rewarding when you’ve got company. Whether you hire a coach or work with a friend, look for a partner who can help you identify what you really want, set and achieve measurable goals, clear roadblocks, and assess progress along the way. 

Ready to Become A Coach?

Want to help others translate their intentions into action? If so, you’ve come to the right place! A lot of talented people like you dream of having a coaching business, but aren’t quite sure how to get there. At Lumia Coaching, we train and certify adventurous coaches, making sure you’ve got all you need to build a business you love and transform lives, on your terms. If you're ready to learn more about how to become an ICF certified life coach, come check out our Life Coach Training program

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