Try a Little Forced Motivation

Summer is here again (in the Northern hemisphere, at least)—that time of year when going to the lake or catching a ball game seems much more appealing than burying your nose in a stack of books. After all, the word "summer" comes from a Latin word meaning "time to slack off." OK, I made that up, but if it were true, it wouldn't be surprising, would it?

But you can't slack off this summer. Perhaps your MCSE is set to expire at the end of the year, and you've got some exams to take. Or perhaps, with the way the economy is going, you feel it's really important to keep your skills up to date. So just how do you make yourself study when it's 80 degrees and sunny outside? Forced motivation.

Motivational guru Tony Robbins often says that one of two things govern all human actions: the desire to seek pleasure or the desire to avoid pain. To motivate yourself to do something, you either have to envision pleasure resulting from performing the action or you have to envision pain resulting from not performing the action. It's a simple philosophy, but one that can be quite effective in helping you reach your goals.

For example, let's say your goal is to become an MCSE by the end of the year. To help provide the motivation to study, you can picture the reward that you'll receive from your certification, whether it be a new job, a promotion, or a pay increase. Or you can envision what will happen if you don't become an MCSE. It might mean that you'll have to stay in your boring, entry-level position longer. It might mean less pay and none of the things you could purchase with increased pay. Or it might mean that you'll feel that you let yourself down.

Doing such mental exercises can help you focus and reach your goal. But you can also take it one step further. Bring something tangible into the picture. For instance, make a deal with a coworker who you consider something of a rival. Agree to buy his or her lunch once a week for every week between now and when you get your MCSE. Shelling out your hard-earned money each week to buy this person lunch will regularly and effectively remind you of your goal. If you pick something painful enough, you'll be amazed at how much quicker you'll reach your goal.

Here's an example to illustrate this strategy. My friend wants to become a pretty good golfer this summer. He could just go to the driving range a few hours a week as most people do and hope that his game gets better. But he's chosen a different strategy: He made a deal with one of his friends who is a much better golfer. They agreed to play a round each month during the summer with a significant amount of money on the line—not enough for my friend to go broke, yet enough for it to be painful if he loses. Knowing that his skills will be tested each month has really helped my friend focus on his goal. Although I don't condone wagering, in this case, it has provided positive motivation.

The bottom line is that all of us have a person we're striving to be that's different from the person we are. Motivational tactics such as the ones I've outlined can help you narrow that gap. The next time you feel stuck in a rut or get "cabin fever" and just can't study, try some forced motivation to get you moving.

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