Achievement Motivation and the Power of Self-Discipline

Achievement Motivation and the Power of Self-Discipline

Ho-hum routine, how very exciting, right?  Turns out it is, or at least it can be. 

I have just finished reading two fascinating pieces on achievement motivation and how the brain processes rewards and self-discipline.  I find this stuff life changing, giving my actions purposes and increasing the satisfaction of sticking with my routines.   I have always believed that achieving big goals and the ability to #digdeep (the power of self-discipline) is really about identifying the right motivation then finding creative ways play to one's strengths and limit one's weaknesses.  I have never accepted that a lack of self-discipline was totally to blame for the inability to achieve goals or stick with the healthy habits necessary to feeling fulfilled.

Build the brain you want

Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life.   Far from remaining static, the brain continues to shape and morph dramatically throughout our lives as a result of our habits and intentions.  Lara Boyd, brain scientist, has done a ton of work on how to rehab the brains of people who’ve suffered strokes. In this fascinating presentation at TED, she explains in detail how the brain develops and changes chemically, structurally and functionally as a result of our actions. She also explains that each brain is unique, genetically inclined to different ways of learning and further explaining why every person has different natural aptitudes.  Her findings are mind blowing not only for the trauma patients in her study but for everyone intent on self-growth, achievement motivation and real change (spoiler alter: the power of self-discipline is important but personal weakness doesn't always determine its success or failure).  Specifically, says Boyd, “the #1 driver of neuroplastic change in your brain is your behaviour.” She provides the scientific explanation behind what every athlete intuitively knows- there is nothing more effective than practice at helping you learn.  Further, because our brains are uniquely and genetically pre-shaped, achieving our goals and a general sense of accomplishment is in large part about identifying how we best learn, what comes most naturally and then adapting our habits, training, and routines to play to our natural strengths.

Achievement Motivation & Useful Brain Hacks

While understanding how the brain works is super important, for me it isn't enough.  I want hacks, I want tips and tricks to help me push through the times when I really just don't want to stick with it.  Enter the work of Daniel Ariely.  In his short book Payoff Ariely explains why motivation is highly connected to meaning and our personal sense of connection to our work, goals and or habits.  Far from being immediately gratifying, “(motivation) includes elements that have nothing to do with joy.  Often it drives us to do things that are highly challenging, difficult and even painful”.  He provides the visual of a marathon runner- many do not look like they’re having the time of their lives in the moment- but ah, the sweet bliss of the finish. Ariely says we too often don't achieve our goals because we lose site of the major difference between short term gratification and long term pay-off as a driver of happiness.  He goes on to give us a how to, ways to trick ourselves to behave in the right ways for the wrong reasons. 

Ways to trick your brain to ENJOY your routine

  1. Reframe the Routine.  If you are stuck in a rut, change something up slightly and focus on observing the results. Like a kind of like an experiment.  In yoga, gymnastics, dance, martial arts- this is sort of mandated by the fact that it takes a ton of tiny muscle movements to achieve larger movements that look effortless. Breath into a different part of the body, focus on rotating the hips inward, etc.  For running it could be a focus on a foot plant that is slightly further froward, closer to the toe.  Tricking yourself is about observing the results of the change, not only the actual subtle change.  Motivation is in large part dictated by a sense of accomplishment.  Experimenting with how to make the tedious more productive is actually highly motivating.
  2. Create the right positive/negative incentives to avoid temptation.  Ariely suggests not only putting your alarm clock across the room if you’re goal is to wake up early to exercise but taking a step further. What if you could link your alarm clock to your bank account so that if every time you hit snooze there was a withdraw sent to some charity you really didn’t like.  pretty motivating not to give into temptation right? 

The insight in both Ariely’s TED Speech and his book Payoff reframes how to think about your ability to achieve your goals and dispells the myth that success is only for people who are "genetically" more self-disciplined than others.  Its largely about training your brain.

Wildly Successful People & Routine

We've talked before about the morning routines of wildly successful people and how most of them include some kind of exercise.  My strong belief is that the same tactics and routines that power you out of bed for an early run, across the finish line of your first 10k or up and into your first press handstand are exactly the same brain tricks that ultimately lead to the achievement of larger life goals.  What are your brain hacks?  Share them with us and receive a 15% discount on your next order!

Useful Links

1. After watching this your brain will not be the same. Lara Boyd

2. Payoff: The Hidden Logic that shapes our motivations, Dan Ariely

3. Dan Ariely: Self Control

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