So, knowing how the system works, I’ve developed a checklist that I use if I decide to do something regularly (whether it is the decision to begin running every morning, learning English, or the art of photography). It simplifies motivation, increases the chance to get the job done, and helps me avoid some mistakes. I’ll show the checklist by examples.
1. I remind myself about the existence of the internal mechanism of the autopilot and its impact on me
That morning (it was 24.02.2020), the alarm woke me up at 6:40 because I had scheduled my morning run the day before. I hadn’t gotten enough sleep, but I could afford to lie down for another two hours since I worked remotely. It was a great temptation: the bed was warm and comfortable.
Then, I checked the weather without getting out of bed: it was freezing outside at four degrees below zero and there was a rather strong, unpleasant wind. I was lying under a blanket, realizing that my autopilot had already calculated everything and now was persuading me to go on sleeping and put off the run to another more favorable day, for example, in spring. But knowing about the guile of the autopilot system, I’d ignored my unwillingness and went for a run (what I didn’t regret later, as always).
I have been running for five years, and such morning combats with myself happen constantly.
2. I use the tangibility
The autopilot wants to know clearly, the reason why we do something. Therefore, if I set a goal, I try to explain why I must do it as tangibly as possible.
Somebody said: “It is easy to quit smoking. I did it a thousand times.” I can understand this quote because I, too, tried giving up smoking a few times and remember my feelings well— I didn’t feel much of a difference in my well-being, but I clearly felt the consequences of addiction and withdrawal.
A day, a week, a month went by, and at some point, I couldn’t stand the desire to smoke anymore, particularly for the sake of something I can’t even feel. As a result, I always began smoking again.
Five years ago, when I gave up smoking the last time, in parallel, I began running. Although it was difficult to call it “the run,” — I was suffering, and my body was paying the full price of smoking. But with each run, I was getting better and better, feeling the result of my efforts day after day.
2.1 When a result is impossible to feel, it must be remembered
In 2020 the whole world lived in isolation mode because of the pandemic. As a result, we got more free time, and almost everybody, including me, planned to use it to learn something and somehow self-develop. For instance, I decided to study English (I’ve been putting it off for a minimum of ten years).
Spoiler alert, the motivation system has already helped me: at first, I wrote a draft of this article in March 2020 in Russian; at that time, my English level was nearly elementary. And in December 2020, I translated it into English, already having an intermediate level.
So, I understood that it would take me many months, and I’d want to give up this business more than once. Therefore, I wrote down a list of benefits that a high level of English would give me:
- I’ll become a more valuable specialist in the labor market;
- I’ll able to read nearly any book (at that moment, I could only read books that had been translated into Russian or Ukrainian);
- I’ll able to watch much more quality content on YouTube without limiting to Russian or Ukrainian channels;
- Bilingualism allows you to think in different ways; therefore bilinguals and polyglots are more inventive and variable, their personalities are more multifaceted;
- I’ll able to communicate with millions of people around the world;
- I’ll be able to get a foreign education (at least online);
- I’ll get rid of a sense of shame (I was always ashamed that I didn’t speak English);
- I’ll be able to travel more freely abroad;
- learning a new language stimulates memory, growth, and survival of new brain cells.
And now, whenever I want to give up studying English (and the autopilot persuades me that it’s better to delay exercises and play CS GO), I look through this list, and it gives me the strength to go on.
I do this in the same way with all long-term goals — I describe in as many details as possible why I need to do it. If I can’t formulate a goal, I don’t get to work.
3. I use the immediacy
The autopilot wants to get a result immediately, and it is not interested in what happens next.
Knowing about it, I try to feel a result as fast as possible. When I tried to give up smoking, I fixed the result via the smoking calendar and running.
I regularly looked at the calendar and said to myself something like: “Uh-huh, I already haven’t smoked for two weeks, so the blood circulation improved.” Besides, I noticed how many minutes/kilometers I could run and tried to increase these performances. All of these helped me to cope with my addiction.
I did it in the same way when I began studying English.
I knew I wouldn’t learn English quickly, and the very thought that it would take many months and thousands of hours was depressing and demotivational. Therefore, I decided to begin implementing this venture from the point of view of a right-away benefit.
I love reading, and I always have many books that I’d like to reread. So I began to reread them in an English version (here I exaggerated because it is difficult to call it “reading,” in fact, it is anguish). But with every day, it’s less and less anguish and more and more reading, so I daily see the result of my efforts. For the same effect, when I have advanced to a higher level, I’ll begin rewatching my favorite series in the original English version.
4. I’m sure of the result
The autopilot loses motivation if it’s not sure of the final success of the plan.
Knowing about it, I divide any global goal into small checkpoints — it helps me notice that I don’t stand still and go towards my purpose. In this way, I show myself: if I carry on, I’ll get what I want. Here are a couple of examples.
In learning English, there are levels. When I began studying, I passed an English test, and my level was “Elementary,” but my goal is “Advanced.” I went on to pass this test every month, and recently my level became “Intermediate-upper.” Every new stage immensely motivates me not to give up.
A similar thing happened with jogging. Once, I began with 1 km measuring my results on the way to the goal. And every additional kilometer motivated me to keep on going for a run, and now I jog 8–10 km almost every day, as I had intended initially.
Don’t misunderstand me: all these goals are just games — I don’t run just “to run 8 km”, but for being healthy. However, the feeling of health is too ephemeral, so I invent “goals” that are more tangible and try to achieve them. I don’t want to stay in one row with people who put off everything “for next Monday” or, in fact, “for never.”
5. I search for pleasant methods of achieving my goal
I enter combat with the autopilot as little as possible.
When I mentioned the impulses when I want to quit everything, I meant short-term moments of weakness. But it’s impossible to stand the combat with yourself along the whole way to the goal.
More about it later, but the constant fight with the autopilot affects our psyche badly. Besides, I don’t want to turn my life into continuous suffering, so I always try to find a comfortable and pleasant way of reaching my purposes or implementing my intents:
- I hate learning new words by heart, so I’m memorizing them through some apps in semi-playful ways. Besides, I love to rummage in dictionaries, study grammar constructions, and in general to discover new languages;
- I hate getting up early in the morning, but I love the process of running itself. Eventually, there was no case that I went for a run and regretted it.
I also use the motivation system for rejecting my intents at the planning stage. Following is an example.