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Two Strategies to Combat Fading Motivation


By this point in the challenge, you know the desired identity you’re trying to build and you have an implementation intention for inserting this small habit into your daily routine. You may have also made a few environment design changes that help nudge things along.

The expectation is that you have performed your habit at least 5-10 times by this point.

It’s possible that what we have covered so far is all you need to build a new habit. And, if so, that’s fine. The whole point of this challenge is to get you results. If it’s working, then it’s working. There’s no need to make it more complex than it needs to be.

However, you may have noticed that you started strong and were feeling motivated but have since fallen off challenge and struggled to complete your habit more than once or twice.

This decline in motivation is something that everyone experiences from time to time. In many areas of life, we assume that if we put in a little bit of effort, we’ll get a little bit of results. So, naturally, when we’re trying our best and putting in a lot of effort, we think we should get a lot of results. But habits don’t really work this way. Rather than having some linear relationship with achievement, habits tend to have more of a compound growth curve. The greatest returns are delayed. This gap between what we expect and what we experience is what James Clear refers to as the “plateau of latent potential.”

This plateau plays a role in any journey of improvement. You’re putting in work each day, but you feel stuck in this valley of death. You’re accumulating potential, but it hasn’t been released yet. It’s all effort, and no reward. This can be a frustrating experience, and you need something to help you stick with it while you’re waiting for the long-term rewards to accumulate.

James Clear shares two strategies you can employ to stick with a habit when your motivation begins to fade.

The first is called “temptation bundling.”

Temptation bundling works by linking an action you want to do with an action you need to do. You’re more likely to find a behavior attractive if you get to do one of your favorite things at the same time.

Perhaps you want to watch your favorite TV show, but you really need to fold a basket of laundry. Using temptation bundling, you could only watch that show when you are folding laundry.

Of course, some people find it hard to implement these strategies. When you know you can watch a show anytime without folding the laundry, it becomes easy to skip the “need to do” part and jump straight to the “want to do” portion. Thankfully, you can also use temptation bundling to make the process itself more enjoyable rather than only allowing yourself to enjoy something at certain times.

Maybe you want to indulge in a few pieces of your favorite candy, but you need to work on your book manuscript. Solution: only allow yourself to eat your favorite candy when you sit down to work on your book.

Maybe you want to chat and gossip with your friend, but you both need to get in shape. Using temptation bundling, you could plan gym or park dates with your friend so you can talk and get in shape together. Save your chats for when you’re walking.

Maybe you want to read romance novels, but you need to meal prep.

Solution: Listen to books on Audible while you prep healthy meals for the week.

In other words, even if you don’t really want to fold laundry or work on your book or workout or meal prep, you’ll become conditioned to do it if it means you get to do something you really want to do along the way.

To utilize this strategy for yourself, you can use this formula:

“I will only [HABIT I WANT TO DO] when I [HABIT I NEED TO DO].”

Let’s look at some examples.

  • I will only get a pedicure when I am processing overdue work emails.

  • I will only eat my favorite snack when I’m studying French.

  • I will only visit my favorite coffee shop when I’m making my budget for the next week.

The second strategy you can use to boost your motivation is referred to as a “commitment device.”

A commitment device is a choice you make in the present that locks in your actions in the future.

For example, some exercise classes enforce a strict policy where you cannot cancel within 10 hours of your class. In this way, the gym creates a commitment device: the act of signing up for the class locks in your future action.

There are many ways to create a commitment device in your own life.

  • Use a website blocker to lock you out of distracting websites. Or, delete distracting apps off your phone.

  • When you go to the doctor or dentist, always schedule your next appointment before you leave. Now it’s on your calendar.

  • Leave your phone at home when you’re going to an important meeting or going to catch up with a friend or loved one so it can’t distract you.

  • Host a monthly book club or “wine night” with friends so you’re forced to tidy up your home each month.

  • Use an automated savings program that takes money from your paycheck and moves it to a separate account every month.

A well-structured commitment device requires you to put in more work to get out of the good habit than to get started on it. Temptation bundling and commitment devices are two helpful strategies that may enable you to get over the hump and build a habit that lasts.

Progress Check-In At this stage of the challenge, you should have the basic structure of your habits figured out and your environment should be aligned with your goals. If you’re still having trouble getting started, though, strategies like temptation bundling and commitment devices can be used to add an extra layer of incentive on top of your habit. How could you use either of these tools to work on your habit? Please share in the comments.

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