3 Ways to Stay Motivated That You Can Try Today

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Art of Impossible" by Steven Kotler. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the most effective ways to stay motivated? How can you stay motivated even when feeling overwhelmed?

Bestselling author and award-winning journalist Steven Kotler believes the key to staying motivated involves how your brain functions when under stress. According to Kotler, adopting a positive attitude sustains motivation by generating more “reward chemicals” in the brain.

Keep reading to learn Kotler’s three ways to stay motivated by maintaining a positive mindset.

The Best Way to Stay Motivated? Adopt a Positive Attitude

Kotler claims one of the best ways to stay motivated involves cultivating a positive attitude. Kotler argues that staying positive promotes a continual release of reward chemicals that alleviate stress and help you develop the resilience you need to overcome obstacles and sustain your momentum. Additionally, a positive state of mind expands your perspective, making it easier for you to notice and absorb new information. This new information inspires creative ideas and solutions to help you achieve your long-term goals.

Kotler recommends the below ways to stay motivated by cultivating a positive mindset:

1. Confront Your Fears

Identifying your fears and practicing to overcome them is an excellent way to stay motivated, according to Kotler. While this may sound like an uncomfortable process, engaging in behavior that’s outside of your comfort zone—and therefore feels risky—triggers dopamine spikes. This means that you’ll experience pleasure each time you attempt to overcome your fears. Kotler claims that this process will train you to move forward and remain psychologically stable even when you’re feeling uncomfortable—resulting in proactive behavior that accelerates your progress. 

(Shortform note: While Jay Shetty (Think Like a Monk) also argues that overcoming fear is essential to maintaining a positive state of mind, he explains that before you can identify your fears, you must first get to the root of them. Though your fears may appear to relate to a specific subject, they often arise from a broader, unconscious fear. He suggests that you should keep asking why you’re afraid of something so that you can identify the fear at its root. For example, you’re afraid of talking to experts about your idea. Why? Because you don’t feel confident enough? Why? Because you don’t feel like you know enough? Why? Continuing with this line of questioning will provide clues about what specific actions you can take to resolve your fears.)

2. Be Grateful

A useful way to stay motivated is to write down 10 things you’re grateful for each day. Take the time to feel good about each item on your list. Kotler argues that taking time to feel thankful makes you feel more positive because it keeps you focused on what’s going well in your life. It also trains you to seek out positive information—a skill that helps you reframe problems and find solutions to overcome any challenges you face.  

(Shortform note: Though the mood-boosting benefits of gratitude are well-known as a way to stay motivated, it can be difficult to practice focusing on what’s going well, especially when things aren’t. Like Kotler, many psychologists suggest overcoming this difficulty by establishing a daily gratitude practice, such as keeping a gratitude journal. This creates a habit of thinking grateful thoughts. Some self-help practitioners also suggest using visual reminders to trigger thoughts of gratitude. For example, use a gratitude quote as your screensaver or place a picture of something you’re grateful for by your desk.) 

3. Practice Mindfulness

Spend at least five minutes each day observing your thoughts without judging them. According to Kotler, practicing this way to stay motivated increases awareness of your habitual thoughts and how they make you feel. This awareness makes it easier for you to identify, interrupt, and reframe the negative or unhelpful thoughts that prevent you from staying motivated. 

(Shortform note: Mental health practitioners confirm that practicing mindfulness increases self-awareness, encourages positive thoughts about yourself, your circumstances, and others, and improves your mental well-being. Consequently, mindfulness practices also help you manage the symptoms of many stress-related health issues such as high blood pressure or tension headaches. In Mindfulness in Plain English, Bhante Gunaratana recommends establishing a schedule to turn your mindfulness practice into a habit as a way to stay motivated. Begin by setting aside 10 to 20 minutes each morning or evening to observe your thoughts, lengthening your time as you get more comfortable with the process.)

3 Ways to Stay Motivated That You Can Try Today

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Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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