- Make it a money-losing venture: According to a study that compared rewards versus punishment in motivating reluctant exercisers, losing money is more painful than not getting it in the first place. So rather than rewarding yourself at the end of a task, try paying yourself a lump sum to begin with, and then fine yourself if you fall short of your goals.
- Use subliminal messages: Priming the subconscious by having reminders of your goals helps you to achieve them, according to a large body of psychological research. Try sticking notes around your home or pictures of whatever it is that you are aiming for.
- Make abstract goals visual: In tests of physical endurance, people stayed strong for longer when they saw a bar graph growing over time rather than a stopwatch going round and round. Research suggest that the same trick could help in other walks of life, perhaps drawing a graph to track your holiday savings rather than checking your bank balance.
- Mind your language: Active verbs for dealing with difficulties, such as ‘battling’ or ‘overcoming’, make it harder to control impulses. Forget about ‘fighting’ desires and think about ‘stopping’ or ‘pausing’ them instead.
- Regular rewards: Do not save the payoff until the bitter end. Instead, try giving yourself smaller rewards along the way. Research suggests that even small or meaningless rewards help spur people on. It seems that the fear of missing out keeps us going just a little bit longer.
- Create a little competition: Research shows that near misses are more motivational than wins, and tend to spur people on to better things. What is more, the boost you get from failing at one task spills over to others. To get the best from yourself it might help to compete against someone who is slightly better than you.
- Watch what you eat: Avoid the high-fat diet fad. According to studies in both rats and humans, a high-fat diet affects gene expression in the brain in such a way as to impair the mesolimbic dopamine system, which controls motivation.
- Laugh: Do not just take a break, have a laugh. In a study in which people took brief breaks from an impossible task to watch videos, those who had seen something funny persisted for longer than those who watched a relaxing video of dolphins. Hilarious cat videos will help you get your work done: you heard it here first.