How to motivate yourself part 4.

In this part, we’re going to look at how we can think about using our social relationships in order to help you motivate yourself towards your goals. First, it worth doing the basics of motivating yourself in parts 1, 2, 3 and addressing fear based or habit based barriers to getting stuff done.

For some people, having goals is unpleasant or aversive. Perhaps, you consider yourself a free spirit or you like to take things as they come. That’s fine and it works for constrained periods of time. However, it is often difficult to sustain unfocused energy over the long term and not feel helpless and directionless. For some: being directionless and unfocused for a long time can be demotivating. A very common statement I hear is the “demotivation” that comes when watching your good friends move forward whilst you continue to hold the position of “not having goals” or choosing a direction. It’s not uncommon to have these observations trigger thoughts of inadequacy or failing to live up to your potential. I’m not endorsing excessively comparing yourself to others nor avoiding comparison entirely. It’s part and parcel of being in a community and misses the bigger picture. What if you wanted to motivate yourself and focus your energy into a chosen direction? The reason why this skill is so critical is because if you struggled with gaming addiction, pornography addiction, gambling addiction or even social media addiction for a prolonged period of time, you may have gotten into a deep and engrained pattern of not thinking about the future or your long term goals. It’s not surprising that research suggests that those addicted to substances routinely pick short term gains over larger gains that require a delay (i.e more likely to take $10 now than $20 next week).

Okay, let’s get to work. You’re ready to motivate yourself to a meaningful goal.

The first step is to write down what you want to achieve, if it’s worth doing, it’s probably scary and overwhelming. That’s okay, use skill 3 and break it down. Now, get into the practice of writing specific and clear goals. A common mistake is keeping our goals vague, and often because they are vague, there’s no action. If your goals are not specific then you cannot mobilise resources and orient your mind to achieve them.

Here’s an example.

My friend Mr K wants to be a musician and keeps his goal at that level of vagueness.


  • Luke Vu PhD: hey K, what are you planning to do after your degree.
  • Mr K: I’m not sure, something in music.


  • Luke Vu PhD: hey M, what are you planning to do after your degree.
  • Mr M: I a classical guitarist and want to be playing at The Wanderer by the end of the year, not sure how I’ll get there yet. I’m going to try getting a local gig first.

Who do you think will get closer to their goal of being a musician? It’s M. There are powerful psychological reasons why we should have specific goals. Here are my thoughts on why:

  1. Success and failure states: The first is that when you clarify and specify your goals, you tend to define failure and success states. For some, they don’t like the anxiety of knowing that they could fail so they avoid it. However, that’s missing the point! you need that anxiety to push you forward towards your success state. The truth is: you are going to experience anxiety anyway! At some point, your lack of direction will impact you physically then you will have fear of hunger and homelessness drive you. You can prevent unnecessary stress by taking it on when your base hierarchical needs aren’t threatened. Having clear failure and success states are really important so that you can define what it means to move forward. It’s also okay to fail, that’s the cost of attempting something worthwhile which is always somewhat risky. The only mistake you can make is if you don’t learn from your failures. For most, failures are tolerable provided that they felt that they were moving forward
  2. Motivated Attention. When you clarify your goals, it deeply affects your perception of the world, and it does so by focusing your attention onto objects, people, relationships and opportunities relative to that goal. Your brain, eyes and body interpret the world based on your goals (you change the way you perceive the world). Consider the example. Imagine you are walking in a supermarket, say without a shopping list, you are naturally going to browse, see lots of brands, inspect products and notice the specials. Now imagine you lost your mobile, and your job is look for it. Well, that supermarket experience is very different. You will only attend to information that is relevant to the goal and you will ignore what you think isn’t useful (this happens so automatically that you might not be aware of it). You likely be hyper aware of information that might be relevant such as glancing twice on anything black and rectangular. You might look at people that could be holding onto similar objects similar to that. It’s deeply how we process the world, you didn’t have to tell yourself “I better look for black rectangular objects, I should look near the floor and etc”. You ignored automatically what you thought wasn’t useful to your goal. Odds are: you’re more likely to find your phone. When you have clear and specific goals, you cannot help but perceive world in relation to the goal. For M, he is going to notice more opportunities and information relevant to being a musician just because he defined it clearly.
  3. Social Consistency. Most people like to be thought of as reliable and consistent. This is typically done by “doing what they said they would do”, repeatedly. It helps build trust because you’re predictable and dependable in that social relationship. Highlighting to another person’s your intimate goals, often triggers your anxiety towards achieving your goals. It is also why most people avoid it. For some, they want to maintain the image that they’re consistent or more accurately “consistently not failing”. However, for those who can harness that anxiety, it’s a powerful motivator for action. It is problematic when your concerns of social judgement start to become barriers against attempting things that are meaningful and appropriately ambitious (and therefore somewhat risky). Perhaps it’s worth considering, rather than be consistently avoidant of risk, you can be that guy/gal that is consistently pursuing and committing to their meaningful goals. I know I prefer to be that guy.
  4. Mutual social support towards goals. I think this one is often overlooked, if you pick appropriately ambitious goals it’s often helpful to have more than one mind on the case. So when you share your goals with your close and supportive friends, in some ways, you help shape a little part of how they see the world too. This is especially true if your goals are clear and memorable. Not only is it mutually beneficial for you to share your goals with supportive others, you’ll be able to get valuable insight and feedback towards your goals.
  • Is it realistic?
  • Are there barriers you have overlooked?
  • Are there perspectives that you could benefit from?

I think the most important benefit is that supportive friends are likely to recognise opportunities that would help you towards your goals. It’s a powerful 2-way street, since you’re likely to call your friend the moment you recognise an opportunity that would benefit their meaningful goals. The clearer and more memorable your goal is, the more your friend cannot help but pay attention to opportunities that might be related to your goals. I believe that if your goals (and theirs) are ambitious and meaningful, it’s likely that a few lucky breaks and supportive friends are probably necessary for both if you to get there, so support each other!

Clear and specific goals for your life are often necessary for you to start to mobilise yourself towards achieving them. At the start, you may feel anxiety just clarifying what you want to yourself and you might feel anxiety at the options that you will need to sacrifice in order have specificity and clarity. Don’t be surprised, it’s part of the process of choosing specific goals. Once you commit to your specific goals, you can’t help make see the world towards the achievement of that goal. From there, it doesn’t take much to make a little progress and feel like you are moving forward. Happy recovery!


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Luke Vu is a registered psychologist practising in Maroubra Junction, supporting those who struggle with substance and online addictions. Call me or send me a message today.