A popular belief in the world today, especially in self-help, is that telling yourself to do something is effective. I’m going to go to the gym five times this week. I’m going to sit down and read my book for 3 hours today, and so on. Think about it for a second: how well has this worked for you? If it was effective, we would literally get everything we want done, and that obviously isn’t the case (not to mention unrealistic). Thankfully, there is a better way, and the science is starting to back it up.
Despite what nearly every self-help “guru” suggests, self-affirmations aren’t effective at creating motivation. Start by looking at your own results. How well does it work out for you to tell yourself to do item A, B and C? How often have you created lists of things you’re going to do, and avoided the list entirely and done a poor job of completing the work? Even if it worked for you at some point, how long did it last?
In order to create effective, long-lasting motivation, the scientific research suggests that asking ourselves whether or not we will succeed is much more effective than telling ourselves.
Instead of telling yourself “I will go to the gym”, ask yourself: “Will I go to the gym?”. Apply this idea to the things that are important to you. Ask yourself the question right now. Do you feel the difference already?
It turns out that we respond much more effectively to a challenge than to empty reassurance (who would’ve thought?). You can keep telling yourself how badly you want something and how hard you’re going to work to make it happen. But at the end of the day, telling yourself what you want to hear is a subtle form of lying to yourself. Unconsciously, you don’t actually want to do it. Instead, you want to tell yourself it’s going to happen so you feel better about it. You want to feel like you have the situation under control. Until, of course, you fail to achieve your goal, and then blame yourself for it.
However, by asking yourself instead of telling yourself, you give rise to an important motivator. The question “Am I really going to do it?” opens up the possibility that hey, it might not happen. And if you want it badly enough, that’s not going to be an acceptable outcome. On the other hand, blindly telling yourself that it absolutely, positively will happen, subtly drains your motivation: why put in the effort now when it’s absolutely going to happen anyway? And then it doesn’t.
The research backed it up by experimenting with a number of individuals like me and you.
It worked for them. And it will work for you. The question now is, are you going to go out and apply what you just learned?