9 Secrets of Motivated People

Real-life strategies that will help you to actually accomplish the goals you’ve set for yourself this year from ©Real Simple

New year, new you. It’s the perennial January catchphrase that holds such conquer-the-world promise. And then, well, you get sidetracked with conquering your to-do list. But even the loftiest resolutions (running a marathon, writing a book) don’t have to fall by the wayside come February. Staying motivated―and achieving what you set out to do on that bright New Year’s Day―is surprisingly possible. Just follow these nine mantras, provided by researchers who study motivation and backed up by women who have used them to realize their biggest ambitions.

1. When you make a plan, anticipate bumps. Before even trying to achieve a goal, target potential pitfalls and troubleshoot them. Peter Gollwitzer, a professor of psychology at New York University, in New York City, says that people who plan for obstacles are more likely to stick with projects than those who don’t. In a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Gollwitzer compared two groups of women who wanted to be more active. Both groups were given information on leading healthy lifestyles. But the second was also taught how to foresee obstacles (example: “The weather forecast is bad, but I’m planning to go for a jog”) and work around them using if-then statements (“If it rains, then I’ll go to the gym and use the treadmill rather than skip exercising altogether”). No surprise, those in the second group fared better. Michelle Tillis Lederman of New York City practiced this strategy when she was writing a book last year. She installed blinds on her home-office door to minimize disruptions and hired an editor to give feedback on each chapter so she wouldn’t get stuck along the way. She also established rules, like checking e-mails only after she had written for two hours. “It was easier to follow this plan,” says Lederman, “than to wrestle with every distraction in the moment.” Her book, The 11 Laws of Likability (American Management Association), will be published later this year.

2. Channel the little engine that could―really. A person’s drive is often based on what she believes about her abilities, not on how objectively talented she is, according to research by Albert Bandura, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. His work has shown that people who have perceived self-efficacy (that is, the belief that they can accomplish what they set out to do) perform better than those who don’t. That self-belief is what helped Ingrid Daniels of Newark, New Jersey, leave a stable corporate job to develop a T-shirt line after the birth of her first child. “It never occurred to me I could fail, even though I had no experience,” she says. Today Daniels runs two successful small businesses (the T-shirt company and a line of stationery), which allows her to stay at home with her three children.

3. Don’t let your goals run wild… When your sights are too ambitious, they can backfire, burn you out, and actually become demotivating, says Lisa Ordóñez, a professor of management and organizations at the Eller College of Management, at the University of Arizona, in Tucson. Instead of aiming unrealistically high (such as trying to save enough money for a down payment on a home in six months), set goals that are a stretch but not an overreach (come up with a doable savings plan for your budget).

…But work on them everyday. According to Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us ($27, amazon.com), taking small steps every day will not only help hold your interest in what you’re trying to achieve but will also ensure that you move slowly, but surely, toward your goal. So, for example, set up a down-payment-fund jar and dump your change into it every night. You’ll get a sense of accomplishment each day, to boot.

4. Go public with it. Instead of keeping your intentions to yourself, make them known to many. “Other people can help reinforce your behavior,” says James Fowler, a political scientist who studies social networks at the University of California, San Diego. After all, it’s harder to abandon a dream when you know that people are tracking your progress. Take Stefanie Samarripa of Dallas, 25, who wanted to lose 20 pounds. She created a blog and told all her friends to read it. “I wanted something to hold me accountable,” she says. Samarripa weighs herself weekly and announces the result on Desperately Seeking Skinny (skinnystefsam.blogspot.com). During her first three weeks, she lost six pounds. “People read my updates and make comments, which helps me keep going,” she says.

5. Lean on a support crew when struggling. Think of the friends and family who truly want to see you succeed. Enlisting those with whom you have authentic relationships is key when your motivation begins to wane. Choose people who may have seen you fail in the past and who know how much success means to you, says Edward L. Deci, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, in New York. For Jane Arginteanu of New York City, support came in the form of her fiancé, Glenn. Arginteanu had smoked from the time she was a teenager and had tried to quit before. When she decided to give it another go, Arginteanu says, “Glenn stood by me and told me, without ever issuing an ultimatum, that he wanted to grow old with me. That was terrific motivation.” A year later, she’s smoke-free.

6. Make yourself a priority.Put your needs first, even when it feels utterly selfish. You will derail your progress if you sacrifice yourself for others in order to please them (such as eating a cupcake that a coworker baked even though you’re on a diet). A few years ago, Karen Holtgrefe of Cincinnati was at the bottom of her own priority list. “I had a demanding full-time job as a physical-therapy manager and was teaching physical therapy part-time,” she says. “Plus, I had a husband and two children to care for.” As a result, she found herself stressed-out, overweight, and suffering from constant backaches. “I hit a wall and realized I needed to make some changes for my sanity,” Holtgrefe says. So she quit the part-time teaching job, joined Weight Watchers, and scheduled nonnegotiable walks six days a week―just for her. In a year, she lost 85 pounds, and her back pain (and stress) disappeared.

7. Challenge yourself―and change things up. It’s hard to remain enthusiastic when everything stays the same, says Frank Busch, who has coached three Olympic swimming teams. To keep his athletes motivated, he constantly challenges and surprises them―adding a new exercise to a weight routine or giving them a break from one practice so they can recharge. Amy Litvak of Atlanta did the same thing. She had several half-marathons under her belt but wanted something new, so she signed up for a series of mini triathlons. “Each race was longer than the last or had a slightly different challenge,” she says. She breezed through them and is now training for a full marathon.

8. Keep on learning. To refuel your efforts, focus on enjoying the process of getting to the goal, rather than just eyeing the finish line. Janet Casson of Queens, New York, set out to teach yoga. She completed her training, but finding a position took longer than anticipated. So she wouldn’t lose steam and become discouraged, Casson used the time to perfect her skills. She attended workshops and studied with different teachers. “It was invigorating and kept me working toward my goal,” says Casson, who now teaches five classes a week.

9. Remember the deeper meaning. You’re more likely to realize a goal when it has true personal significance to you, according to Deci. (For example, “I want to learn to speak French so I can communicate with my Canadian relatives” is a more powerful reason than “I should learn French so that I can be a more cultured person.”) And when the process isn’t a pleasant one, it helps to recall that personal meaning. Not all dedicated gym-goers love working out, Deci points out, but because they have a deep desire to be healthy, they exercise week after week. Jennie Perez-Ray of Parsippany, New Jersey, is a good example of this. She was working full-time when she decided to get her master’s degree. However, she knew that pursuing that goal would mean spending less time with her friends and family. “But I was the first person in my family to get a degree, so it was very important to me,” Perez-Ray says. She kept this in mind every evening that she spent in the classroom. Although the sacrifices she made were hard, she reflects, “reaching my goal made it all worthwhile.”

Is Your Major Depression Treatment Plan Working?

Track your progress with a journal of your clinical depression symptoms.

As you start to overcome major depression (also known as clinical depression, major depressive disorder, or MDD), you can boost your success by being an active member of your own treatment team. Once you’ve worked with your doctor and/or a psychotherapist to put a depression treatment plan in place, the next step is to watch for signs that you’re feeling better. Overcoming depression may take some time, but keeping regular tabs on your progress will help your depression-treatment team fine-tune the right mix of antidepressant medication and psychotherapy for you.

Keep a Depression Symptoms Journal

Day-to-day variations in your depression symptoms can be misleading, so it may be more helpful to assess your progress at the end of each week instead of daily. To keep track of subtle changes in your symptoms, use a depression symptoms journal for at least the first month of treatment. Write in it daily.

Use this checklist to assess your progress around the same time each week:

___I feel more rested in the morning.
___I’m interested at work and able to concentrate.
___My energy level seems to be improving.
___Feelings of lethargy or restlessness were less noticeable.
___I tried to eat regularly and healthfully most days of the week.
___I took my antidepressant medication daily (if applicable).
___I exercised at least 3 times this week.
___Feelings of loss, sadness, guilt, or worthlessness were not distracting.
___I engaged in an activity with friends or family.
___Overall, this week was better than last week.

If you’re taking an antidepressant, take note of the following potential side effects and contact your doctor or therapist right away if you have them:

  • Feelings of worthlessness or thoughts of self-harm
  • Worsening depression
  • Changes in your sexual interest

Modifying Your Depression Treatment Plan

Research shows that a combination of antidepressant medication plus psychotherapy offers the best chance for lasting relief from major depression, says Gerry Neely, MA, LMFT, who works with clients in her Seattle practice. For people who feel a stigma about taking medication, Neely adds, “finding the right medication can serve as a short-term bridge to feeling better and being able to fully engage with life.”

If you don’t see improvement right away, don’t give up hope. Research funded by the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) shows that switching antidepressants or adding a medication to your depression treatment plan can help. If your symptoms persist, your doctor will review your current plan and your overall health to be sure nothing was missed. Your psychotherapist can try a variety of techniques to find the right match.

Exercise and Major Depression

Learn how exercise and physical activity can change your brain chemistry and support your major depression treatment plan.

Exercise is prescribed for a wide variety of health conditions — from heart disease to diabetes. Science shows being active can improve your physical and mental health, and make positive changes in your brain chemistry. But if you’re battling major depression, the thought of working out may seem unthinkable. Here’s some information about the benefits of exercise that may change your mind.

Exercise and Nerve Growth    Early brain chemistry research found that mice living in an exercise-friendly environment stopped acting depressed after a stressful social experience — while mice who didn’t exercise stayed depressed. Scientists attribute the mice’s recovery to the growth of new brain nerves caused by exercise.  This and other research has led scientists to understand how brain nerve growth works in humans, too. Adults affect their brain chemistry through experiences — such as physical activities — and how they respond to them. The proteins largely responsible for the brain’s ability to adapt and change are called neurotrophins. Antidepressants affect neurotrophins in the brain — and so does exercise.

Benefits of Exercise Therapy for Depression In addition to stimulating new nerve growth and improving your ability to think, remember, and learn, exercise boosts serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and endorphins in your brain. These neurotransmitters help you calm down and focus. In studies, exercise therapy has also shown an antidepressant effect.

One Duke University researcher, James Blumenthal, PhD, has been studying exercise and MDD for over a decade. “Based on the best available evidence to date,” Dr. Blumenthal believes that “exercise may be generally comparable to medication in the treatment of MDD.” Similar studies continue to find at least modest clinical benefit for exercise and better mental health. But don’t self-treat your depression symptoms or try to get through your recovery with exercise alone. Talk to your doctor about treatment and self-care options — including exercise — that are right for you.

Adding Exercise to Your Treatment Plan Once you start exercising, you’re likely to notice some changes in your symptoms right away. “Simply moving more and sitting less will make a difference in how you feel,” says exercise physiologist and dietitian Amy Ogle, MS, RD. “And if you typically exercise alone, consider working out with a group or partner because the social connection helps lessen depressive symptoms.”

Shoot for at least 2 1/2 hours of exercise in a week. Strength training counts toward that time, too. Just remember to check with your doctor first, especially if you have another medical condition.

“Sticking to a plan and following your progress,” Ms. Ogle adds, “will renew your sense of self-mastery and control.”  You can progress to the following routine:

  • 5-10 min warm-up, gently moving upper and lower body in full range of motion
  • 30 min aerobic exercise, such as walking, light jogging, swimming, biking or a group exercise class. You should be able to talk, but not comfortably sing.
  • 5 min cool-down and stretching

Fine-Tune Your Focus

A short attention span is a hallmark of adult ADHD. But even those with highly distracted minds can take steps to improve their focus. For starters, ADHD adults can minimize daily distractions, like cleaning up cluttered personal spaces, powering down attention-stealing digital devices, and keeping daily to-do lists to a reasonable (and realistic) length.

Beyond that, there are lifestyle strategies that have a direct impact on the brain’s ability to pay attention:

Catch more ZZZs. Lack of sleep — common in adults with ADHD — worsens daytime fatigue and seriously impairs concentration and productivity. It also messes with learning, memory, executive functioning, and emotional stability. If you have a sleep-deprived ADHD adult in your life, suggest that they talk to their doctor about sleep aids that might help.

Hit the gym. According to research, exercise is a powerful tool to boost attention in adults with or without ADHD. But in ADHD-specific studies, exercise improved impaired attention, impulse control, and executive functioning by enhancing neurological functioning in parts of the brain responsible for these jobs.

Be more Zen. Mindfulness meditation may train the brain to focus better. This ancient mind-quieting technique teaches people to reign in mental chatter and focus on the present moment. Although more research is needed to confirm its specific benefits for ADHD adults, one study did find that meditation boosted neural processes in regions of the brain responsible of sustaining attention.

Eat breakfast. Skipping breakfast leads to low blood sugar later in the day — and that means no fuel for your brain cells. Talk about a recipe for poor focus. According to several studies, eating breakfast improves concentration, mood, learning, memory, and overall cognitive functioning. But watch what you put on your plate. Choose complex carbohydrates like fruit and whole grains, which trigger a slow, steady, attention-sustaining release of blood sugar.

Top Ways to Get Your Energy Back — Now

February 21, 2010 12:00 AM by Mehmet C. Oz, MD, and Michael F. Roizen, MD

You’re grumpy at the groundhog (who needed extra weeks of winter?) and a little short with your spouse, and you have been spending more time with the mac-and-cheese casserole than the treadmill. Winter can do that. But it doesn’t have to. Use these strategies to cuff the classic energy thieves that are still hanging around this time of year, and get your mojo back before spring hits:

Energy thief #1: Short, dark days.
What happens: Short days can cause seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — neurochemical changes in your brain due to lack of sunlight. This results in depression in up to 6% of Americans (the further north you go, the more likely you are to be a SAD sufferer). From late fall until spring, people with SAD become depressed, sleep too much, withdraw from friends, and battle low energy and relentless carb cravings.
Turn it around: Light therapy — sitting in front of a special box that shines ultra bright lights — has long been considered to be the best way to combat SAD. But a new University of Vermont study reveals that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be even better. CBT is a type of psychotherapy that helps people outsmart depression by teaching them to change their negative ways of thinking. In fact, in this study, CBT alone was able to stomp out SAD with a success rate of 81% (compared with 49% for CBT plus light therapy and 32% for light therapy alone). Why wouldn’t more therapies be better? Researchers surmise that trying to balance two therapies was just too confusing, but CBT alone allowed people to focus on the coping skills they needed to banish their winter blues.

Energy thief #2: You can’t get enough comfort.
What happens: When the mercury heads south, we crave calories, carbs (they help our brains make the calming neurotransmitter serotonin), and fat. In fact, a 2006 University of Massachusetts Medical School study found that once the days become shorter, we pack away an average of 86 extra calories a day and weigh more than at any other time of year. We also snarf down more total and artery-clogging saturated fat.
Turn it around: Just cozy up to good-for-you carbs and healthy omega-3 and omega-9 fats that will satisfy your biology and your brain without packing on a gratuitous layer of blubber.

Trade meatloaf and pot roast for hearty whole grains like whole-wheat pasta and brown rice, or try polenta, a veggie burger, or salmon. Or warm up with a satisfying bean-based vegetable chili or Tuscan white bean soup. Since beans and whole grains are digested slowly, they’ll keep you full longer, so you’ll eat less overall. And if it seems like there are slim pickings in the produce department, now is actually the prime time to load up on nutrient-packed starches, including sweet potatoes and winter squash (roast or bake them with a drizzle of olive oil). Finish your feast with seasonal winter fruit (think apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, and tangerines, or even frozen berries) topped with a sprinkle of heart-healthy walnuts or almonds and you’ll get all the carbs and fats your body craves — but you’ll do it the healthy way.

Energy thief #3: You stay in. On the couch.
What happens: Your workout plan bites the dust. We log less exercise in winter than any other time of year, with a paltry 45% of Americans and 36% of Canadians keeping active. Pretty ironic, since exercise can lift you out of the winter doldrums by boosting energy, improving mood, and helping you sleep better.
Turn it around: Start with your schedule. Make regular exercise appointments on your calendar the same way you’d ink in any other non-negotiable activity. But give yourself a bit of a break: Don’t think exercise needs to be a hard-core trip to the gym. Taking the dog for an extra-long walk or doing crunches and lifting weights in front of the TV count, too. Still uninspired? Try the 10-minute rule. Make a deal with yourself to get moving for at least 10 minutes. Chances are, once you start, you’ll feel so much better that you’ll keep going.

A “Bad” Habit That Helps You Live Longer?

Some of us just can’t live without our morning coffee fix. And some of us may be feeling a little guilty about that.

Not to worry. Your morning cup of joe could actually be helping you live longer. A recent study has linked coffee drinking to a reduced risk of death, regardless of the cause.

Healthy or Not, Here I Come!
Over the years, research has produced mixed results on the health benefits of coffee. But a recent study was a win for the earthy brew. Heavy java drinkers (2 or more cups per day) experienced a modest decrease in all-cause mortality, including death from heart disease. We can probably credit the antioxidant-rich beans used to brew the stuff. In fact, Americans drink so much coffee that it’s one of our top sources of antioxidants. 

Reality Check
So what are the caveats for coffee drinking? There are only a few. If you are sensitive to caffeine, you don’t need to be told not to be a java junkie. And unfiltered coffee can raise blood fats, so use paper filters and ditch the French press. Although it remains to be seen if coffee has a long-term impact on blood pressure, we know it can cause a temporary spike, so go easy if you have high blood pressure. And — as always — do everything in moderation. A pot-a-day habit probably doesn’t do anyone any favors.

Self-Help Strategies to help you along in Cope With Major Depression

Build on other depression treatments with small steps to feel better every day.

In addition to the scientifically supported treatments for major depression — antidepressants, psychotherapy, or a combination of the two — there are other steps you can take to help lift your mood and support your recovery. Although clinical depression can rob you of energy, motivation, and the desire to do things that you once enjoyed, remember that inactivity can make depression worse. Staying active will distract you from negative thoughts, and it’s one of the best things you can do to cope with major depressive disorder (MDD).

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) recommends these self-help strategies to ease the burden on yourself while you’re depressed:

  • Don’t wait to seek treatment for major depression. The earlier you start treatment, the better (and faster) your recovery will be.
  • Set realistic goals. Treating major depression isn’t a quick fix, and improvement can be subtle. For example, you may start sleeping better or eating better before your mood brightens.
  • Stay active. Whether it’s exercise, cooking, going to the movies, or dinner with friends, return to activities you once enjoyed. As your treatment starts to take effect, you’ll find yourself enjoying your favorite activities again.
  • Be around other people. Isolating yourself from others worsens major depression, but spending time with family and friends helps boost your mood so you can stick with your treatment program.
  • Don’t let everyday activities overwhelm you. Divide major tasks into smaller chunks, set priorities, and do what you can.
  • Don’t accept roles with a great deal of responsibility, which can be overwhelming when you’re depressed.
  • Recognize negative thinking as a symptom of clinical depression. Try to reframe negative thoughts in a positive light.
  • Don’t engage in self-blame while experiencing depressed mood.
  • Postpone major life decisions until you get relief from depressive symptoms. Don’t change jobs, relocate, enter into or end a primary relationship, or make major financial choices when you’re in the grip of major depression.
  • Each day, make it a point to identify one positive reason to make it through the day.