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Motivated Thinking: The Secret To Getting Started 

 October 5, 2018

By  Stephen Hnilica

I used to feel like my fickle motivation was a complete mystery. Sometimes I’d be obsessive and have an unstoppable enthusiasm. Most of the time I couldn’t bring myself to get off the metaphorical couch (because let’s be honest, you play Skyrim in a chair). That all changed in 2012 when I decided to change my life.

For the last 5 years, I’ve been researching what made the difference between the person I used to be, who couldn’t be bothered to leave their room, and someone who was capable of doing something extraordinary (In my case, it was undertaking a 16 months solo hike across the USA).

In all of the research I’ve read, there was one thing that was the greatest determinant of success in any field.

It’s called GRIT, and now, it’s a science.

Angela Duckworth and Gabriele Oettingen are two researchers who have spent their careers dissecting grit, willpower, motivation and how to change what we want.

If you’ve read my previous writing, you’ll know that if you can control what you inherently desire over the long term, then you can control the course of your life. THIS is what is called grit.

Angela Duckworth describes grit as the secret to passion and persistence.

Both Angela and Gabriele have shown that grit is not just an inherent quality, it is a skill that can be learned.

Grit is not a talent, but a habit of thinking.

That habit of thinking can be taught in 5 minutes.

The Counter-intuitive Way To Follow Through With Drastic And Stupid Decisions

In 2012, I decided I hated my life, and something needed to change. I couldn’t change where I was. I wanted to be able to do the impossible.

My brain obliged and presented an impossible goal. I, a 21 year old gamer, would hit to road with my laptop and a backpack, and hike across the USA, never taking a single ride.

It felt impossible, and my friends and family told me if I attempted it, I’d probably die.

But something in the back of my mind obsessed over it, and 2 weeks after the idea first hatched, I was hugging my mom and dad and saying good bye, backpack in hand.

I had developed a way of thinking about the path ahead of me. Something I never did with any other goal I ever held in my life.

I obsessively thought not about the outcome I was doing to reach, but about the challenges I would face along the way.

  • I knew my feet would hurt.
  • I knew my legs would hurt.
  • I knew I wouldn’t sleep very well.
  • I knew I would get depressed.
  • I knew I’d probably be attacked by dogs.
  • I knew I’d run out of food at one point or another.
  • I knew I’d run out of water.
  • I knew I’d be exposed to hard weather I was unprepared for.

Everything I imagined came true, in more challenging ways than I could have imagined. But through it all, I maintained a persistence that was unshakable.

GRIT: The Secret To Getting My P.H.D. (Pig Headed Determination)

After I finished walking across the USA in 2013, I struggled to find that motivation, persistence, and purpose that drove me to overcome the excruciating challenges I faced.

I had a struggle applying the lessons I had learned on that journey to ‘real life’.

I never understood why until I discovered the work of Gabriele Oettingen.

Gabriele took existing research and extrapolated a pattern of thinking that could take lazy college students and give them the grit of top performing students.

This was revolutionary, and it was 4 simple steps that I like to call “Motivated thinking.”

Motivated Thinking A Quick Start Guide

Demotivated thinking goes something like this:

“I have [GOAL] to do… This is hard… Fuck this shit, I’m going to troll my friends on facebook”

Motivated thinking goes like this:

“I have [GOAL] to do. I want to do it because [BIG WHY]. I know I’ll struggle with [CHALLENGE]. If that happens, then I can [PLAN].”

Sounds simple right?

Students who wrote down their goals in this form were 400% more likely to succeed at their goals than those who wrote down their goals focusing 100% on the “WHY” behind their goals.

By focusing on the WHAT, WHY and CHALLENGE, then creating a PLAN to overcome the challenges they’ll face, they allowed their brains to default to a new behavior while using very little willpower.

Stephen Hnilica


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