Chunking is a technique from cognitive psychology originally used to improve memory performance. For most people, it might be pretty tough to remember a long string of random numbers like this: 5052950167 Chances are it’ll be easier to remember if you break it up into chunks: 505 – 295 – 0167 Luckily, the principle of chunking applies to much more than remembering number strings, or even memory in general. In fact, chunking—or breaking things down into smaller parts—is a fantastically effective strategy in just about any endeavor. For example, suppose you have a big report to finish by the end of the week and you keep procrastinating on it. You imagine the 25+ pages of tedious corporate drivel you need to churn out by Sunday evening and you shudder at the mere thought of it, instinctively deciding to clean your bathroom rather than sit down to work on the report. Psychologically, a big part of your procrastination here is how you look at the project. As it stands, you’re seeing it as one giant, overwhelming task. Instead, what if we broke it down into smaller chunks? For example: If you have five days left to write the report, you might chunk it like this:
Named for the clever hero of the Trojan war, the Ulysses Pact is a technique for holding yourself accountable to stick with a goal even when it’s hard. The key ingredient in a Ulysses Pact is that we make a choice in the present (when things are relatively easy) that binds us to perform an action in the future (when things are hard). For example, suppose you want to stick to a plan of going for a run two times per week in the morning with a friend. You could write your friend a series of checks, each for $20, and instruct them to cash one and use the money on whatever they want if you miss a workout with them. In short, the Ulysses Pact helps you maintain high motivation when things get tough by locking in a future behavior ahead of time. For more on how a Ulysses Pact works and other examples of how to use it, read this: The Ulysses Pact: An Ancient Technique for Building Better Habits
One of the most damaging factors in our ability to stay motivated to achieve our goals is procrastination. On the one hand, in the moment, procrastinating can be detrimental because it causes us to miss a task or routine and/or make it far more inefficient than it needs to be. Just one more episode of The Office, then I’ll go to the gym. But more significant in the long run, when we procrastinate we lose trust and confidence in ourselves. It’s as if we tell ourselves that we can’t be trusted with important projects and goals. Over time, this erodes our sense of self-efficacy, the belief that I’m the kind of person who is competent and accomplishes what I set out to do. But, if we can find a better way to deal with procrastination and foster our self-confidence and self-efficacy, not only will it help us stay motivated, it will actually boost our overall levels of motivation. I’ve found that the best way to deal effectively with procrastination is through a series of techniques I call Productive Procrastination. The basic idea is that fighting against our tendency to procrastinate doesn’t work very well in the long run. And instead, it’s best to accept that it’s normal to want to procrastinate and figure out a way to work with this tendency. For example: One way to look at procrastination differently is that it’s the result of our brain’s natural desire for novel and change. Instead of getting down on ourselves because we crave novelty, what if we embraced this? Suppose you’re working on staying motivated to keep up your journaling habit every evening. But you find yourself regularly procrastinating on doing it. Instead of fighting this, build in a little enjoyable activity right before your journaling. Chances are, if you give yourself permission to procrastinate in small ways on a regular basis and in a structured deliberate way, you’ll be less likely to end up procrastinating in major, chaotic ways. Learn More: Productive Procrastination: How to Get More Done by Procrastinating on Purpose
One of the biggest obstacles to our ability to stay motivated and make progress on our goals is distraction: the unexpected text from our spouse in the middle of a workout, the old friend we bump into at the coffee shop while we’re trying to get work done, etc. But it’s not just external distractions that can derail our motivation and sidetrack us on our goals… Sometimes the most powerful and destructive distractions are internal: worry about how the big meeting will go tomorrow distracts us from our work today; daydreaming about how great it will be to look fit distracts us from going on that run; replaying a frustrating conversation from the day before in our heads makes it hard to be present in our actual conversations. The Distractions List is a tiny tool you can use to manage internal distractions like these and keep your motivation high. Here’s how it works:
I think there’s a lot of truth the saying Failing to plan is planning to fail. But I also think that Failing to plan to fail is just as dangerous. In other words, it’s both naive and counterproductive to assume that you’ll never slip up or stumble in your journey toward your goals (if you never do, it probably means you should reexamine the goals you’re setting ). So instead of getting blindsided and frustrated by slip-ups, we could save ourselves a lot of grief and stay motivated more effectively if we had a concrete plan for what to do should we slip up or stumble on the journey toward our goals. Here are some examples of the types of specific action items you might include in your plan:
One of the best ways to get motivated to workout is to do it with other people. If the senior in your life still has a hard time exercising on their own, be their accountability partner. Working out with your loved one will make the process more enjoyable and easier for them, and on top of that, it will also keep you healthy. The two of you will be able to share some quality time together while getting fit. In fact, your loved one may not even realize they’re working out. Going on a walk with you may be something they look forward to every day instead of something they dread.
Getting motivated to exercise is much harder if you don’t like what you’re doing. So find a few ways to make exercising enjoyable for the senior in your life. There are a few different ways you can do this. First of all, make sure you do your best to include their hobbies in their workouts. For example, if they like to spend time with their dog, have them take plenty of walks. If they are social and enjoy company, sign them up for a workout class at the gym. But you should also think outside the box. Does the senior in your life have grandchildren? Grandchildren have a lot of energy, so they can get your loved one moving while having fun. Have your loved one take the grandkids to a park or play with them in the backyard. This will keep seniors active while spending time with people they love and having fun.
Having goals doesn’t make much of a difference if seniors don’t have the time or means to actually do the exercises. Think about their daily schedule and find times to incorporate working out into their normal routine. Maybe they can take a short walk around the block every day before they check the mail. Maybe they have a bit of free time in the afternoon that can turn into exercise time. Put together a solid schedule. This will help seniors know when they can workout and will help keep them on track. Finding the time or motivation without a schedule can be much harder.
Setting goals can play a big role in giving seniors the motivation to exercise. But they may need help coming up with these goals. Sit down with the senior in your life and ask them about what they want to do in the future. They may want to travel, have more energy to play with the grandkids in the backyard, or even run a 5K. Once you know what they want to do, you can find some exercises that will help get them there. Then set smaller goals along the way. When they reach one of these goals, come up with some type of reward. For example, you can take them out to a nice dinner or buy them that book they’ve been interested in reading. The exact goals and rewards you use will depend on your loved one’s interests, so find something that works for them.
The seniors in your life might not be able to move the way they used to when they were younger. They can’t just hop on a treadmill and run a few miles or pick up 20-pound weights anymore. Because of this, they may simply not know how to exercise. Spend some time doing some research on good exercises for the elderly on your own. Then when you have several options, show them to your loved one and have them pick the ones they’re interested in the most. After that, pick a day to teach them how to do the workouts. You should also think about what the seniors in your life already enjoy and incorporate it into their workouts. Do they like taking walks? Have them go on a short, 10-minute walk every day. Do they like watching TV? Teach them some sitting exercises they can do during commercial breaks. Once they know what they can do, seniors may be much more interested in exercising. You might not have to do much more to motivate them. However, some seniors may need a bit more of a push. Here’s what you should try next.