Here’s One Simple Trick to Keep Your Willpower and Motivation Strong All Day

Little boy reaching into cookie jar
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It’s only human to want to overhaul a bad habit after seeing something inspiring, like Jonah Hill’s dramatic weight-loss transformation.

Maybe you want to adopt a new regimen and work out five or six days a week. Perhaps you want to try the keto diet. Or maybe you just want to get your daily steps beyond 15,000.

Whatever it is, sticking to a new goal without falling off the wagon can be practically impossible. But there’s a way to make it easier.

The key to maintaining your motivation is to focus on making small goals that give you little check points to complete all day long, rather than approaching the day as one giant project, according to new research from the University of Toronto Scarborough.

In the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 16,000 students who completed learning and review exercises over several months. When students were asked to complete a single difficult memory task, performance wavered a bit around the 30-minute mark, then dropped at 50 minutes for the most part.

Point is: You start to burn out quickly when you do one specific task for a long time. When you change up your projects every half hour or so, however, it’s much easier to stay focused on each one.

So rather than “trying to get through the day” or “survive the work week,” focus on each concrete little task in front of you. Get up and go to the gym first. Then focus on your workout. Then focus on getting through your commute. Then focus on the first major task of the day. It’s the same amount of work—but lead study author Dan Randles and the other researchers found that your motivation actually increases when you break up the workload throughout the day.

Having self-control means “doing something not because you enjoy it, but because it’s connected to a larger goal and you want to see it through,” Randles said in a press release.

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