Feeling that end of summer slump?
Whip-crack-away, whip-crack-away, whip-crack-away!
It is the last day of summer and as the days get shorter and the nights get cooler I can often feel my motivation leaching away alongside the summer tan.
But I do have a handy tip to prevent you from folding away the last vestiges of your get-up-and-go with the swimsuits and flip-flops ready for next year.
Have you ever considered training yourself to respond to a key word or phrase, rather like a Pavlovian dog?
No? Well, read on.
In essence you link together the behaviour you want to create to a signal; a sound, a bell as in Pavlov's experiment, a word, or a visual stimulus. This is called associative learning and it is a widely used, successful tool across many therapy models. This basic conditioning technique can be easily learnt and adapted to treating many forms of anxiety and can be used positively in helping to quit smoking, in weight loss and in many other behavioural based issues.
Pavlov taught his dogs to salivate in anticipation of a good meal in response to a bell, having observed that the dogs naturally demonstrated a biological physical sign (salivation) when they could smell or hear a meaty dinner being prepared. He linked the sound of dinner coming to the sound of the bell, until eventually the dogs would salivate, just to the sound of the bell being rung.
The biological response is totally normal, and the stimulus is easily applicable - and no, you cannot adapt this technique into brain washing or forcing someone to do something that is out of their usual character.
However, this conditioning can be used in a positive way to train yourself to a new pattern of behaviour. In this context, to help us to motivate ourselves.
Many years ago, I had a border collie dog, one who required a lot of exercise and so we began to do a sport called Canicross. In general terms, you train the dog to run in front of you while you run cross country behind with an elasticated leash between you. The dog has to learn to run in front and not stop to sniff every blade of grass and pebble, nor to stop and cock a leg or change direction while you are connected together and running. I taught my border collie to do this with the command words "Mushy Mush".
But in teaching the dog that "Mushy Mush" meant that he had to stop what he was doing and concentrate on running straight ahead of me at a steady pace until given another command to stop, I was also training myself.
Years later, I find that just saying "Mushy Mush" aloud still has the same effect on me; to me it means get your head down, stop procrastinating, stop making excuses and finding delays, stop putting things off, stop dilly dallying and just get on with it!
I'm not suggesting that you need to think of yourself as the dog, or even begin cross country running in order to re-train yourself, but you can condition yourself to behave in a certain way to a suitable stimulus.
3 simple steps to creating a positive motivational prompt
Initially you need to find that specific memory when you had to make an effort, when you got stuff done, when you saw a project through to completion and felt motivated and inspired to finish. Make sure it is a positive memory - one that invokes feelings of happiness, satisfaction, congratulation and most of all achievement.
After you you have identified your memory, find your stimulus - chose a word, or a sound, something that is quickly and easily accessible to you, a finger click, or tapping, a sound recorded on your phone, a couple of bars of a song - I've used the whip-crack-away song from Calamity Jane very successfully in the past.
Now begin to associate that memory to that signal, visualise the memory as clearly as possible while activating your stimulus. Repeat this over and over and over until the signal and the memory are truly tied together, until you don't have to concentrate so hard to pull up those positive feelings, they are there as soon as the signal is given.
This process is a long as a piece of string, it may take just a few repetitions for your mind to create the association and allow you to draw on it, or you may need to keep repeating it over a much longer period. If you are struggling, remember to make that memory as clear as possible, avoid other distractions while concentrating on it, spend time really visualising it, use photos to help bring it to life. Or you may need to change your stimulus to one that comes more naturally to you. Many NLP techniques are physical, such as tapping or rubber band snapping - use what works for you.
Once you have created your positive motivational prompt, you are ready to use it when you need to, you can call on it when you need that extra push whatever the chore or situation you find yourself in.
Just as an afterthought and in the spirit of 'practitioner practice what you preach'; here is a quick video of my current canine companion and her opinion of what "mushy mush" means.....