I've spent the past few weeks speaking to high performing achievers about what motivates them, how they get motived, and what keeps them motivated.

We're at that time of year when we start thinking about New Year’s resolutions. If you're like me, these resolutions last all of a few days before I end up back where I started.

One of the most common reasons for this is a lack of motivation to make changes in my life, work, health or relationships.

As it turns out, there are four basic elements to motivation that I've distilled below.

1. Set a binary goal - you either did or you did not.

Motivation is impossible without a clear goal or an objective in mind. The victory condition needs to be precisely defined and easily measurable with no room for interpretation. Your goal needs to be binary - it was either achieved or it wasn't. If you can see an outcome where the goal could sort of have been achieved, then you need to grab the scalpel and refine it further. Be brutal and disciplined.

2. Acknowledge the consequences of failure

Once you've set a binary goal, you're going to need a sound reason to achieve it. This sounds obvious but it is frequently forgotten. Who, why, or what are you working towards this goal for is paramount. The reasons should be completely subjective with the only criteria being that it is important to you. This can be for personal growth, a better standard of living, or even just for your kids or family. A great way to measure the importance of your reason is to assess the impact of failure to achieve your goal. Who or what is impacted and are you willing to tolerate that?

3. Tolerate the pain

Here's the hard part. Any binary goal with a meaningful reason to achieve it is going to attract a level of pain. If there is no pain, your goal isn't big enough. Find the pain.

"We're not afraid of pain, we're afraid of unending pain."

Once you've found the pain, the key to tolerating it is knowing exactly where it begins and where it ends. We're not afraid of pain, we're afraid of unending pain. Pain comes in many different forms and measures; physical, emotional or even financial. All of these can all be tolerated if you've identified the beginning, middle and end to your suffering.

Open-ended pain is where everyone fails. For example, "I'm going to start going to the gym next week" versus "I'm going to do 10 pushups every day for one week". The latter defines the end point, making it achievable.

4. Test with distractions

Once you've set your binary goal and you know why you're trying to achieve it (and the consequences of failure) and you know where the end of the pain is, it's time to test it. The most effective way I've been taught how is to find your distraction point.

  • Why am I not starting this right now?
  • What could stop me from working on this goal for a day?
  • What could distract me from working on this goal tonight?

If you can find a distraction then your goal either isn't important enough, you don't care for it, or the pain isn't worth tolerating. Any of these conditions is an instant motivation killer and it's time to revisit the first three elements.

Repeat this process until you can't be distracted.

Anyone can be motivated to do anything.

Consider something you're easily motivated by. You'll find that the 4 elements are easily applied to the obstacle and you have no problem getting motivated to get it done.

On the other hand, maybe starting a business, getting a promotion, finishing a diet or quitting smoking (once I've finished this box, of course) seem less likely to be achieved. If you've ever found yourself demotivated by anything like this I challenge you to apply the 4 motivation elements to the problem and try again.

If you do it properly, you can't fail.