Want to Establish a Good Habit? Use This Secret Mental Force

By Mary Jaksch

Have you ever wanted to establish a new habit but then your motivation wavered and waned? You are not alone. It happens to most people.

Many people who wanted to join the Fitness Challenge wrote that they were nervous about losing motivation along the way. One person said (echoing the concern of many others):  “My weakness is that I start and then stop too quickly.”

Does that sound familiar?

I’ve read many books and articles on motivation and they are all inspiring and wonderful. But they don’t mention the key problem:

Motivation doesn’t work

It doesn’t work because it’s not a strong mental force. Bad news, eh? The Oxford Dictionary defines motivation as a desire or willingness to do something.  Here’s what happens:

You get an idea of how you would like to change. Maybe you want to lose weight, get fit, rise early, or go back to school. You read an inspiring article, or go to a meeting and you’re all fired up. Motivation is at its peak.

The problem is, a few days later you no longer feel motivated. It’s all become just too difficult. In fact, you feel worse than you did before you read the article or joined the meeting. You just can’t find whatever it takes to stay “motivated”.

It happened to me a few years ago when I started to study for a Masters in Religious Studies. At first I was excited and looked forward to the challenge. But after a few months I felt overwhelmed. Free time was eaten up by my studies, and I was always running behind with my assignments. Just six months into the program, my motivation was at low ebb. It all just seemed too much.

Nevertheless, I graduated three years later. How did I do it? I discovered a mental force that is much stronger than mere motivation.

The problem with motivation

If you rely on motivation to carry you through, you’re doomed to fail whatever it is you want to achieve. Because motivation is an unstable force. It’s like the weather: sometimes the sun shines, and sometimes it rains. Motivation depends on many variables. If you’re tired, or hungry, stressed, or unwell, your motivation will be low. When than you’re rested, your motivation will be higher.

What is the strongest mental force?

If you really want to change, you need to focus on a mental power that is stable and will see you through the dips and surges of motivation. We all have this power, but we have to dig deep in order to activate it. Our secret mental weapon is called resolve.

Resolve is the power that makes change happen

Let me give you an example. In my twenties I was a heavy smoker. I smoked more than 30 cigarettes a day. I tried to stop three times. The first two times I was well motivated. I could see that it would be beneficial for my health. I gave up for a few months, but then I broke up with a boyfriend, was stressed at work. Next thing, I was back to heavy smoking.

The third time was different. I made a commitment to myself that I would stop. I resolved to stop, no matter how hard it would be. And it was hard. Very hard. But since then I’ve never touched a cigarette again.

Resolve is a solemn promise to yourself

Before you make the promise, think carefully about the ‘why’. What is your deepest reason for wanting to change? If the reason is that you want to please others, expect problems. But if the ‘why’ comes from your deepest aspiration, then your resolve will be strong. Here are three important tips:

1. Expect your motivation to waver

If you accept that motivation will waver, then you’ll be better prepared to work through those dips. Resolve to keep going, no matter what.

2. Set a schedule

Write up a schedule and stick to it. For example, I do karate. I stick to a schedule of classes that I go to each week. I don’t take any notice of how I feel about going. I just pack my karate gear and get into the car. It’s much easier to make a one-time resolution about what my training schedule is, than to make a new decision before each training session on whether I’m going to go or not.

3. Tap your passion

If you do undertake something that you are passionate about, it’s going to be much easier to make a resolution and stay on track. It can be difficult to find your passion. Actually, a good friend of mine, Barrie Davenport, has created an inspiring course, called Discover Your Passion. She’s also published a free  Ebook that I highly recommend. I’ve written about Barrie’s inspiring course and book: click here to read more.

These three tips will help you to dig deep and activate your resolve. Remember, it’s a solemn promise that you make to yourself. It can be helpful to share your resolve with others.

What is your experience of motivation and resolve? Please share in the comments.


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  2. ignacio says:

    i found the “resolve” term perfect! something that when overwhelmed cant be found.
    Personally I found Google Calendar as a key tool to resolve many unscheduled things that were affecting my work-life balance, i suggest it to anyone with that problem!

  3. The Vizier says:

    Hi Mary,

    A lack of motivation over the long run is a common problem for many of us when we set out to do something. There are just so many distractions and reasons not to stick to the plan and to give up.

    I like how you emphasize the need for resolve. The 3 important tips you give are indeed vital to ensuring our resolve remains strong over the course of time.

    With regards to our motivation wavering, I feel that it helps to have many different reasons for wanting to do something. That way if one reason weakens, we have other reasons to fall back on.

    Above all, we should always dig to the heart of the matter and find out the why for doing something. We have to create that meaning and align it to the very core of our being. When we can do so and ensure that conditions are such that we must follow through, we are likelier to establish a good habit.

    Thank you for sharing this article with us! 🙂

    Irving the Vizier
    .-= The Vizier´s last blog ..The Price of Freedom =-.

    • Dennis HIcks says:

      Hello everyone,
      I would like to respond to the person that said, that he/she could not keep a promos to himself. As a person who has had the same problem in my past with basically always being able to do for others, but never for myself. First off, I was a person that always saw doing for others as a great thing. But, when it came to doing for myself; it was always a no go. I just never put myself first in my life, and that is what one must do. And two, you must in your minds thinking put you as number one, knowing that you must take care of you first then the rest of the world second. It’s selfish yes, but it is the right kind of selfish. People believe that being selfish is wrong. But, there are at least two kinds of it, and the kind, I speak of is of the great kind. Love, and honor for one’s self, to have the belief that you are just as important as the rest of the world to yourself may be selfish but your worth it….right? Your right don’t break a promos; to anyone if you make it, but don’t forget to include yourself in that crowd. Plus, we get so far off into pleasing others, and doing for others, and not ourselves we have to retrain our thinking minds to include ourselves in that great doing. I was one of those people that thought if I ever started to think of myself as deserving that I would be just so, selfish. But, you must believe that you are just as deserving as anyone.

  4. Paula says:

    Setting a schedule is most important. To give that schedule a name is helpful too. I tend to use military names like ‘Operation A’ or ‘Mission Z. This empowers me.
    .-= Paula´s last blog ..Pine Cone with Leaves =-.

  5. Love that word, resolve. It’s so true about motivation. As a speaker it’s the reason one has to be experiential. If the audience experiences a change or shift that day it goes a lot further than just firing off a lot of fun and exciting ideas. Amen for no more smoking I quit in my 20’s and began running. Just signed up for a 1/2 marathon in June.

    There is a smoke shop down the road called, “The coughing canary.” How appropriate and hideous is that? Lol
    .-= Tess The Bold Life´s last blog ..62 Tips to Create Your Own Love Story =-.

  6. Dennis HIcks says:

    I have found that all resolve is found within how; we think. If one can change how they think amazing life change of any kind will happen. I know, I have made all those amazing changes in my thinking, and in my life, and health.

  7. Lindsay says:

    Setting a schedule is a great suggestion. BUT it is the sticking to it that is the tough part! Once we make something a habit, it’s easy (or easier) to stick to it…and it takes less time than we’d think!
    .-= Lindsay´s last blog ..Automatic Intuition- Course in Review =-.

  8. Contrarian says:

    The people who create the life they want don’t rely on motivation.

    Motivation is important, but motivation is a feeling so it is temporary, hence it cannot be relied upon. The only thing that you can count on is your integrity. Integrity is defined by your ability to maintain a resolution AFTER the spirit in which you made it has past.

    The difference between the winners and losers … 1). winners ACT their way into feeling. 2). Losers feel their way into acting.

    Do what you need to do and wait for the feeling come. Don’t wait on the feeling before you do what you need to do … or you might not do it.
    .-= Contrarian´s last blog ..The UnHappiness Project =-.

  9. Ricky Ferdon says:

    I resolved to get back into competitive running after a 6-year lay-off. At age 55 I was way out of shape and weighed more than I ever had in my life. I began in June 2010 with powerwalking…no running. In fact I knew it would be months before I would run again. I stuck with it and began working running into portions of my walk around October. Now, this weekend, 43 pounds lighter and a vegan, I am running in my first race in 6 years, a 15K (9.3 miles). Yes, I was motivated by my competitive nature and not accepting my sorry physical state. BUT, without “resolve” to actually put in the necessary work, I would not have reached the point of being able to run a 9.3 mile race.
    .-= Ricky Ferdon´s last blog ..Lest You Come To Me As A Little Child =-.

  10. Sandra Lee says:

    Hi Mary,

    I love the idea of “making a solemn promise” to your self. The tip on setting a schedule is so useful. It’s so true you have to go beyond whether you “feel” like doing the activity or not. Setting a schedule and be ready to roll is the way to go.

    I think we all have different temperaments, some of us more impulsive than others. I believe we can all train the mind but, in relation to creating new habits, it’s more challenging for some than others. Thanks for these tips to help smooth the way for us.
    .-= Sandra Lee´s last blog ..Free Yourself with Free Writing =-.

  11. Dave says:

    Hi Mary,

    I’d never thought of resolve in this way before, and it makes such sense to me, the way you describe the difference in energy. It also makes sense that there are so many motivational speakers out there and so few ‘Resolve’ speakers. It’s easy to whip yourself (or someone else) up into feeling motivated about something even if it’s likely to fade away shortly afterwards, more difficult and confronting to make that ‘solemn promise’ to yourself.

    But looking back, the major changes I’ve made in my life have all had that sense of resolve, even if i didn’t recognize it at the time.
    .-= Dave´s last blog ..The Intention Rock =-.

  12. marianney says:

    wow good point about resolve. i have been trying to cut out dairy, gluten and sugar for a long time now and no luck, but maybe i’ve only been half-a$$ing it. i can see now that i have not resolved to quitting. definitely something i am going to look deeper into today.
    thank you for sharing.
    .-= marianney´s last blog ..maybe we are minimalists after all =-.

  13. Fascinating notion Mary. That makes so much sense! Motivation does ebb and flow. I love this idea about resolve.

    I love the idea that Linda shared on “WritetoDone” about setting goals, too. She said that you need to set a goal that inspires you.

    But I wonder if consistent lack of motivation is part of an underlying problem, maybe there is something deeper getting in the way of your will? I think of people like Dr. Phil and Suze Orman who wag their fingers at people like they’re unruly children and make people feel guilty about their actions.

    But who really wants to be fat, broke, uninteresting or lazy?

    It is my strong belief that nobody does, and that what’s getting in a person’s way may be the very fact that society is telling them that they are not worthy. That they are not good enough.

    Wonderful insight, as always. Thank you.
    .-= Ollin Morales´s last blog ..Dealing With Your Emotions As You Write =-.

  14. Dennis HIcks says:

    Nothing is any harder then we make it in our thinking, nor is it any easier then we make it in our thinking. Everything we do starts with a thought, good, or bad. You are the thinker, and the creator of all that enters your mind, or not.

  15. Jenny Hones says:

    Hi Mary,
    Thank you for this post. Somehow they are always so timely for me! I totally agree that our motivation waivers and that we must resolve and schedule our actions. For me, I find that if you can see some kind of result, no matter how tiny, it becomes the motivator that helps you keep going because there is proof that your efforts are being rewarded – I think we need patience.
    .-= Jenny Hones´s last blog ..Enjoy Mochi – Isobeyaki Style =-.

  16. Oskari says:

    Thanks Mary

    I love habits… the everyday tiny steps towads my purpose.

    I work on populating my everyday life with habits connecting to my body, mind, heart and soul. Luckily this kind of work seems easy to me… once decided, I am able to keep my commitment. Thanks to your post, I got one more piece to understand how this happens.

    Wishing you all a great day!
    .-= Oskari´s last blog ..With my back straight- life as practice =-.

  17. diana says:

    Hi, Mary. I am with you on this! When I think of resolve, my back automatically gets straighter, I breath deep and I feel more confident. I am in the process of doing several things right now that require resolve – and got knocked off my program but good yesterday. This morning I read this and realized – ok, time to reorganize and breathe deep – and get back to it. Thank you for this. It helped me today.

    I also think that resolve goes hand in hand with resilience. When we have the tools and foundation to bounce back, it makes resolve easier. Resilience comes, among other things, from loving ourselves deeply.

    All the besta
    .-= diana´s last blog ..the lessons of having more time =-.

  18. Angela says:

    I loved this and will use as I do your fitness challenge. So true how that motivated feeling doesn’t last. “Resolving” to do seems much more powerful. My challenge with this will be to keep that promise to myself. I’m very dependable (one of my biggest strengths) when it comes to doing things for OTHERS that I have said I would do. When it comes to keeping a commitment to MYSELF – that’s what I need to work on!
    .-= Angela´s last blog ..YOUR Story- Who’s writing it =-.

  19. Patti Foy says:

    Hi Mary,

    This is the perfect info for me right now. I’ve noticed lately that I could use a few tricks to keep me more disciplined about things that are important to me. I’ve been able to do it in the past quite well, but the ability seems to have disappeared. This may be just the key and I will give it a shot.

    I can’t help but think that your “Keep a schedule” is an important element. And if not a schedule, to at least get very clear on what the commitment is. Perhaps in writing. That way, it’s easier to be aware of the exact boundaries and not wiggle out of it. Something to think about — or try!

    Thanks for sharing this!
    .-= Patti Foy´s last blog ..Enhance Your State of Mind in Minutes with This Easy Tool =-.

  20. Marnie says:

    Willpower also seems to be an elusive myth at times. I’ve found that “trialling” a new habit for 21 days and blogging about it keeps me honest.

  21. Sean T says:

    Mary, good stuff on motivation and very timely with the fitness challenge and many of us trying to maintain our New Years resolutions.

    One thing that i find important to maintain fitness goals is intention. If we remind ourselves of our intentions it will help keep us focused on the goals that we have set for ourselves.

    – Sean

  22. Justlife says:

    Yup, totally agree with that Mary. To me, resolve means no excuses or second thought allowed because you’ve decided to do so and is very determined about it. Just like pursuing my goal, I’ve never looked back after a year and ‘resolve’ really works.

  23. So true Mary – People with passion are powerhouses of possibility!
    .-= Peter G. James Sinclair´s last blog ..10 Reasons Why Kindness Matters =-.

  24. Nina says:

    Wonderful article, thank you! The only thing I’m left thinking about is why it is so horribly difficult for me to keep a promise that I’ve made to myself. I treat promises to others as holy, but for some reason I don’t seem to view myself equally important. Hrm, some work to do here 🙂

  25. Dennis HIcks says:

    Our motivation to make our personal lives better in anyway at all should be to LIVE, to love, and to be happy. What better motivation could one ever achieve then to move one’s life in a forward motion; as life must always be doing.

  26. What a great article!! I love thinking of it as “resolve” instead of just motivation, which almost seems overrated. I plan to share this on my School of Simplicity introduction, thanks so much for your inspiration!


  27. Sean says:

    Thanks so much!

    Was a great read and a new perspective for me! 😀

    Staying on the path and creating a better life through new habits can be tough after the initial burst of motivation wears off. But if we stick with it the rewards are certainly worth it!

  28. Motivation doesn’t work. Totally agree with you on this, Mary. Resolve is the strongest mental force. Yes, this is true. Without direction – or a set goal – what would motivate anyone? What would anyone be resolved about or have a resolution for? Without a goal set beforehand, that’s when people would lose motivation; with goal setting, that’s when we are resolved!

    Like a covenant, a vow, a solemn promise to yourself, a goal encompasses everything else. It would need good planning and management for specific and relevant actions toward the goal. It would need developing of self esteem because one would have to evolve and develop to get to that goal. It would mean being always ready for new challenges, back-up plans, being fit mentally and physically, de-stressing skills, honing creativity and yes, one should always find ways to stay motivated.

    See, everything else would be embraced by our goal. And yes, it’s resolve that would power us to reach it! The resolution to stay on track, learn along the way and being ready for the surprises that we’d likely come across.

    Thanks, Mary! Your revelation of this secret mental force is a good addition to how I’d position the importance of goal setting. Bless you, dearie! Keep posting!
    arina nikitina´s last blog post ..Inspirational Video- Be the Change

  29. Dennis HIcks says:

    Motivation, actually does work. It’s what you make your motivational factor. It should be you, your motivation for change is yourself, to live a better life, to have full control of you, and your life’s path. You, and a much better life is your motivation. If you want to lose weight, your motivation should not to be able to buy a new dress, but instead to be more healthy, and active. Resolve, or motivation are only as powerful as the person who is trying to achieve a certain goal, or goals in ,or for their life. If you can’t lose weight for your life because you can not keep to a diet, then resolve will fall to the side also. It’s all about being in control of you, and your life. Either you are the one controlling your life or you just let your life turn out as it will; and trust it will be okay. Either way your motivation, or resolve you are the reason for one or the other, and not to please someone else. I am very sorry if this post sounds in anyway negative, I do not intend it that way. However, I have been on both sides of this debate, I know it don’t matter what you call it really, only that you get your “Resolve” or Your ” Motivation” and do what you need to do for your life to be what you want it to be. In short; stop letting your life live you, and begin to live your life.

  30. Avadhut says:

    this is really interesting.
    Avadhut´s last blog post ..How to do industry analysis

  31. Zig Ziglar quote says:

    People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.

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