Banish excuses with five ways to stoke the fire in your belly.

You’ve got the will, the passion, the fire in your belly to go get your goal—and you’re not acting on it. There are many reasons why that desire can fizzle. Life offers plenty of cold water to splash on that flame, and we make excuses, too. The most intractable excuses are beliefs, for example, that you have to do something you don’t like or don’t want to do to reach your goal or that you need to appease someone in your life who’ll be deprived of your time and attention.

Here are some of the most common ways we lose our fire and strategies to protect and stoke the flame.

Put less stock in discipline

Imagine asking how to make a steak dinner more palatable for a vegan. That is exactly what we’re doing when we try to find the motivation to do things we don’t want to do (even exercise). Then we tell ourselves we need to be more disciplined. While discipline is admirable, often it’s not sustainable. How much discipline can an exhausted parent muster on the way to one more school play, Little League game or doctor’s visit? In comparison, it probably doesn’t take much discipline to invest the time, money and energy into a vacation—even if the last one isn’t quite paid off yet.

The key is not to find your inner General Patton, but rather to find what you love and let your rituals serve you.

Find what you love

Without a flame, there’s nothing to fuel. So ask yourself, What is it that you love to do, without having to be motivated, persuaded, threatened or convinced to do it? What do you desire and value so much that it’s something you think about much of the time? One way to get really clear insight into what moves you is to write your own obituary. In case that sounds depressing, the point is to write what you want it to say, not what you think it should say. What would your obituary say about you and the meaning of the life you’ve lived?

Do something

Action, not feeling, is the key to keeping that flame alive. Once you know what it is you truly want, engage in it. An actor is most inspired by performing, a painter by painting, and a writer when deep in the creative process—not lost in contemplation about what to write, but actually doing it. The behavior is what allows us to be completely inspired by and subsumed in what we want. How much time each day do you spend on doing what you absolutely love to do?

Measure your reality

If motivation is what fuels us, then the neurotransmitter dopamine is the spark that ignites the fire. One of the most effective ways to elevate our levels of dopamine is through consistent exercise. According to the National Institutes of Health, it takes as little as 30 minutes a day, five days per week.

Over the course of your next three workouts, track your state of mind. Use a scale of one to 10 to gauge your mood and energy—with 10 being so fully charged that for the sake of your family, you don’t let the neighbors see you like this and with one being cause for even Debbie Downer’s concern. Where are you before you start your workout? Check in with yourself about 10 to 15 minutes into it. What has changed? What are you feeling? At what intensity? At the moment when you finish your workout, what changes have you noticed to your mood, energy and motivation? You might notice that the difference is significant. Use this state to help you become more engaged in what most engages you.

Let your rituals serve you

Rituals have physical characteristics as well as emotional attributes—or those physical aspects gain emotional meaning that, in turn, keep that flame of passion alive. For example, I have a three-step morning ritual of exploration, exertion and execution. My ritual not only enhances the experience of my morning but sets the pace for my entire day.

I start off reading about something related to the things I desire most. Immediately after that, I exercise for 30 minutes. And then I spend 30 minutes doing what I love most. If you love to play the piano, you would spend 30 minutes reading about great musicians, composers or anything related to music that captivates you. Next, you would exercise for 30 minutes. Finally, you’d apply your exercise-induced, elevated dopamine levels to 30 minutes of piano practice.

It’s a practice that enhances what you love to do and can improve the effectiveness of what you do the rest of your day. Don’t have 90 minutes? Then spend 15 minutes exploring, 30 minutes exercising and 15 doing what you love to do. It’s not about the outcome; it’s about making what you want or what you love something you don’t need to give a second thought.

photo credit: Adobe, Uber Images