Life’s Checkpoints — Creating Motivation and Happiness

Are you feeling unmotivated, stagnant, or bored recently? Is there a sense that your days are repetitive or routine? If not, feel free to read on anyway just for fun. These emotions tend to have something in common: passivity. We’re waiting for something to happen, something to change, something to move us forward in our lives and/or relationships. Life seems to be happening around us, but we can’t seem to get on the forward-moving track we’d like to be on. Therefore, we live day-to-day in passive repetition.

What keeps us motivated to carry on the daily repetition? Having things to look forward to: vacations, holidays, days off from work, weekends, promotions, a big event coming up, etc. When feeling stagnant, it’s easy to pass off the majority of our days, weeks, months, or even years while looking toward significant “checkpoints”. Checkpoints are the events that keep us motivated through the repetitive or mundane moments in our lives. For example, how often have we thought along the lines of, “if I can just can through the next few weeks of work, I’ll have a vacation”?

Checkpoints become greatly important in creating satisfaction in our lives and relationships. We need to increase what we look forward to in our years, months, weeks, and days — as individual people, as friends, as couples, as families. Most people have some sort of long-term checkpoints in the back of their minds already (family, career, etc.). But, without short-term checkpoints, long-term checkpoints can essentially shove aside significant chunks of life. We end up pushing precious days behind us — that we don’t get back — in order achieve a later goal. In order to resolve this, we need to keep one eye on the long-term checkpoints and one eye on the short-term checkpoints.

What can checkpoints be? They can be anything we want them to be: dinner with a friend, family dinners, reading a book, hiking, baking, cooking, going out with friends, playing with your kids, going to the gym, going on a date, watching a movie in bed, etc. It is also possible that these checkpoints can become routine. This is okay. The idea isn’t to avoid repetition as much as it’s to create meaning and satisfaction. So, if one of your checkpoints is meeting a friend for a snack at a set time every week (which is part of your routine that you also look forward to), then it’s good.

One area of caution: keep the checkpoints healthy! If your checkpoints are becoming increasingly isolating, risky or self-harming (e.g. drinking, substance use, gambling, stealing, binge eating, promiscuity etc), impulsive or compulsive (e.g. over-shopping, overspending frequently), or harmful to others, professional help may be needed, as something more serious is likely the cause of these types of behaviors and urges.

Here are some suggestions to help create checkpoints:

1. Make a List

Make a list of things, no matter how seemingly insignificant some of them may seem at first, that you would look forward to (whether or not these are things you already do or have done).

2. List your Current Checkpoints

Anything coming up in the next several months that you’re feeling motivated for, no matter how small or large. It could be a project at work, a skype session with a friend or family member later, a date on Friday, vacation in 2 weeks, etc.

3. Space Between

If you have a monthly calendar available to you, put the currently existing checkpoints in, and visually note the space between them to see how far apart they are.

4. Fill in, space out

Fill in the checkpoints you’d like to add, and put in a specific time for each one. Spread them out  — if you do them too quickly you’ll end up back where you are now. Also, if you don’t have enough on your list and see a lot of open calendar space, mark areas where you’d like to add some checkpoints. If scheduling is difficult, aim for simpler checkpoints (which can be equally as satisfying if it’s something meaningful to you).

5. Do them!

Hopefully this step takes care of itself. If you have checkpoints set up, then these are things that you’re looking forward to!

Remember, this is purely about creating meaning and satisfaction in our lives that goes beyond a few long-term goals per year. Some less-desired repetitions (e.g. work) will probably always be there, to an extent. We want to create a feeling that says, “I’m looking forward to tomorrow (or whichever day) because of (checkpoint)!” as often as we can. The more checkpoints we have to look forward to, the more motivated and satisfied we will feel in our lives.

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