By Greg Dardis / Guest Column

This is the point of the year, three weeks into 2016, when New Year’s resolutions start to lose their resolve, when once-crowded health clubs return to their usual capacity and sworn-off Facebook accounts are reactivated.

It’s the time when the gap between dreaming and doing can feel crippling. We succumb to the potato chips and those salty voices of doubt: “Who was I kidding, thinking I could actually pull this off?”

As someone who has made a career in executive training – a professional dimension of self-improvement – I feel strongly about this late-January let-down. There is a way to beat it, and I want to help many Iowans experience the surge in confidence that my clients express once they have undergone Dardis Communications coaching.

The difference between wanting a change and sustaining it boils down to one vital element: motivation. We all know this to be true. But learning what the experts have come to understand about motivation is where real insights – and lasting change – happen.

Are you ready for the big secret? Effort precedes motivation. Not the other way around.

Too often we reverse the cause-and-effect. We wait until we’re feeling motivated to put in the effort. In reality, the act of exerting effort makes us feel motivated.

Brendon Burchard, author of the 2013 bestselling book “The Motivation Manifesto,” explained this concept to Oprah Winfrey, in this month’s issue of O: The Oprah Magazine. It was apropos to explore the topic in this new issue, in which Oprah writes about joining Weight Watchers and appears on the cover in yoga gear.

“Motivation comes from effort,” Burchard tells Winfrey. “People say, ‘I wish I had more motivation today, because then I would try something.’ But our thinking is backward. The way our brain works is that dopamine – the so-called feel-good chemical – is released the second we actually do something. So the motivation doesn’t come before, it comes after.”

“That’s right,” Winfrey responds. “I always say, ‘I wish I felt like working out,’ but if you work out, then you feel like working out.”

Whether it’s de-cluttering a closet or an inbox, the act of getting started feels good. That’s why I recommend setting super small goals that don’t intimidate; if they can get you going, you’ll probably blow past them with ease.

Effort must be joined by attention, the two keys to staying motivated. And they hinge on attitude and environment. How do you feel about yourself? Do you believe your goal is attainable? What kind of people have you surrounded yourself with? What barriers have you allowed into your workplace and home?

In his book, Burchard breaks down a number of issues that can thwart motivation. Letting go of fear is a central message.

“The people who examine their fears of dieting, quitting a bad habit or leaving a bad relationship come to realize there is always less to lose than to gain in making healthy decisions for themselves,” Burchard writes.

I can relate. When I was a college student, I was terrified of public speaking. Today, I’m still fairly introverted, but speaking in front of a group is one of my favorite pastimes. It makes me feel alive.

Most of our first-time students acknowledge some degree of anxiety about making a presentation or pitch. But they are quickly put at ease by the camaraderie of our public seminar, the power of our public-speaking roadmap and the usefulness of our tactics, from how to stand to how to manage eye contact to how to read a PowerPoint slide. They’re relieved to be equipped with a skill set they can apply the next day at work, whether they’re sending an email, briefing the boss or participating in a meeting.

Managers who once dreaded public speaking come to enjoy it. They learn to prepare more effectively, they see themselves improve and they actually have some fun.

That’s the best reward of pouring effort and attention into a goal and then feeling the motivation flow: It’s fun. It’s exciting to take action. It’s fun to make progress. It feels good to believe you can be better tomorrow and to work toward that belief.

Greg Dardis is the CEO of Dardis Inc., located at 2403 Muddy Creek Lane in Coralville. For more information, visit