Goal-setting, planning, organizing, and accountability structures are often touted as the big solution to demotivation and the silver bullet that will get you creative and productive again. The truth, as you’ve learned: It’s a useful strategy for dealing with only some types of demotivation. Pinpoint your unique form of demotivation, and start to tackle it in a specific way.
The Vital Importance and Benefits of Motivation
This article explains the reasons why understanding human motivation is important and well worth the time spent on learning to increase it. It lists many benefits of healthy motivation and distinguishes the types of motivation that are more effective in dealing with our complex and rapidly changing environment.
Understanding motivation gives us many valuable insights into human nature. It explains why we set goals, strive for achievement and power, why we have desires for psychological intimacy and biological sex, why we experience emotions like fear, anger, and compassion.
Learning about motivation is valuable because it helps us understand where motivation comes from, why it changes, what increases and decreases it, what aspects of it can and cannot be changed, and helps us answer the question of why some types of motivation are more beneficial than others.
Motivation reflects something unique about each one of us and allows us to gain valued outcomes like improved performance, enhanced wellbeing, personal growth, or a sense of purpose. Motivation is a pathway to change our way of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
You’re Demotivated by Fear
When you’re afraid, even if you’re entering territory that you’ve chosen to move into, a part of you is determined to avoid going forward. Fear slows you down and makes you hesitant and careful, which can be beneficial to you, but sometimes your fears are based on your imagination rather than on an accurate assessment of the risks in your reality. If your fear is big enough, even if you’re also excited to go forward, the part of you that wants to keep you safe can successfully prevent you from going forward into territory that’s both desirable and safe.
How to get motivated again: To get motivated, you need to deal with your fear. Start by naming your fears so that they’re out in the open. Remember to say a gentle “thank you” to your fears–they’re trying to protect you, after all. Then question your fears: “Why am I afraid of that happening?” “What are the chances that would really happen?” Some of your fears will slip away now.
Look at the fears that are left. What are they telling you about the research you need to do, the gaps you need to fill, and the risk management strategies you need to put in place? Honor that wisdom by building it into your plan. Finally, consider breaking down the changes into smaller steps and focusing on just the next few small steps–this will calm your fears.
You’re Demotivated by Setting the Wrong Goals
Martha Beck has a great model for understanding motivation. She explains that we have an Essential Self and a Social Self. Your Essential Self is the part of you that’s spontaneous and creative and playful, the part that knows what’s most important to you. Your Social Self is the part of you that has been developing since the day you were born, learning the rules of the tribe and working hard to make sure that you’re safe by making you follow “the rules.”
We’re all surrounded by so many messages that feed into our Social Selves and we’re keen to impress our tribes. When you feel unmotivated, it’s because you’re setting goals based purely on what your Social Self wants and this is pulling you away from the direction your Essential Self wants you to take. Your Essential Self uses demotivation to slow you down and to detach you from the toxic goals you’ve set.
How to get motivated again: Take some time to review your goals. Since your Essential Self is non-verbal, you can easily access your Essential Self through your body. Notice how your body responds as you think of each of the goals you’re trying to work on.
When your body (and particularly your breathing) shows signs of tightness and constriction, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re trying to follow toxic goals. If you get a constricted reaction, scrap your current goals and question all your stories about what you “should” do with your life. Notice what makes you smile spontaneously or lose track of time, and set goals related to that stuff instead.
What to Do When Motivation Fades
Inevitably, your motivation to perform a task will dip at some point. What happens when motivation fades? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here’s what I try to remind myself of when I feel like giving up.
Consider every thought you have as a suggestion, not an order. Right now, as I’m writing this, my mind is suggesting that I feel tired. It is suggesting that I give up. It is suggesting that I take an easier path.
If I pause for a moment, however, I can discover new suggestions. My mind is also suggesting that I will feel very good about accomplishing this work once it is done. It is suggesting that I will respect the identity I am building when I stick to the schedule. It is suggesting that I have the ability to finish this task, even when I don’t feel like.
Relative to the time in your normal day or week, nearly any habit you perform is over quickly. Your workout will be finished in an hour or two. Your report will be typed to completion by tomorrow morning.
Theodore Roosevelt famously said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” So often it seems that we want to work easily at work worth doing. We want our work to be helpful and respected, but we do not want to struggle through our work. We want our stomachs to be flat and our arms to be strong, but we do not want to grind through another workout. We want the final result, but not the failed attempts that precede it. We want the gold, but not the grind.
And yet, despite our resistance to it, I have never found myself feeling worse after the hard work was done. There have been days when it was damn hard to start, but it was always worth finishing. Sometimes, the simple act of showing up and having the courage to do the work, even in an average manner, is a victory worth celebrating.
Life is a constant balance between giving into the ease of distraction or overcoming the pain of discipline. It is not an exaggeration to say that our lives and our identities are defined in this delicate balance. What is life, if not the sum of a hundred thousand daily battles and tiny decisions to either gut it out or give it up?
This moment when you don’t feel like doing the work? This is not a moment to be thrown away. This is not a dress rehearsal. This moment is your life as much as any other moment. Spend it in a way that will make you proud.