Updated: Aug 31, 2020
Motivation is potent but can be fickle. It has the child tendency to skulk off if you aren’t giving it your attention and coaxing it out of its hiding hole can be extremely difficult. At times we feel ready to don our cape and take on the world, at other times, a bag of crisps and Netflix is all our unmotivated selves can muster. So, what is the secret to motivation?
Unfortunately, the simple answer is that motivation; as many people conceive it; is largely a fallacy. Our brains are not designed to take us out of comfort, or to do things that are scary or challenging. We are hardwired for safety and survival, therefore anything that our brain registers as a risk, it may actively deter us from doing. Therein lies the problem, we all have to take risks, in order to become improved versions of ourselves, but we probably won’t feel motivated to do so.
Steven Pressfield, author of “The War of Art” suggested that motivation lies where “the pain of not doing something, becomes greater than the pain of doing it”. An example of this could be changing jobs, because you have become deeply unhappy with your current job. Again, there is a problem with this way of being, in that many of us do not want to reach the point of discontentment and pain before motivation kicks in to stimulates change.
We all at one point or another, engage in choices that sabotage motivation. This is often on a subconscious level but bringing conscious awareness to what these choices are, can stimulate their avoidance. One choice response is hesitation. Hesitation is the nemesis of motivation, as the old saying goes “he who hesitates is lost”.
In our moments of hesitation, we spark stress receptors in the brain that heighten the experience (to trigger our innate safety responses) that lead to us withdrawing from situations, speaking and action. This can lead to overthinking, devaluing our abilities and triggering our inner critical thoughts, which compounds our response to procrastinate and further withdraw. If you imagine Batman, Robin and the Joker going head to head, the Joker is hesitation, but motivation is only the sidekick. Action is our Batman. More of this later!
Blame and shame cycle
Some of us (many of us) have a tendency to blame and shame ourselves when we lack motivation. We feel guilty for procrastination and for lack of action, especially in a society which makes us believe motivation is abundant. This creates a cycle of conflict and avoidance, where we can become deeply anxious or depressed, thus feeding our negative self-belief and lack of motivation, which helps us spiral further.
Knowing that motivation is not what we believe it to be, will help you acknowledge that it is completely normal to not feel motivated. It will also, help you to make conscious choices to be OK with this and to recognise that taking action is a decision, a choice we can make, regardless of whether we feel motivated or not. Normalising our tendency towards demotivation, taking away the critical thoughts associated to our demotivated state and replacing them with nurturing messages that inspire and fuel our want for change, will provide greater results in creating and sustaining motivation.
So how do we kick start motivation and fire enthusiasm?
Preparation, action, momentum!
Dean Bokhari quoted “It is easier to act yourself into a better way of feeling than it is to feel yourself into a better way of acting”. This ethos can be applied to the creation of motivation. Often we wait for motivational inspiration to hit us, however this approach is fundamentally flawed when we realise that; in most cases; the predecessor and impetus for motivation is in the taking of small specific steps and decisive action toward a desired goal. Once the initial push has been conducted (like the first pedal on a push bike) this will create momentum that if stuck with, will ignite our motivation.
This is where preparation comes in. Imagine you want to get up early to write a report, do a workout or engage in a specific plan of action, the likelihood of completing the chosen action will be facilitated by your preparation. Setting an alarm, WITHOUT A SNOOZE and an intention to sit upright when the alarm goes off, placing your laptop, resources or gym wear in plain sight, so it is the first thing you see and clearing any distractions, will boost your chances of engaging with your specific action. Important to this also, is the concept of understanding that all things begin with a first step. Don’t consider the whole task, just the initial actions, as this will avoid any associated feelings of overwhelm. This may seem pretty obvious, but it is often something that we forget. For example if you know you want to work out but don’t feel like it, commit to two minutes of getting your blood pumping and see how you feel after…you may surprise yourself. (This is a trick used by Betty Rocker called the two minute motivator).
Talk about your goals!
If the people around you are aware of your goals, you are statistically more likely to achieve them. Engage others, share your aspirations and allow them to help motivate you and support you with your endeavours.
Record your outcomes and celebrate achievement
Creating a simple visual chart to monitor your progress, can help you to stay motivated. It can also help you to see patterns or dips in your progress that can inform changes, as well as give you regular opportunities to evaluate your goal and your intentions. It can also be a good motivator to create milestones and reward yourself when they are achieved, making the reward specific to you and something that will not look to sabotage your progress.
Who is in your circle?
It is so important to have people in your circle who hold your best interests at heart, that value your goals and that encourage you to stay focused. I know there are some that may not have this support network, however if you do, keep these people close throughout your journey. If you don’t, joining clubs, or registering with online apps like “Pact” where you can interact with individuals who share common goals to you, can help you to stay motivated and strengthen your resolve.
It is also important to evaluate the feedback that you receive from others. Constructive feedback from the right sources can often be beneficial but unnecessary criticism is harmful. Similarly, those who offer unconditional positivity and are too scared to tell you when you are sabotaging your outcomes, may in some cases, impede your progress. Stay true to your values and mission and evaluate whether those around you are offering the right support.
Hesitating your motivation away
Mondays, New Years day, tomorrow, hold no magic for motivation, There is however real potency in “now”. Those that take decisive action are more likely to follow through with tasks, so seize the moment and start your journeys as soon as you can. This may be even through the simple task of preparation.
Some of you may be familiar with the term “eat that frog” (I’m a big fan of frog eating) with the "frog" being the task you want to do least. Getting rid of the frog as a matter of importance means you are less likely to procrastinate. In addition to this, other tasks will seem far easier in relation. This creates good momentum and an increased sense of accomplishment, that is highly motivating. Furthermore, Mel Robbins (who, in my opinion, is an absolute guru) talks about the “5 second rule”. The principle of this, is to give yourself 5 seconds to make a decision to engage in action before hesitation, fear and thus procrastination kicks in. Check it out online, if you haven’t before, it's a nifty little tool.
Perfection is not a prerequisite
Its OK to do things wrong, to not complete tasks in one go and to aim for progress not perfection. Perfection is one of my pet peeves as it ruled my life for years, prior to my counselling training. It is something that often creates huge anxiety and has the potential to keep you in a loop of procrastination. Therefore, becoming detrimental to your motivation. So, please be kind to yourself, aim for progress and don’t worry if things do not go to plan. As we know, two steps forward and one step back, still means you are one step ahead of where you were and you may learn valuable lessons in the process.
Part of this also means that you have to be realistic in your goal setting. Considering your finances, availability to resources, your time and physical investment, may mean that certain facets of your goals may have to alter to become achievable. This is not about undermining your abilities but being honest with yourself. Motivation will dissipate fast, if you set yourself a goal that is unattainable and that lies to far beyond your CURRENT limitations.