“Of course, motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.” – Zig Ziglar
If you are like most people, there are days when you just aren’t feelin’ it. It might mean hiding under the covers rather than throwing them off to face the day. It could look like setting goals and then missing the mark, as in archery, followed by taking your ball and bat and going home. I know, I’m mixing metaphors, but I’m sure you get the idea.
In my therapy practice, I sit with many clients who describe lack of motivation as a core issue.
- “If only I could sustain momentum, I wouldn’t feel so depressed.” This can feel like a Catch-22 since at times depression drives lack of motivation.
- “I never learned how to accomplish my goals; no one ever modeled that for me.”
- “I get really excited in the beginning and then my energy just fizzles out.”
- “I start out doing well and then drop the ball.”
- “I feel successful for a little while, make a mistake, then give up.”
- “I self-sabotage a lot.”
- “With ADHD, I start a project and then my attention gets pulled in another direction and things fall by the wayside.”
Motivation has rarely been a problem for this recovering Type A, workaholic. If anything, I have it in excess and don’t know what to do with all the inspiration and ideas that are wash over me like waves on the beach. That is when the importance of prioritizing becomes evident.
To rank your goals, it helps to begin with listing them and then traversing the paths that can ultimately wind their way to achievement.
- Where do your interests lie? What lights you up from the inside? That is one way to determine focus. Many people have the problem of not knowing which direction to proceed.
- Do you believe it is acceptable to follow your bliss or were you taught that it was frivolous or self-serving and that you needed to devote yourself to more mainstream paths? Many a dream is dashed by those disapproving messages.
- Fantasize to realize. Create a scenario in your mind of the actualization of one or more goals. Make it a full sensory experience by seeing, tasting, touching, smelling and hearing the stimuli around you. Immerse yourself in it, since your body doesn’t know the difference between what you imagine and what it experiences. Studies with athletes using visualization to enhance motivation and success provide evidence that it is effective.
- See it through to completion, including the steps it took to get you there. Rehearse it in your mind so that by the time you “arrive” it will be as if it already occurred.
- Consider offering yourself a “preward” in anticipation of success and not just a reward after the fact for a job well done. It could mean a trip to your favorite place in nature, followed by doing school work. It might look like a (healthy) and delicious treat, before going to the gym to work off the caloric intake.
- Chunk it down. This is guidance I recall hearing many years ago, when I was beginning my work as a therapist. Best-selling author, (of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame) Jack Canfield speaks of the importance of incorporating that concept into planning and performing. He says, “Sometimes our biggest life goals seem so overwhelming. We rarely see them as a series of small, achievable tasks, but in reality, breaking down a large goal into smaller tasks — and accomplishing them one at a time — is exactly how any big goal gets achieved.”
- Use your words to benefit and not bash yourself. Too often, we use the power of the spoken word to our detriment, erroneously believing we need to rein in our desires to avoid disappointment. Imagine a supportive coach cheering you on from the sidelines with “You’ve got this!” messages.
- Have an accountability partner. This could be a family member, friend, co-worker, mentor, clergy person, sponsor or therapist. In this person’s presence, you state your goals, create deadlines, and take the interim steps. At each turn, you check in with him or her. When I was in college and grad school back in the 1980’s, I was attending a series of weekend retreats for professionals in the recovery field. They were spaced a month or so apart. I had set a goal of being accepted to Masters in Social Work programs. Between weekend one and two, I made a list of schools that I was interested in and came back with them. Between weekends two and three, I had applied to several and reported that to the group. A few months after the series, I contacted the instructor and informed him that I had been accepted to my first-choice program. The next year I enrolled, and two years later, graduated.
- It can be likened to riding a bicycle. You need to keep peddling so the bike won’t stop AND there are times when it is beneficial to preserve your energy so you coast. If you constantly peddle, exhaustion will set in. This is especially hazardous for those who have overachieving tendencies.
- Know that it is a marathon and not a sprint as you take micro-steps to get you from where you are to where you want to be.