How often do you lament, “If only I were more motivated, I could get so much done and be successful”? For many of us, motivation seems hard to find. Whenever a tough project pops up or we have to do something we’ve been dreading — whether it’s stripping the wallpaper in the bedroom or collecting the year’s receipts at tax time — our motivation vanishes.
Here’s how to find it, keep it, and overcome the most common roadblocks along the way.
Motivation Roadblocks And Recovery
If your motivation is waning, consider what’s standing in your way. What’s preventing you from following through on a project? It might be one of these roadblocks.
- Perfectionism. Having sky-high expectations can cause so much pressure that you don’t even start the project for fear of it falling short. One way to prevent perfectionism from the get-go is to “choose the level of effort you’re going to put into something,” according to Sandy Maynard, MS, who operates Catalytic Coaching and specializes in coaching individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Not everything requires hours of time. To figure out your effort level, first define your objective. “Sometimes our objective has to be just to get the job done,” she said.
- Fear. Many of us hesitate to take on a project or follow a dream because we’re afraid of negative consequences. What if we make a mistake? What if we fail? Tackle your fears head-on by slowing down, practicing what it is that makes you scared and challenging the fear-filled thoughts, said Steve Chandler, success coach and author of Fearless: Creating the Courage to Change the Things You Can. For instance, if you say you aren’t good on the phone, find examples to the contrary, Chandler said.Another technique is to turn your dreams into concrete projects, looking “at the smallest possible steps to take to get that project into action,” without honoring your feelings of fear. One of Chandler’s clients dreamed of being an author, but also had a lot of anxiety and fear about it. She started writing every day for 20 minutes. Before the end of the year, she had written her first book.
- Setbacks. Setbacks can easily stall our endeavors, or worse, shut them down. Try to anticipate and plan for potential setbacks, Maynard said. But be flexible. If you experience a setback, Maynard suggested adjusting your plan.
Getting and Staying Motivated
- Assess your values. Consider whether the task at hand aligns with your values, Maynard said. To figure out your values, she suggested asking, “How do you want to see yourself in the world today?” Another way to think of this is to mull over what accomplishing the task would give you “that is even more important than having accomplished the goal itself,” Maynard writes in her own list of tips. (Check out other valuable tips from Maynard here and here.)
- Ask why. We’re experts at rationalizing why we didn’t do something, but instead of focusing on excuses, ask another why: Why is this task important? It doesn’t matter whether you created the task or if it was assigned to you. “Connect with a larger reason of why you’re doing this,” Maynard said. She gave the example of a client who procrastinated on noncreative aspects of her business like billing. That client’s “why” became financial security for her family.
- Create a top 10 list. One of Maynard’s clients created and framed a list of top 10 reasons to get his degree. He put it on his desk as a daily reminder. When Maynard was training for a 50-mile race, in addition to her physical preparation, she needed to train mentally. On tiny pieces of paper, Maynard wrote “I will love running all day,” which she posted anywhere she’d see them. “That mental preparation kept me going in the end when I didn’t want to go any longer,” she said. Visual reminders keep you going when the going gets tough – or boring.
- Reframe your goals. According to Maynard, you’re much more likely to be motivated when your goal is a positive one, when you’re moving toward something you really want to accomplish. Revise your goal with positive words, “so you are nourishing yourself with what you want, instead of denying yourself the things you don’t want,” Maynard writes.
- Use your drive time. While listening to an audiotape by motivational speaker Earl Nightingale, Chandler heard the following quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “We become what we think about all day long.” Many of us spend a good portion of our days driving — opportunities for both education and motivation, according to Chandler, who’s also author of 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself. In fact, in just three months of driving, we can get the equivalent of a full semester in college, he said.
- Stay positive. Motivation doesn’t last, and, realistically, maintaining a high level of performance all the time is impossible. You can burn out. “The people who lose their motivation tend to minimize their motivation,” Maynard said. Seeing the glass as half full and patting yourself on the back for your accomplishments can go a long way. If your goal is to run five miles, but you only ran two, look at the bright side: Instead of criticizing yourself for what you didn’t do, acknowledge what you did do, which is get out there and try your best.On a side note, another quick way to burn out is by ignoring your needs. It’s important to take care of both your biological needs – for instance, eating when you’re hungry – and your psychological needs, such as stressing less, Maynard said.
- Learn to walk. Have you ever watched a baby start to walk? He might take two steps, stumble and fall down. The next time he might experiment and reach out for a table to help him. Then, he might take three steps and fall down. But he gets back up, and uses his “mistakes” as learning experiences.Maynard uses this analogy with her clients to emphasize the importance of moving forward. What if all kids assumed that they were failures after a few attempts at walking? Consider that you might fall but don’t let feelings of disappointment derail your drive. Keep moving. Keep learning.
- Build resilience. Life is filled with ups and downs. People who are resilient can bounce back from those downs. They overcome adversity, no matter how terrible or traumatizing. In an article in Psychology Today, psychologist Edith Grotberg, Ph.D, suggested building resiliency with three lines of thought: I have; I am; I can. Here’s an excerpt:
I Have: strong relationships, structure, rules at home, role models; these are external supports that are provided;
I Am: a person who has hope and faith, cares about others, is proud of myself; these are inner strengths that can be developed;
I Can: communicate, solve problems, gauge the temperament of others, seek good relationships—all interpersonal and problem-solving skills that are acquired.
- Let go of the outcome. One of Maynard’s clients gave the following definition of success: “Success for me is when I’m pleased and happy with my efforts.” This client experienced many successes and his fair share of “failures.” Focusing on his efforts instead of the outcome helped him focus on the work and get back to it.
- Forget about motivation. Still can’t get motivated? In his latest book, Shift the Mind, Shift Your World, Chandler writes, “motivation is nothing more than inner movement.” So “allow motivation to arise of its own volition, which it always will if I stay with anything long enough,” Chandler said. “If I’m feeling under-motivated to write a report, about 15 minutes into writing it something happens that has my resistance to doing it drop and now I’m swept into it, not even noticing the clock.” He added, “you can take decisive action any time no matter what level of motivation you feel.” So go ahead and just do it.