Getting motivated is easy.
All you have to do is watch, listen to, or read something super inspiring.
Or be praised for something you did.
Or realize you actually did something right without screwing it up.
Or feel incredibly optimistic about reaching a new goal you haven’t started yet while remaining completely oblivious to the fact that a long and arduous journey will undoubtedly have to be faced to make it happen.
It’s easy… right?
Staying motivated is hard.
The thing about motivation is that once you grab hold of it for dear life with stars in your eyes and exhilaration in your heart, it never stays at a constant.
There’s all this bullshit that’s just waiting to happen, and that’s when it gets you.
When you develop a dream and can sense the reward and believe you can do it, motivation surges up through you you like crazy hot fireworks exploding across every neuron in your brain.
But when something unexpected happens that makes it difficult for you to keep going, that’s exactly when your motivational GPS system makes you take a wrong turn off the road to your goal.
Some people keep going down the wrong road without realizing it.
Some people turn back around and eventually get back on the right road.
And some just pull over, give up completely, and wait to see if anyone else will come rescue them or hand them a map or something.
Motivation decreases when something pops up along the way that either distracts you from continuing down the road, or plants fear in you about staying the course.
Can you guess why I’m so interested in this very topic?
- I’m easily distracted.
- I’ve been conditioned to be afraid of a lot of things, including failure.
I’ve never had trouble with getting motivated about something, however.
As someone with a wide variety of interests in all sorts of things, I can’t tell you how many times I told myself I was going to make that niche website a success, learn to flawlessly play that ridiculous Chopin piano piece, do 25 pushups without falling to my knees, figure out how to tackle my fear of public speaking, consider signing up for watercolour painting classes, take up swimming laps again, or learn how to code properly like a real web developer who knows what she’s doing.
It’s easy to get excited about any of these things for a few seconds, a few minutes, or even a few days to a few weeks… but it never lasts.
Distraction and fear tend to blur your awareness of why you want to achieve something, even sometimes making you question your original motive in the first place.
Distraction and fear sound like this:
- “Crap, I didn’t realize how difficult this was actually going to be…”
- “Um, am I even smart enough to do this? These other people are so much smarter.”
- “I made a mistake, and now I’m both embarrassed and ashamed. I’m definitely going to fail if keep going.”
- “I can’t believe things aren’t going perfectly according to what I imagined in my head! I hate it when things don’t go my way.”
- “Everyone is definitely judging me and thinking I’m an idiot.”
- “I didn’t realize how much time this would take. I have too much other stuff to do!”
- “I’m not confident in what I’m doing here. I’m probably doing everything wrong.”
- “Everything is way too hard and not what I expected. Maybe I don’t want this after all?”
To sum it up, your brain knows it’s always easier to allow your fears and distractions to convince you that the challenges you have to overcome aren’t worth it, that you should’ve known better before getting started, and that you probably never really wanted to achieve their goal in the first place now that they know what it truly involves.
The question then is, will you give in?
When things get ugly, it’s hard enough to have to maintain your focus and drive, but when you ALSO have work to replenish your confidence in your ability to achieve the goal AND remind yourself why it’s still worth going after when distraction and fear is standing in your way, that’s when it just feels impossible.
Can I get a HELL YEAH to this?
So, let’s take a bit of deeper look into the things that are making you think you don’t want to or just shouldn’t achieve anything anymore.
Distraction could be considered anything that causes you to procrastinate (Facebook, Netflix, sleeping in, etc.), or anything that requires you to attend to other people’s demands (your boss, your kids, the tax man, etc.)
Fear, on the other hand, is anything that stems from self-oppression (lack of confidence, indecisiveness, etc.) or societal oppression (worries about what other people think, your parents’ expectations, etc.).
Those are the killers that can reverse your thinking about what’s meaningful and achievable.
Once you realize this, you can get your priorities together and start straightening them out.
In my case, I started wondering if I could come up with a formula that could maybe simplify and help me zero in on what I needed to focus on when things got tough.
Here’s what I came up with.
Motivation = HIGH if & when:
Expectations & Meaningfulness > Distraction & Fear
Motivation = LOW if & when:
Expectations & Meaningfulness < Distraction & Fear
For those who need the friendly mathematical reminder, although I REALLY hope you don’t, > means “greater than” and < means “less than.”
This may not resonate with everyone, especially the non-mathy types, but for me it works great.
What it tells me is that I can’t let my debilitating distractions or fear overpower my bold expectations or meaningful beliefs in what I want to achieve, or else I’m doomed.
After researching this a bit more, I stumbled upon something called temporal motivation theory — an equation that’s somewhat similar to my version, but offers a more complete interpretation of motivation, particularly in terms of beating procrastination.
The formula suggests that:
- You’re a lot more likely to do something if you’re confident in your expectations to succeed and if you’ve placed high value on the reward you’ll get from achieving it.
- You’re less likely to do something if the reward will take a longer time to achieve, which is also influenced by your distractive impulses.
I like this formula too, but I like mine a bit better because I emphasized the fear component that influences your expectation of success — something I struggle with more than distraction and time management.
But anyway, by looking at both of these crazy equations, I think there are some important key takeaways that help clarify what you need to work on controlling if you want to stay motivated.
To keep your motivational flow on the high side, you need to:
- Increase your level of expectation for succeeding at achieving the goal.
How can you stay motivated if you don’t really think you can do it?
Break it down into smaller mini goals, accept the fact that you’ll make mistakes and learn from them, surround yourself with people who will support you, consider getting a mentor, and never stop working on building up your confidence.
- Increase the perceived value or meaningfulness of the goal.
If you don’t feel like you’ll be fulfilled or satisfied after achieving something, then why bother?
Ask yourself why the goal is meaningful to you and only you (not other people), and write down all the reasons and all your feelings about it.
Study the goal or the journey itself by reading stories about other people who’ve done what you’re trying to do.
Start a daily journal about your struggles and progress along the way, and set up small reward systems for when you achieve a mini goal that leads up to the bigger goal.
- Reduce impulsiveness by getting rid of distractions, or escaping them completely.
You have to want your goal more than you want to indulge in distraction, otherwise you’ll never beat them.
Say no to things that don’t need your direct attention or that hinder your progress.
Politely yet assertively tell your relatives, your coworkers, and your friends why you can’t get X done or you need to refuse to do Y to help them understand and support your journey.
Make it impossible for you to get distracted by shutting off access or getting away completely from your favourite distractions when you need to, and commit to focusing persistently on what it is you need to do.
- Reduce your fears by minimizing self oppression and societal oppression.
Your fears directly impact your expectations about your ability to succeed.
If you constantly let your negative voice beat yourself up all the time, try silencing it (and even reversing it) with some of these suggested techniques.
If you struggle with being confident in your own actions and independent from other people’s opinions of you, then try boosting your self-confidence with some of these pointers.
“Wanting something is not enough. You must hunger for it. Your motivation must be absolutely compelling in order to overcome the obstacles that will invariably come your way.” — Les Brown
Motivation isn’t something that’s just given to us.
We HAVE TO generate it.
Even though I totally understand that faith and prayer and hope and talking to your cat can certainly play an important role in building yourself up, I could never imagine a world where motivation just invisibly rains down from the sky and fills people with strength and courage and confidence and everything they need to overcome hardship just because they simply sat around and wished for it, with no actionable effort on their part.
You have an awesome brain that is capable of choosing and directing every which way you want to act so you can generate all the energy you need yourself, rather than waiting around for the right moment or the right situation or the right “aha” feeling we all tend to wish for anyway and think we need first.
People who expect to be rewarded with everything they want by doing nothing about it are the ones who are often the most trapped and deluded in life.
So, next time you catch yourself using the excuse, “I have no motivation to do the thing,” you’ll know what you need to do.
Bookmark this post now so you can return to it if that happens again.
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- The divided self: Why we care way too much about what other people think - August 14, 2016
- What everyone gets wrong about “being authentic” - July 3, 2016
- 7 eye-opening ways to forget about your goals so you can let happiness flow - June 20, 2016
- Why you won’t do all the things you want to do this summer - June 13, 2016
- 50 everyday things you can give up to make time for more important stuff - April 30, 2016
- How to go from waking up miserable to exhilarated every morning - April 18, 2016
- How to align your mind to get exactly what you want - April 3, 2016
- Why we’re so bad at sticking to good habits (and what to do about it) - March 19, 2016
- 6 useful tips for dealing with an all-around bad day - June 30, 2015