We all have things we want to achieve. Whether it’s losing weight, saving up for a down payment on a house, landing your dream job, or mastering a new skill, it’s human nature to want more out of life.
Of course, it’s also human nature to want to eat french fries, waste time on social media, never go to the gym, and spend all our money on life’s various frivolities.
How do we bridge the gap between the two? How do we move from what we feel like doing today (staying in bed and binging Netflix) to what we want to get out of life in the long run (achievement, meaning, and fulfillment)?
The answer is motivation.
What motivation can do
At its heart, motivation acts as your “why.” It gives you reason and purpose behind everything you do. Without motivation, most of us wouldn’t get out of bed, put much effort into our jobs, or really, do anything that requires work or struggle. Why would we?
With the right motivation, however, a world of possibilities opens up to you.
Motivation not only makes you want to take on the world—it makes you willing to take on the world. When you’re motivated, you know what you want and you’re ready to do whatever it takes to get you there.
Motivation is power.
Why motivation is hard to come by
The world trends toward chaos. When was the last time you set out to do something and everything went 100% according to plan? It’s practically unheard of.
We face real-world situations on a daily basis: sickness, stress, financial troubles, relationship struggles, and the like can all stop progress in its tracks. Slumps, funks, and downward spirals happen to the best of us.
The key is knowing how to get through them.
How to get motivated
Where does motivation come from? How can you find motivation and hold on to it? What makes you keep going when you feel like you don’t want to keep going? How do you move forward when the entire world seems to be pushing you back?
Here are a few things you can try when you need to get motivated.
Know what demotivates you.
Sometimes, the best way to figure out what motivates you can be to figure out what doesn’t. What things make you feel that lack of motivation?
Some things to consider might be:
- Tiredness/lack of physical energy
- Setbacks/running into an unexpected challenge
- A failed attempt
- External pressures (things get hard at work, you have a family emergency)
- Lack of support from others
- Mental health challenges
All of these things are common in the human experience. It’s not realistic to expect to eliminate these things from your life for good, but you can be ready to face them when the time comes, so that they don’t erase your motivation entirely.
Think of a goal you’ve set in the past that didn’t go as planned. What went wrong? Be honest and vulnerable with yourself: this is about discovery, not judgment.
Once you’ve identified what derailed your motivation, explore how you might handle that next time. For example, if feelings of overwhelm are hurting you, try a calming technique like meditation, or take a good look at everything you’re trying to do and see what could be cut. If it’s tiredness, you could try taking power naps, or adjusting how much sleep you get every night.
Another approach is to ask a simple question: “How might we solve this?” Or try: “Who would I need to be to accomplish this?”
Deliberately zeroing in on what stops your progress, and getting ready for it next time, is going to help your motivation hold strong.
Capture (and recreate) the feeling.
Lots of things can inspire our motivation. Sometimes we experience lightning bolt moments that change us immediately and drastically. Other times, small things like a book, article, or movie can inspire us and leave us feeling motivated. Spending time in nature is motivating for a lot of people, as is travel.
One big thing for me is music. Certain songs make me feel certain ways, and some of my favorite songs inspire me and boost my motivation. For example, when I need deep focus, I like to listen to albums like 76:14 by Global Communication. Or I’ll create a playlist like Carlsbad on Spotify.
Try to capture (write down, listen to, ponder, place a sticky note, make a wall decoration) those moments that inspire you, and then recreate them. Turn on the song, watch the movie, read the article, take the hike—do whatever it is that inspired you in the first place, and let the motivation hit you all over again.
Visualization can be a powerful tool for motivation. It allows you to see the way things could be if you put in the work to get them there.
When you visualize success, you’re doing more than just stating the obvious. If you want to lose weight for example, you aren’t just saying “After I lose 20 pounds, I’ll be 20 pounds lighter.” Rather, you’re going into the details of how that will make you feel, and how your life will be different because of that change:
“I will be able to fit into some of my favorite clothes again.”
“I’ll not be so embarrassed at the swimming pool.”
“I’ll have more energy.”
“I will be able to play with my kids without getting hurt or exhausted.”
This level of visualization can help motivate you when the going gets tough.
Make a plan.
Sometimes, motivation comes on strong and fast…only to disintegrate later. One of the common reasons for this is that we reach a point where we feel incapable of moving forward. If we can’t answer the question, “What’s next?” then it’s easy to get discouraged and give up.
Having a plan in place acts as a failsafe for these situations. With a good plan, you’ll always know what the next step is, so you won’t have those faltering moments of indecision and inaction.
Visualization, discussed above, is an important part in making an effective plan. We believe in starting with the end (the one you visualize) in mind, and drawing backwards from there to connect where you want to go to where you are now. It’s worked for our company for years (we even named ourselves Drawbackwards), and it absolutely works on a personal level, too.
With an effective plan in place, your motivation is less likely to sputter and stall.
Also, remember that your plan can change whenever you need it to. If something isn’t working, reevaluate and make adjustments. There’s no reason to stick with a plan that won’t get you where you want to go.
The first step is often the hardest step. Trying to talk ourselves into something can be harder than actually getting up and doing it.
But once you start, it’s easier to keep going.
That’s why starting is motivating: it shows you that the action you’re wanting to take isn’t as bad as you thought it would be. It shows you that you are capable of taking action and moving forward.
Also, even small accomplishments can give your brain a hit of dopamine, which is associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. So if you’re feeling unmotivated and you accomplish something small (answering an email, picking up your dry cleaning, washing your car), you’re more likely to get a little burst of motivation, right away.
Track your progress (and reward yourself).
It’s hard to stay motivated if you feel like you’ve been working hard but not getting anywhere. As part of the plan you create, build in milestones and reward yourself once you reach those milestones. Track your progress in some physical way (a chart, checklist, journal, etc.) and remind yourself of how far you’ve come when you start to feel unmotivated. Your progress will encourage you.
Ask for help.
For some people, getting motivated requires outside help. If you’re one of those people and you’re working towards a goal, consider enlisting an accountability partner to help push you through when you start to feel discouraged. You could even set up regular check-in times so your partner can know when to have the pep talk ready.
Of all the things that could motivate you, love and fear are two of the most powerful—but they work in different ways. While fear often motivates you by pushing you away from something (i.e. motivating you to avoid something you’re afraid of), love motivates you by pushing you toward something you want.
Ultimately, this can make all the difference in staying motivated. The negative emotion of fear is more likely to hold you back than push you forward, to close doors rather than open them, and to discourage rather than encourage.
Find a motivation that is rooted in love. It will be easier to hold onto, and will be more likely to get you where you want to go.
Motivation can be a tricky thing; sometimes, the harder we try to hold onto it, the more it seems to slip away. But without motivation, we’ll never be able to reach our goals and fulfill the unique purposes we have to serve in the world.
When you set out to accomplish something, use these tips to help identify and build motivation first. Once you do, you’ll be unstoppable.
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