Thoughts on Getting Your Motivation Back
“We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it.
Oh no! We’ve got to go through it.”
– We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Michael Rosen
Are you struggling with low motivation? I am.
Drive ebbs and flows — I know that. All of us struggle with motivation at times. But this time feels different. Because I have been fighting this feeling for a few months now.
I continuously feel ‘behind’ at work. I am being reminded of my deliverables by clients. My work product has been fine but not up to my high standards. And, my creativity has been lacking. I’ve felt like I have to do things I have promised (to myself and others) rather than wanting to do them.
I’ve been thinking about this for some weeks now. Wondering how to get back on track. Here are some reflections, which I have found helpful to help me ‘get through it’.
- Accept personal responsibility. While very little that happens in the world is in our direct control, we do control our responses. I can take responsibility for things not going to plan. That first step takes me from a victim mindset to an accountability lens. From that position I am better able to seek out strategies to make things better. Jocko Willink and Leif Babin call this approach ‘Extreme Ownership’ which they detail in their book by the same name about how Navy seals lead and win.
- Focus on accomplishments to date. Attitude is really important. In times of low motivation, I tend to see my goals as far away, and my progress towards them as slow. Reminding myself of how far I have come and what I have accomplished towards the goal helps reframe. Product designers recognize that ‘progress bars’ are an important element of gamification encouraging people to continue towards goals. In other words, celebrate progress.
- Small is beautiful. This is a reminder to break down large goals into lots of smaller tasks. Something that definitely takes less than 1 hour to complete. Ideally even 15 minutes. And write down that progress somewhere. To make your own progress bar.
- Remind myself of the feelings associated with achieving my goals. Extrinsic motivation (money and social approval) can work well at times. I am human — monetary rewards and social rewards matter to me. However, when I feel low, I need to remind myself of the intrinsic reasons I took on the challenge. Get back in touch with the outcomes I am seeking rather than merely the outputs by which a goal is measured.
- Modify my environment. James Clear has written extensively on the underappreciated power of one’s environment in influencing behavior. I am a morning person, so starting early is likely to lead to better results. Exercise generally improves my mood. And like many others, I like sunshine, fresh breezes, feeling the grass under my bare feet, and hearing the birds chirping. So moving my body on a regular basis, particularly outdoors, will likewise help.
- Plan Real Vacations with Downtime into my Work Calendar. As a fractional worker, I feel extra pressure to be available when my clients might need me. One realization is that this desire to be available for long hours and on weekends is both a feature and a bug. I am now committed to putting a few extended breaks onto my calendar, informing my clients well in advance (with periodic reminders). I think I will be more productive when better rested. I have plans for time off in late June and mid September.
- Proactively choose more work I enjoy doing and am good at. Everyone, including me, has to do tasks we don’t enjoy. Even so, lately I have been taking on more projects that don’t suit my temperament or skillset. I am making a commitment to myself to spend a few hours during a vacation at the end of June writing down tasks I really like doing and am particularly good at. So that when I take on projects which have elements I don’t enjoy, I can minimize those elements and/or outsource them to others.
- Take on less. When I was offered additional projects in late 2022 and early 2023, my ego got the better of me. It felt good to be wanted. And of course, the additional income was going to be helpful with expensive home maintenance projects and in planning some nice holidays. A lesson I have learned is that I can actually feel more successful by taking on less. While still having a good income level and living comfortably. I got caught up with seeking more without thinking enough about how much was actually enough.
In times of low motivation, we can feel stuck and lose confidence in our ability to find a good solution. However, were we presented with the same problem by a close friend seeking our advice, we generally have a thoughtful answer to offer. If we were to talk to ourselves as we would a friend — and I actually mean talk out loud or write a letter — we would likely have good advice to offer, and do so in a much kinder way than we tend to talk to ourselves.