Thoughts on Motivation: When Things Don’t Seem To Be Going Well

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Viktor E. Frankl (Man’s Search for Meaning)

Would you like to feel motivated and energized every day? More motivated than you currently feel? To have the extra energy to go after all the things that matter to you?

I know I would. 

I have been struggling with my motivation for several months now. Working on my client projects has felt like a chore. I’ve procrastinated more than I remember doing in the past.

I’ve been looking around for a solution to my problem — reading articles, listening to podcasts, taking a vacation, shedding clients, exercise, time outdoors etc. etc. Yet, nothing has worked on a consistent basis.

I deeply admire the clarity of thought of both Daniel Pink and James Clear. Their books—Drive and Atomic Habits, respectively—have deeply influenced my thinking on motivation and habit formation. Both of them point to the concept of identity as critical.

Building on their work on identity, here are some thoughts that hopefully help you with increasing your motivation. 


Personalize Your Recipe and Change It Up Periodically

There is no one recipe or solution to the problem of low motivation. Motivation is deeply personal or intrinsic. What works for me might work for you, but then again it might not. 

The recipe that works for one year will not be as effective in the 2nd or 3rd year. It takes a serious look inward to figure out the right ingredients in ‘your sauce’. Be willing to change up your approach whenever necessary.


Regression Is Part of the Path Forward

Everyone knows the phrase ‘taking two steps forward and one back’. Sometimes, the reality of life is ‘two steps forward and three steps back’. The important thing is to notice the two steps forward. And give yourself credit for the forward motion.

Sometimes all the hard work might have led me to a local maximum. Then I must go down (regression) before going back up.


A Little Is Better Than None

We are taught the importance of having specific goals against which to measure our behavior and achievements. The world of work is very binary. Did you meet your goal(s) or fall short?

Binary thinking is detrimental to our wellbeing. The reality is that we often make progress and still fall short of our goals. When this happens I find it useful to remind myself that I did accomplish something. And that a little of any positive activity is better than none.


Progress Matters

Humans learn slowly through a combination of spaced repetition, feedback from our environment, and hearing similar advice said slightly differently on multiple occasions. When things are not as well as you would like, ask yourself what can be learned from the situation. Not in the ‘What I could do better next time?’ But rather: ‘What has gone well?’ Remind yourself of the progress that you have made and the intermediate successes on the path to your longer term goal. 


Good Enough in an Excellent Goal

Most of us notice how we have not lived up to our expectations. And rarely do we remember all the ways in which we have met or exceeded our expectations. With work projects, remember that all your colleagues or clients expect is good enough. Good enough for the time they have provided for the task or for the relative importance of the project.


Talk Aloud About Why You Are Doing Things

Sometimes the tasks of everyday life and work can be tedious. Remind yourself of why you have undertaken each responsibility. Even when you would go back and change the initial decision if you could. Talk aloud about it. With a person who is a good listener — a friend, life partner, business coach, or a therapist.

Frame your ‘why’ in two different ways. First, what kind of person does the things you are doing? Usually someone with several positive characteristics. List them out.

Second, remind yourself of the positive impact you have on others through the work you do.. A reminder that we are helping others is great medicine for the soul. This quote from Buddhist thought captures the sentiment well: If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path.


Don’t Give Up. You Are Not Alone

We live in a world where there are a lot of acceptable ways to share success and achievement. And many fewer for discussing challenges. 

Thus we mistakenly assume that everyone else is doing really well most of the time. Sometimes they are. And other times they are struggling too.

Remember you are not alone in your struggles with motivation. 


Every obstacle and failure has within it the seed that will become a part of your next success.

Aditya Dehejia

Adi’s experiences as a CFO and HR leader in start-up companies inspired him to start the CxO Leadership Accelerator. He saw firsthand the challenges in building a satisfying career, the importance of leaders in developing people, and the difficulty in building broad business acumen while excelling in your functional role. Prior to his operating career in start-ups, Adi held roles in a growth capital investment firm and in the corporate development and strategy department at a Fortune 500 company. Adi is an active volunteer mentor in the FirstRound Capital and TechStars networks as well as within his University alumni communities. Adi was born in India and immigrated to the US at age ten. He attended Princeton University (graduated with a degree in Politics) and the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He lives in the suburbs of New York City and has two adult sons and two lovable, crazy dogs.

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