How to find your motivation
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
Motivation tells you why you do or don’t take action; basically your reasons behind your decisions. Simple, right? I say simple because the foundation of motivation is really either pleasure or pain. We take action because we perceive that we either want something (pleasure) or we want to avoid something (pain) and so we take action accordingly. However, due to our fantastic human being brains we can go beyond that basic response of sensation; we can reason and choose.
As we all know, reason and choice can actually complicate the matter and oddly enough we can want something but end up not doing the things we need to do to get it. This happens because somewhere along the line we have reasoned that the result requires too much work or there are too many obstacles to overcome; we tell ourselves that the transition involves too much perceived ‘pain’. Boom, we don’t get what we really want because we talked ourselves out of it in the present by convincing ourselves that it doesn’t really matter (maybe those around us also joined in and confirmed that it was a nice dream too). Hey presto, idea remains an idea and the target still seems to be a million miles away.
Have you ever found this to be true though, that if an idea is important enough to you then it just keeps popping into your head again and again? I certainly have, I just can’t get rid of the idea but yet I’m stuck in a rut when it comes to actually taking action and then comes the negative mood that inaction generates. Boom again, classic case of needing to kick start motivation to move from pain to pleasure. Have no fear though, I am here to give you a basic plan to get your motivation fired up. I use the word ‘basic’ because motivation is in fact a rather large topic and as with anything regarding personal development, one size doesn’t fit all.
In my humble opinion the five fundamentals to focus and cultivate when kick starting your motivation are; future focused mind-set, energy levels, quality support, self-reflection and doing something (big or small actions). So, take what you find useful and use it your way.
Future Focused Mind-set
This may sound a bit ‘coachy’, but this is what I mean by ‘future focused mind-set’: have your end result in mind. Focus on the outcome that you want to achieve by visualising it and identifying the positive emotion that eclipses all others when you have it in mind. I suggest you do this because whatever you want is going to be challenging and require hard work – if it wasn’t then you would have done it by now. So having a clear picture in your mind’s eye means that you can revisit that positive image when times get tough and motivation to continue gets low; it is your beacon of hope and your driving force. Think and become clear about why that vision is so important to you; what are the reasons for choosing that target to aim for? Those reasons become your rocks and once combined with your future focused mind-set, you have some towers of strength to hold on to through the challenging times. Let me share how I have put this into practice; I am not a natural runner but I completed a 10K Pretty Mud Run for Cancer Research UK. To help me through the daunting task I used this technique of visualising a successful future. Before I even signed up, I focused upon the moment I would cross the finish line. I thought about what I would be thinking, the sense of pride and achievement I would feel and how I would have pushed myself beyond my current physical limits. I also thought beyond just the benefits to myself and considered how raising money for a charity would benefit others; if they could face cancer then I could face 10K, right? I then had my reasons for signing up to do the 10K and they were so powerful that they helped me to focus on the potential of what I could achieve, which quietened the doubtful inner voice. Often we become fixated on the possibility of failure rather than the likelihood of success; why not visualise a positive outcome from the start? Consider the advantage to yourself if you pictured only success from the very beginning and the benefits you would experience once you hit your target. Every time you feel your courage to go beyond what is familiar to you waver, I suggest that you concentrate on what your reasons for doing it are, check them off or share them with others, because that is where your motivation and strength to see it through lies.
Alternatively, if you visualise no change in your future and that causes you pain, use that uncomfortable image to motivate yourself. Sometimes it is the prospect of doing nothing and everything staying exactly the same which can provide the greatest motivation. Think about the implications of not taking any action, how is inaction going to serve you if you really do want a different future? Acknowledging that the present isn’t what we really want in our future can focus our minds and give us the courage to overcome our fears.
What we decide to focus on now dictates a great deal of our future; think about the outcome and what it will give you or others when you accomplish it. When I fell into a nettle patch on that 10K Mud Run and my muscles were screaming to give up, I had to pull the image of crossing the finish line into the front of my mind and remind myself that others were facing a more painful and longer battle than I was and that I was raising money to help them. I ran across that finish line and it was everything and more than what I had imagined.
I think the part energy levels play are underestimated when it comes to finding motivation; who doesn’t think or feel that they could achieve almost anything when they have high energy levels? Your optimism goes through the roof because you have physical and mental energy on your side and so you bring greater clarity to your vision. We can become frazzled by this fast paced world and we can unwittingly head toward burnout; from there it is a hard road back.
We want to keep our energy levels at optimum and we need to generally keep ourselves in a state of balance (both physically and mentally). To do this we need to adopt some self-care methods, such as eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, taking regular exercise and being involved in activities that give us a sense of joy. These are all obvious and age old methods, but how often do we let them slide and find that we have no energy to do anything, let alone put in the hard work to get those extras in life that we desire?
You need good physical energy levels to do the series of tasks that will get you to that desired end outcome and you need positive thoughts to generate a ‘I can and I will get there’ mind-set. A vision is great but you also need energy to begin working out the decisions and the actions you need to take it from an idea to a reality. So start thinking about how you are going to sustain your energy levels through your life projects and what’s going to rejuvenate your energy if it starts to deplete part way through; have an energy strategy.
For me I try and maintain a balance between exercise, rest, eating nutritious foods, eating less nutritious foods, working on my goals and having fun in life. If I go too far on the less nourishing activities then I know I will suffer both physically and mentally. If I don’t get enough sleep then I notice my positive attitude start to dip and if I don’t get enough physical exercise I notice that I feel sluggish. It’s about working out what impacts your energy levels so that you can cultivate the resources you need to stay in a state of motivation; care of your mind and body is pivotal. How do you expect to reach your target if you didn’t put fuel in the tank?
When you are trying to create something that only you can see, it’s going to take a great deal of determination to stay true to your vision and even more so when you hit challenge after challenge. It’s the test of your motivation, your dedication to your purpose, to keep rising above adversity and believe that you’ve got what it takes to get there. But who says that you have to do it alone? Who says that you can’t go one step further and ask for quality support? My suggestion, surround yourself with people (or just one) who believe in you, who are enthused for you and who want to see you succeed. Also, find those who will also give you a slice of considered honesty when you need it; you need possibility and a touch of realism to help steer you. These people are the gems in your life and will remind you why it is your doing what you are doing and reinstate some self-belief when motivation temporarily falters. They will be both a source of comfort and a much needed prod to action when you are thinking that it’s not worth it.
There is no shame in asking for help but make sure you pick your support wisely; move away from those who knock you down just because you are doing something different. Get a buddy system going or a mentor or a coach or get all three to support you and therefore help you to dispel that self-doubt when it comes knocking. As both a coach and a coachee, I can testify to how powerful coaching conversations are and how much more productive it is to have someone listen first and ask relevant questions after. Coaching conversations centre entirely on the coachee and their chosen aims. As a coach I work to help my coachees understand their motivations, challenges, strengths and how they in their own way can keep moving toward making it possible; it’s a conversation that holds the coachee to account without judgement being passed.
Quality people are the ones that you can count on every day of the week, they keep it real for you, they challenge you and remind you of your unique strengths when you need to hear it the most and they don’t let you give up; they provide you with a valuable support system.
If you can develop the habit of self-reflection then in my opinion you are ahead of most of the people in the arena. This ability is an absolute must in life because without it how do you decipher where you want to go and understand the lessons from where you have been? In short, being able to self-reflect means that you can learn and you can become wise. Whereas everyone else is on repeat ‘same strategy’ button, your self-reflection means that you can be innovative.
Self-reflection gives you the whys behind your past actions and the reasons behind your current wants, which will give you a different future. Dig deep when you are thinking about your goals or projects and really identify what the driving force is because only you will really know the why behind the want; take the time to be honest with yourself.
So sit, drive, run, walk, write it down, say it aloud or do whatever seems an appropriate way to induce you to reflect on a deep level rather than just being on autopilot. Think about your past actions and learn about whom you are and what motivated you back then into action and what might be motivating you now. Identify and utilise your strengths and past successful strategies so that you can apply them to your advantage and then disregard ones that no longer serve you.
Throughout the year I write down my personal achievements in a notebook so that when I start to think I haven’t achieved as much as I thought I would, I have a tangible point of reference that I can look at and reflect upon; I find that I have actually achieved a great deal more than I originally gave myself credit for. I read, add to my list and question ‘have I really managed all of that?’ We often forget that we have been chipping away at our goals because they haven’t become a reality overnight. Sometimes you just need to be your number one fan and remember that you have achieved and that you have found the motivation before so you can find it again.
Doing Something (big or small actions)
If the prospect of taking big action seems overwhelming then I encourage you to pick something that you consider manageable and less overwhelming, which directly links to your end result. Doing something, whatever the size, will give you a sense of motivation and start to break down whatever might initially be holding you back from beginning or continuing onward. Action gives you momentum – it starts another flow of energy and empowers you to realise that you are in charge of your life direction. You have the power to create something new or to experience something different and that in turn provides you with a new way of seeing the world around you.
Sometimes the end in mind can be overwhelmingly scary if you don’t have a coach beside you (a coach can break down the perception of overwhelm) so you might need to concentrate on the first few hurdles to get yourself going. Years ago I used to find applying for jobs daunting and I would put myself off before I even began looking; how amazing is it that we can talk ourselves out of things before literally doing anything beyond thought? To find my motivation to begin, I used to tell myself that I was just 'window shopping’ for jobs. By doing that I took the overwhelming pressure off myself and actually sat and looked for jobs with no anxiety that it was anything more than browsing. Once I did that I started shortlisting potentials and then I told myself that by applying I was merely clicking a button; just a click and nothing more. Funnily enough after the first click the next few clicks became easier; I had generated momentum and I was walking on the path to finding a new job. I just needed to do something (changing my perception and taking action) to get over that initial barrier and spark motivation. Of course I still had to face another set of actions before being offered a job but I felt a sense of control that was invigorating; I was in control of my fear. So a series of smaller actions can be just as effective as one big action due to where it can lead; it’s about what works for you and how quickly you want to see results.
Once you have done something, notice the difference in yourself and in your motivation levels to keep going. From experience, I found that I felt great and wondered why I was getting in my way; results started to materialise. Your results might not be perfect or exactly what you imagined but that’s OK because you just keep taking further actions; don’t hold yourself to impossible standards but hold yourself accountable to do something. The people who are successful today have also failed many times behind the scenes but they achieve success because they use their motivation to form another action plan; they achieve their goals a different way.
If you don’t find your motivation to do the things you want to do, be the person you want to be, have the things you want to have, where will you be this time next year?
(c) Katrina Ramsden