Although a very powerful force to be reckoned with, motivation can be hard to properly wield. There are times in which getting motivated can be really easy, there may even be a sensation of excitement and even elation.
There are other times, however in which a person may find it almost impossible to find a way to motivate themselves, many times this leads to feeling trapped as if they were in an endless death spiral of procrastination.
This article offers some valuable ideas and highly useful research on how someone can become motivated and remain motivated.
Do not take this to believe that it is some sort of pumped up motivational dialogue, instead view it is a detailed review of and analysis of the science behind becoming motivated in the first place as well as how that motivation can be maintained during the long haul.
Whether what is needed is personal motivation or perhaps the knowledge of how to motivate an entire team, this article will thoroughly cover all that is needed to know on this very important subject.
The Nature and Dynamics of Motivation
Scientists have studied the dynamics of motivation with great interest for a long time. They have defined motivation as the general willingness that an individual has to accomplish any given task.
It could be viewed as the combination of psychological forces that cause an individual to move closer to their goals. Although this sounds great, there has to be a definition for motivation that is far more useful.
What is Motivation?
Then, exactly what is motivation? In his book, The War of Art, the author Steven Pressfield wrote a phrase that is truly believed to define what motivation really is.
To paraphrase what was written:
There comes a time in which it is less painful to do it, than it is to not.
That is exactly what motivation is, it hurts so much to not be motivated than it does to take the steps towards motivation.
To put it simply, there comes a time when change becomes easier than it is to remain the same. It becomes easier to get out there, fill out those employment applications than it is to merely sit around, watch endless hours of television and engage in self-loathing.
It is easier to take that order of burger and fries and serve it with a smile than it is to feel distraught about bank accounts that are dwindling and debts that are piling up.
In essence, this is what motivation truly is. There is a price to be paid with every choice that is made, however, when someone is motivated, the “inconvenience” of doing becomes an easier choice than the pain of never changing.
There is a threshold that is crossed, this usually occurs after a long period of procrastination when suddenly someone is faced with an imminent deadline, where not getting the ball rolling becomes far more painful than actually doing it.
Now that the meaning of motivation has been clarified, the important question is:
What can be done to consistently remain motivated once that threshold has been crossed?
Common Misapprehensions About Motivation
The great thing about motivation is that it generally happens not before, but after new actions have come into play.
People tend to believe that after absorbing an inspirational book, motivational video or speech, etc. that is when motivation arrives. That being said, active inspiration is a far more powerful motivator.
Motivation is not what causes the action, it is the result of the action being put into play. Even if the ways in which an individual gets started are very small, it is active inspiration and by nature, it will produce momentum.
Due to the fact that it is in essence Newton's First Law being applied to forming habits, active inspiration can also be referred to as the physics of productivity: an object which is in motion tends to remain exactly that, in motion. Once an action has been started, it is much easier to keep it going.
Once an action has been set into motion, there is not a strong need for motivation. Almost all of the difficulties in a task are at the very beginning.
Once started, it is natural for progress to occur. Basically what this means is that finishing a task is much easier than it was to begin it. This means that making it easy to start is one of the keys for someone to become motivated.
Getting Motivated and Taking Action
There are times in which people find it difficult to obtain motivation which is needed to achieve the goals that have been set into place, this is due to the fact that too much of their energy and time is being wasted on other areas of this process. Automating the early stages of a behavior is what can make finding motivation and getting started much easier.
Motivation Should Be Scheduled
Many times the thought of when an action will be done next is what keeps people from ever even starting in the first place. This is true for so many things such as exercise, art, starting a business, keeping a journal, any habit building in general, for example:
If exercise is not scheduled, a person wakes up hoping that today will be the day they feel motivated to workout.
If there is not a scheduled time, whether it be daily, weekly or monthly, where art can be created, it will never happen.
If there is not a marketing structure for a business, how will it grow? How will anyone even know of its existence?
If there is not a designated moment each day in which pen and journal meet, unrecorded days will turn into months and even years.
If resources are wasted on deciding where, when or how something will get done, the capacity one has of actually doing the work is impeded.
It may seem like a simple task to just set a schedule, however when goals are given a specific time and place to reside, making decisions gets placed into auto-pilot.
It will be more likely that the action will be completed even if motivation levels are not at their peak. This is something that is backed up by ample studies that have been conducted on motivation and willpower.
It is useless to sit around waiting for inspiration or motivation to just strike, setting a schedule for the goals that are trying to be reached is what will get things moving in the right direction.
This is what truly distinguishes a professional from an amateur; a professional sets a schedule and never wavers from it, whereas an amateur will wait for inspiration or motivation to just come to them.
Becoming Motivated Regardless of the Situation
How do some of the most creative individuals in the entire world become motivated? It is more than simply setting a schedule, what they create are rituals.
There are many great artists who create their own unique yet effective rituals, their schedules are not only precise, but also consistent, for example:
Maya Angelou would rent a room at a local hotel where she would spend her time writing. She would arrive promptly at six thirty a.m., would write until two p.m., go home and take care of some editing. She would never stay the night in the hotel room.
Every day at four a.m. Haruki Murakami wakes up, he then writes for five hours, after which he goes out for a run.
These amazing, creative talents do not depend on inspiration or motivation to accomplish their work, what they have created is a consistent routine and pattern which they strictly adhere to.
Below are a few examples which can be used to apply routine and ritual that can build up towards consistent motivation:
Better Sleeping Routines — Going to bed should not be an immediate action, a “power down” routine should be adhered to. For some people this involves teas, quiet music, yoga, meditation, etc.
It is about winding down before bed, setting the mind at ease, allowing the work and the stresses of the day to be left behind, and preparing for an excellent night of sleep.
Regular Exercise — A regular routine of exercise that includes a warm up and cool down is important. This gets the oxygen flowing to the brain and throughout the body, it allows for natural endorphins to be released and, when the mind and body are healthy, being inspired and motivated is easier.
Creative Development — Prior to work, art, writing, singing or whatever activity there may be, following a creative ritual prior to commencing an activity allows for structure and promotes habits.
It is also an ideal way to get the creative juices flowing and the body and mind focused on the task at hand.
A Day Should Begin Free of Stress — The way a day begins can set the tone for the way it continues and ends. Simply creating a morning routine that could include stretching, yoga, a walk around the block, meditation, etc. can get things going in the right direction.
Much like a pre-game routine that the players strictly adhere to before an NFL, MLB, NHL or NBA game, the power of ritual provides a mindless way in which a behavior can be initiated.
It begins with the making and creating of a habit that is much easier to follow. This is later followed by making consistent follow-through much easier as well.
What a properly designed ritual does is remove the need for a decision to be made from questions such as:
- What should be done first?
- When should it be done?
- How should it be done?
One of the main reasons people fail to begin is because they are unsure exactly how to. What is needed is an easy and automatic way to start a behavior so that when things become challenging or difficult, which they most definitely will, there will be strength enough to complete the behavior.
Making Motivation a Habit
Building rituals and making, motivation a habit can be accomplished with the use of these three simple steps:
The perfect “pre-game routine” will start off being so simple that there is no way it cannot be completed. Starting a “pre-game routine” should not require motivation.
For example, something as simple as a simple stretch before sitting down to write, putting on lifting gloves before a weight training routine, etc. These are such seemingly menial tasks, there is no way they can possibly be set aside.
As with any task, the most important thing is actually starting it. If it seems difficult to become motivated when starting, it is because many times motivation is found after beginning.
This is why it is crucial to have an incredibly easy “pre-game routine” to make starting extremely easy.
A routine should be meant to begin moving toward the final goal. Many times a lack of physical movement is what is directly linked to a lack of being mentally motivated.
The physical state that is felt when there is boredom, depression and lack of motivation is the perfect example; there is not much movement. Many times this is when people sit around and become one with the couch.
There is an opposite effect when the body is engaged in physical movement, when this is the case it is more likely that the mind too will feel engaged as well as energized.
Take dancing, for example, when someone is dancing, it is nearly impossible to not feel awake, energized and vibrant.
Although at the beginning a “pre-game routine” should be easy, gradually it should transition into a routine which requires more and more movement. It is important, being as the mind as well as a motivation will take after the amount of physical movement.
It is crucial to remember that physical movement is not necessarily an exercise routine. For example, if the goal is to get a job or change jobs, the routine being implemented should take the person closer to that actual end goal.
The same pattern must be consistently followed, no matter what. The main reason of having a strict “pre-game routine” is to create a pattern, a series of events which are strictly carried out prior to a specific task being done.
What a “pre-game routine” tells the human mind is:
“Before _______ is begun, this is what is done.”
This routine will eventually become such an important part of someone's implementation that the mere act of doing the routine causes them to be drawn into a mental state that is prepped and ready to perform at its best.
There is no longer a need to wait for or search for inspiration or motivation, at this point, all that is needed is for the routine to begin.
An article on this very same subject used a cycle model that they called the 3 R's of Habit Formation which are quite helpful, those are:
- Reminder: The trigger or signal that begins the habit, for example a traffic light turning green indicates that the traffic can proceed.
- Routine: The action that is taken, this is the very habit itself, for example driving through the intersection.
- Reward: The benefits that are gained from having done the habit, in this case, one arrives at their destination. If it is a positive reward, naturally there is a desire for the repetition of the action the next time the reminder appears. With time, the repetition of the action becomes a new habit.
The reason that this cycle model is of great importance is because, when there is a lack of motivation, figuring out what to do next can be quite a tedious and at times impossible task.
Now when there is “pre-game routine” lined up, the problem is solved because what has to be done next, is crystal clear. There is no need to make a decision, debating is unnecessary, lack of motivation is not an issue, there is a simple pattern to be followed.
Acquiring Long Term Motivation
Now that the strategies for getting motivated and beginning a task in an easier manner have been covered, the question remains on how motivation can be maintained on a consistent basis. How can someone become motivated, and stay motivated for good?
Using The Goldilocks Rule To Stay Motivated
Take a game of basketball, if a grown adult attempts to play a serious match against a child, the adult will become bored and even irritated quite quickly, there will be no motivation, this is due to how extremely easy the match is.
Now if the other side of the spectrum is examined and the same serious match is played against a professional basketball player such as LeBron James or Kevin Durant, there will also be a lack of motivation, the reasons however will be quite different, this match was far too difficult.
Now if these two match experiences are compared to playing a serious game of basketball with someone on the same skill level, an equal. Throughout the game some points will be scored and others will be lost. There is a chance that if a lot of focus and effort is put into the match, it can actually be won.
In this scenario focus narrows, distractions disappear and it becomes easy to be completely absorbed in what is taking place in that moment.
The challenge that has been presented is one that is manageable. Although it is not one hundred percent guaranteed, victory is quite possible. Science has proven that these kinds of tasks, are the ones that are most likely to promote long term motivation.
Challenges are things that human beings naturally love, only if however, they are in the perfect zone of difficulty for each individual.
If a task is below the current abilities that someone possess, boredom is what will be experienced. If tasks significantly surpass the current abilities of the individual, what will be experienced is discouragement.
However tasks that are right on the cusp of failure and success are incredible sources of motivation for the human brain.
There is nothing more naturally desirable to a human than to master a skill which is just past their current skill range, regardless of what the task may be.
This phenomenon is commonly referred to as The Goldilocks Rule. What the Goldilocks Rule affirms is that peak motivation is experienced by humans when the tasks that they are working on are right on the cusp of the abilities they currently posses. Meaning that they are not overly easy, nor are they extremely hard, they are the perfect combination.
One of the keys to being able to maintain long-term motivation, is working on tasks that are in line with the Goldilocks Rule.
If there is a lack of motivation associated with working on a particular task, most of the times it is because it has either entered a stage that is incredibly boring or it has spiraled into a state of immense difficulty.
It is crucial to find a way to pull the task, or tasks in question back to the cusp of one's abilities, where it is challenging, yet able to be completed.
How Peak Motivation is Reached
The amazing combination of ultimate performance and elation is many times referred to as flow. What is experienced by performers or athletes when they are “in their zone” is exactly what flow is.
The mental state that an individual experiences when they are so focused on the task they have taken on that nothing else matters, in that moment everything else simply fades away.
Flow could in many ways be described as an individual being in their peak state of motivation. It would be difficult to come into a state where more drive and inspiration is felt to move forward with that task that is at hand.
Whether or not The Goldilocks Rule that was mentioned above is followed, is a factor that many researchers have found directly links to flow states.
If the challenges that are being worked on are a favorable difficulty, not only will motivation be greatly experienced, but there will be a major boost in happiness and joy as well.
A quote by renowned psychologist Gilbert Brim comes to mind and fits this subject perfectly, to paraphrase what he stated:
“Working on tasks that are of an optimal difficulty is one of the most important sources of happiness for humans, it cannot be too easy, nor can it be too hard.”
Not only must challenges be worked on at the optimal degree of difficulty in order to reach the much desired state of individual peak performance, immediate progress must also be measured.
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains this concept perfectly
“immediate feedback is obtained on how an individual is doing at every step.”
This is an important key to reaching an individual state of flow.
It can therefore be said that a key factor to being motivated is measurement. To put it in simpler terms, when an optimal challenge is faced, and immediate feedback on the progress that is being made toward the challenge is received, two of the most important elements of peak motivation are taking place.
What Can Be Done When Motivation Dwindles?
It is inevitable that at some point, there will be a decline in motivation. The question however is, what happens when motivation begins to fade?
No one has all of the answers, but here are a few suggestions that can be applied when the feeling of just throwing in the towel arises.
The Mind Is Full of Suggestions
If every thought that passes through the mind is considered a suggestion as opposed to an order, there would be more control over what is actually done after the thought comes to mind.
Imagine, for example, someone is at the gym, suddenly the mind could suggest that they feel tired, fatigued even, maybe they should give up. The thought that there is probably an easier path to be taken will probably be there as well.
If, however the person slows down, takes a moment to consider the situation, there could be new suggestions to be uncovered. Perhaps, the mind is suggesting that there is energy, that sticking to their workout routine will cause them to feel great when they have completed it.
The mind may also be suggesting that the identity they are building at this very moment, by sticking to the plan they have set into motion, is one that they will be able to respect.
It may be suggesting that they do have everything they need to complete this task, whether they feel like it or not.
Keep in mind that a suggestion from the mind does not have to be an order, it is a simple option, each individual has the power to choose the option that they listen to and follow. This is key to whether motivation is allowed to simply fade away, or if in that moment it is made to continue, regardless of what is being felt.
Along the same subject of the mind being a powerful machine full of suggestions, there are also many thought patterns that greatly influence the levels of motivation.
It is important to be aware of these thought patterns as they can greatly influence motivation. They are distorted thinking patterns and negative motivation patterns and they include:
Distorted Thinking Patterns:
- Disqualifying the Positive
- Magnification or Minimization
- Should Statements
- All-Or-Nothing Thinking
- Mental Filter
- Jumping to Conclusions
- Emotional Reasoning
- Labeling and Mislabeling
- Negative Motivation Patterns
- Jumping to Conclusions
- Undervaluing Rewards
- Fear of Failure
- Fear of Disapproval
- Fear of Success
- Fear of Criticism
- Low Tolerance to Frustration
- Overwhelming Oneself
- Coercion and Resentment
- Guilt and Self-blame
The mind is a powerful tool and can even be a weapon against someone who is not aware of this. This includes that vocabulary and thought patterns that are used, being aware of this is an important key to becoming motivated
Discomfort is Fleeting, Never Lose Perspective
Compared to the amount of time that exists in a regular day or a week, almost any habit that is performed is quite quickly over with. In other words, in a couple of hours a workout routine will be completed, in a day a painting could be done, keeping a diary may be done in twenty minutes, stretching before bed only takes five, etc.
There has never been a time in which life has been this easy, if you look back there was a time in which failure to build shelter and hunt for food meant that the individual, and maybe even their family were likely to die. In this modern day and age, having forgotten our smartphone at home is reason enough for misery.
Maintaining perspective is crucial, life is great, any discomfort that may be felt is temporary. The life that most people have, is merely a dream for others.
When discomfort is in play, that is the moment to step into it and allow for it to strengthen instead of weaken, that is a choice that everyone must make.
Work, That Is Completed, Will Never Be Regretted
There is a very famous quote by the legendary Theodore Roosevelt, to paraphrase, he said:
“The opportunity to work hard at something worth working for, is by far the best prize that life could offer.”
It seems to be quite popular to want to work in an easy manner at a task that is actually worth working on.
People want to be recognized for their work, they want to be respected and for their work to actually make a difference, this is good and all, however, rarely is there someone who actually wants to put in the effort and go through the struggle to accomplish the task.
There is a desire for the perfect job, the ideal house, the nicest car, the perfect wife and family, etc., yet not many people want to actually work hard at everything it takes to achieve that.
There is a desire for physical strength, strong arms, flat abs yet how many people grind through yet another workout to achieve that goal and then continue on to maintain it?
What is desired is the end result minus the difficult actions and many failed attempts that must come before the success. What is wanted is the gold medal without ever having actually ran and finished the race to have earned it.
In a conference, a simple show of hands would probably indicate the vast majority of people would want that gold medal. However, how many of them would want to train, spill blood and tears and put in the immense effort that Olympians do for the mere chance of obtaining that desired gold medal?
The question is, regardless of how much resistance there is to the hard work, how many people have actually felt worse after a difficult task has been completed, or a challenging goal has been reached? Even if on occasion starting was difficult, nearly impossible, once completed the feeling is definitely worth it.
At times the mere act of showing up, having the guts and the courage to put in the work, even if it is not in the ideal manner, is a victory in itself, one that deserves recognition and celebration.
Practical Motivation Techniques
There are many motivation techniques that can be applied, here are a few that can be added to the arsenal:
- Anti-Procrastination Sheet
This technique is all about improving negative assumptions. The way that it works is that the tasks which must be performed are listed. The difficulty and satisfaction are then projected on a scale of one to one hundred. After the tasks are completed, the actual difficulty as well as satisfaction levels are recorded. The results can be quite surprising and helpful.
- The Can't Lose System
This is an ideal way in which fear of failure can be combated, A list of fears must be created, this exposes the distorted thinking and identifies ways in which to cope. To begin, the worst-case fears are listed, the next step is to analyze the list and finally, the coping strategies as well as fallback plans must be identified.
When things are written out, thinking on paper is promoted, it is an objective way to face fears and allows for creative thinking on how to find potential solutions to deal with them.
- Motivation Without Any Coercion
Remembering that it is important to eliminate all musts, ought's and should's from the vocabulary and through patterns is crucial, all they do is drain an individual mentally, emotionally and even physically. Taking the time to reframe thought patterns and tasks in a “want” manner means that it is something that is desired, the end result in turn will be a reward.
It is human nature to beat oneself up for not being perfect or accomplishing the goals that have been established. This technique is about endorsing instead of berating. In this technique, all self deprecating statements are written down, next to each deprecating statement, a self endorsing one to match is added. Accomplishments should never be dismissed, this helps people to eventually learn how to lift themselves up and not knock themselves down.
- Baby Steps
With this technique, overwhelming tasks or backlogs become easier to deal with. All tasks must first be broken down, viewed as little hurdles. Using time limitations, the tasks are then divided into units that are manageable. For example, the tasks can be broken up into twenty or thirty minutes of time.
When tasks are broken down and time frames used, it becomes easier to take the small steps needed to gradually begin accomplishing the major tasks, this prevents feeling overwhelmed right from the start.
These basic techniques are quite powerful when implemented properly. Much like strengthening the body, becoming motivated is about strengthening the mind, it is something that is consistently worked on until the habit is so strong, it is almost second nature to the mind.
In Conclusion: Such is Life
Life is all about balance, this is important to remember. It is about giving in to the comfort of distraction when needed, yet working through the pain of becoming disciplined as well. It is as simple as saying that human lives and identities are defined by this very delicate, yet important balance.
Life is in essence made up of thousands upon thousand of battles, challenges, struggles and minute decisions in which someone chooses to either give up, or keep on going until the task at hand is completed.
If at the moment there is no desire to continue putting in the effort, doing the work and giving the time, this is an important moment, one that should not be taken lightly. There is only one life that is provided to each individual, there are generally no do overs or second chances, it is not a dress rehearsal.
Every moment in life, regardless of how sweet or how bitter it may be, it is still a part of life, seizing the moment and making the most of it in a way that can be looked back on with pride is truly important. It is not about how many times someone falls, how long it took for them to get there or the struggles that were faced.
It is about how many times they get back up, the fact that they never gave up and that those struggles, that pain and frustration translated into motivation and made them who they are, that is what really matters.
Never give up and most definitely never surrender to the thoughts from the mind or from the nay-sayers that state it cannot be done. Remember that success and motivation are a choice, a state of mind, a habit that was formed by taking one step at a time.