Have you lacked the motivation to pursue a plan after you started?
Let me tell you my story.
“I can build a successful business out of this”, I told myself when I had a flash of an idea in my head. I pumped my fists and lifted my shoulders, all geared up to start working on the idea. For a few weeks, I worked with the energy of a racing horse.
A couple of months later, I had lost interest. I no longer found the motivation to spend energy on the idea anymore.
What happened? Why did I lose steam on the same idea weeks later?
Have you experienced a similar situation where your enthusiasm died after a while? Did you fail to motivate yourself after putting together a plan?
To understand why, you must know the science behind motivation, how it works and the reasons why it dilutes with time.
- Why do we lose motivation?
- How to motivate yourself
- 1. Do not go just by the passion hypotheses
- 2. Pursue something only when you enjoy the journey
- 3. Mentally deduct the immediate reward
- 4. Avoid procrastination of planning
- 5. Know your why
- 6. Challenge yourself with goldilocks tasks
- 7. Make things easy to do
- 8. Celebrate success
- 9. Plan for failure
- 10. Cut the things you focus on
- 11. Get an accountability partner
- 12. Get through the first hurdle using the 5-second rule
Why do we lose motivation?
Daniel Pink explains the reasons which propel human beings towards their targets in his book Drive. If you haven’t read the book yet, you must grab a copy to learn more about yourself.
What people call as a fire in the belly triggers from two different sources: Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation
In simple terms, when punishment or a reward cause you to take action, the trigger is extrinsic.
Driven by fear of punishment:
Such a system was common during the age of the kings where citizens respected authority due to a fear of consequences. Laborers worked for free because they did not want the whack of the whip against their skin.
Such fear-driven behavior still persists in today’s world. Many citizens obey traffic rules to avoid paying fines. Employees work for 8 hours to avoid losing their job. Students study for exams to avoid bad grades.
Driven by a reward:
On the other side, when a reward drives action, the trigger is still extrinsic. Such a system is common in day to day life across the world, from kids to adults alike.
A kid completes his homework for a toffee. An employee wakes up to head to work to earn money. A college student learns to play the guitar to woo the ladies.
The problems with Extrinsic Motivation
Though the system works widely across the globe, it has many flaws.
The energy invoked due to an extrinsic factor dilutes with time. A classic example is when a fresher joins his first job. He starts full of fervor with the eagerness to learn and grow. He aims to earn more money and scale up the ladder.
Over time, the energy starts diminishing. The same person who sprang out of bed to work now hits the snooze button thrice in a row.
2. The reward/punishment becomes an expectation
When a newcomer first starts his job, the first paycheck brings in joy.
Fast forward, 3 years later, the same employee has a few EMIs to handle and regular bills to pay. The paycheck which was earlier a reason for enjoyment now has to show up at the end of each month.
A reward when repeated again and again turns into an expectation.
3. Distracts focus from the bigger picture and strangles creativity
Assume you are a football player. How would you react if someone announced a cash reward for the player who took maximum shots at the goal post?
You would take aim from all parts of the field just to increase your total tally even if you knew you could not score. When almost everyone in the group uses the same tactic, the team fails to score.
Rewards can force actions that do not serve the greater good. Just like players would not attempt intelligent passes to score a goal, you will not apply your creativity for a better overall result. A reward can suck the commonsense out of you and cause you to behave like a robot.
An experiment showed that art workers who submitted art for the love of their work produced much better products than the ones who received a commission for each completed piece.
4. Encourages Cheating
Tempted by the greed of the reward, people can resort to immoral tactics, game the system and even produce a reverse effect.
The Cobra effect is an example of such unintended consequences. The government had once announced a reward for any person who brought a dead cobra. The intention was to reduce the number of venomous snakes. The program yielded good results in the beginning when people killed a large number of snakes.
However, soon, people started breeding cobras at home for the reward. When the authorities heard about the malpractice, they discontinued the reward. The citizens let loose all the cobras they had reared at home causing more venomous snakes in the surroundings than before.
Intrinsic motivation is the form of enthusiasm that comes from within. Irrespective of the presence or absence of a reward, you feel the urge to complete the task at hand.
Consider an employee who works hard to earn the monthly bonus vs another who strives long hours because he loves working. If the reward ceased to exist, the one who worked for the benefit no longer finds a reason to put in energy or time. The one who enjoyed doing work continues the same show as before.
Learning the subtle difference between the two types is the key to learning how to motivate yourself.
Daniel Pink explains the 3 root causes which trigger intrinsic motivation:
You enjoy your freedom, don’t you? How would you feel if your boss always instructed what you should do and how should you do it step by step? You would hate your boss and also your job.
When you have the license to do things your way, you put in more effort in bringing out the best result. Sure, you may falter a few times due to a lack of knowledge, but you will pick yourself up in the long run.
Human beings enjoy getting better and better at a task.
Recall your favorite sport or a hobby as a kid. You might have liked basketball, chess or playing the piano. No matter what your choice was, you loved improving your skills. Sometimes there was a reward and sometimes there wasn’t. Yet, your quest for mastery kept you going.
The same holds good even today. One important point to keep in mind though. You will strive towards mastery only if you care about the task. If you love tennis, you will not give your 100% to basketball. If you want to strum a guitar like a rockstar, your heart will never find comfort in a piano.
The second part of mastery lies in how you take steps towards progress.
If you started playing chess a few months back and you attempt to play a local champion, you will lose interest because the task is too difficult. On the other hand, if you play the game against your younger brother who barely knows the moves, you will lose interest too. You feel the effort is worthless because there is no joy in winning.
The task should be difficult enough to stretch your abilities without being so difficult that you give up. The task should not be dead easy either where you complete it without having to challenge yourself.
The right balance to achieving mastery is to increase the difficulty of your tasks such that they challenge you to push your limits little by little.
The fire within you keeps burning when you have a purpose behind what you’re doing.
Take the task of being an expert at throwing a stone at a target. Do you have the freedom to throw it in your style? Yes. Can you increase the difficulty? Sure you can, by moving further and further from the target.
But will you have the motivation to become a master stone pelter? I don’t think so. You do not have a purpose strong enough to become that good at pelting stones.
You will push yourself towards a task only when it achieves something that matters. Intrinsic motivation works best when you have a cause larger than yourself which serves the better good and leaves your legacy behind.
How to motivate yourself
Motivation is a complex science. To understand how to motivate yourself, you need to understand yourself better first. Here are some tips to build motivation.
1. Do not go just by the passion hypotheses
Cal Newport explains in his book, So Good They Cannot Ignore You on how the passion hypothesis is flawed. He explains how the theory of following your passion incorrectly explains the success of the big names.
Most entrepreneurs and the stars did not start with their current field of expertise as the first passion. They tried different things and improved themselves at one thing which they could relate to.
It wasn’t really ‘doing what you love.’ Instead, they reach the pinnacle of fame because they loved what they did.
I am not suggesting you pick any random career and start loving it. You cannot. You must try your options instead of only sticking to one thing which you assume is your passion. After you try multiple fields, you relate to one and improve yourself to the level where you start loving what you’re doing.
Passion comes after you put in the hard work to become excellent at something valuable, not before. In other words, what you do for a living is much less important than how you do it.Cal Newport
2. Pursue something only when you enjoy the journey
At different times in your life, you will struggle to find the motivation. But once you are stuck at that question, you are already a little late. Instead of finding a cure for lack of motivation, try the prevention approach instead.
Many a time, you pick up a low hanging fruit and assume that’s your passion. For example, if you hate your job, you feel like starting your venture will work like a magic wand which uplifts your motivation. But chances are, you hate the feeling of running a business. Maybe a different job could make you spring out of bed.
Only pursue a target when you enjoy the journey you take. If you seek motivation from the results, you might give up when the going gets hard. But if you like what you’re doing, you will find the intrinsic motivation to keep going.
You cannot pull motivation out of thin air. You must start up front and connect with what you’re aiming for.
The journey is never-ending. There’s always gonna be growth, improvement, adversity; you just gotta take it all in and do what’s right, continue to grow, continue to live in the moment.Antonio Brown
3. Mentally deduct the immediate reward
When you are about to pursue something, you envision an immediate reward. For example, if you intend to workout, you imagine yourself losing 10 pounds in 2 months.
Imagine you cannot get the reward anymore, would you still pursue your goal?
If your answer is no, you might have to think again(not stop completely).
Your immediate reward can take longer than expected due to some unforeseen reasons. When that happens, will you still have the steam to persist?
If you have a different reason to pursue the goal, like improving your health, loving the discipline and the energy, you can find the will to continue when the reward takes longer.
4. Avoid procrastination of planning
One of the devious ways in which procrastination shows up without your knowledge is planning. You cannot build a skyscraper by planning the blueprint for a million years. One day, someone has to get off their seat and put those stones and gravel together.
Planning can give you a false impression that you’re working. No doubt, you cannot begin without a plan. But a never-ending plan can very well be the reason why you never begin. It’s is a sly way of lying to yourself without realizing it.
Do your bit of the plan and start with some action as soon as possible. Your brain will keep telling you to come up with the perfect plan because it hates expending energy.
5. Know your why
Unless you know why you want to achieve a goal, you will have a hard time putting in the effort to accomplish it. Especially when the goal involves long term persistence.
Sometimes you might find a materialistic why to convince yourself. Making boatloads of money can seem like an obvious why behind starting a business venture. In the long term, money alone cannot provide you the motivation to show up at work every day. At least not for everyone.
Make no mistake, I am not asking you to stop chasing wealth. At the same time, your reason behind a goal must resonate with the core values that you deeply believe in.
6. Challenge yourself with goldilocks tasks
Have you heard of the story of the little girl, Goldilocks and the 3 bears? Long things short, the kid loved the porridge which was neither too sweet nor too bland. Human beings love it when their challenges follow the same logic of goldilocks tasks.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains in his book Flow, how everyone enjoys a challenge which is neither too easy nor too hard. As mentioned in the Mastery section, the first step of achieving flow lies in identifying a task you care about(not necessarily love). Once you identify a task you like, challenge yourself little by little by increasing difficulty incrementally.
7. Make things easy to do
Pick any task. The most challenging part of a difficult job is getting started.
- Want to wake up early? The hardest part is sitting up when the alarm sounds.
- Planning to start working out? The toughest part is getting ready to head to the gym.
- Watching too much TV? Resisting the urge to pick up the remote when you sit on the couch is no easy feat.
James Clear explains a tactic to ease such pain in his book, Atomic Habits. Whenever you are trying to start a new habit, you must make the first step as easy as possible. If you are trying to stop a bad habit, introduce friction to make step one more complex than it currently is.
- Place your alarm far away from the bed forcing you to sit up(adding friction to snoozing)
- Pack your clothes and footwear to the gym the previous night so that you do not feel lazy in the morning(making the first step easy)
- Unplug your TV after use forcing you to get your butt off the couch to plug it the next time(adding friction to watch TV)
The tougher you make it for yourself, the easier it is to stop a bad habit. The easier you make the path to a good habit, the more easily you will stick to it.
Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress.James Clear
8. Celebrate success
Parents reward their kids for a job well done. Companies provide bonuses for employees who strived hard. Money is splurged on events to celebrate success.
Why do you think the world follows such a practice? Simple. Because it works.
Yet, you do not make an attempt to reward yourself. You do not always have to gift yourself with an expensive or even a materialistic treat. You can instead eat a toffee, watch a movie, drink a glass of wine or cook your favorite dish.
Just like a kid does his homework expecting a candy, you will work for the reward by motivating yourself. Though the approach can seem like tapping into the extrinsic motivation attribute, a self-reward system with small non-materialistic rewards can help you pull off a productive day.
9. Plan for failure
One of the most common reasons to lose interest is when results do not go as expected. I have lost interest in a few business ideas after they failed to grow at the rate I expected. When my goals and results did not go hand in hand, I felt my enthusiasm taking a downward spiral.
You can avoid that by planning ahead for failure. The intention here isn’t to be pessimistic. Rather you must plan your course of action if things fail. When you do, you will be prepared to deal with failure with your spirits still high. Instead of giving up, you will try other methods to make things work.
If failure shows up when you’re unprepared, your emotion takes a hit. Had you seen it coming, you foresee how to get out of the rut.
10. Cut the things you focus on
I had the habit of chasing every potential opportunity that came my way. Such behavior is also called the Shiny Object Syndrome. Because I was after multiple goals, I could not devote enough energy to each one of them. As a result, none of them progressed in a positive direction. The end result – I lost motivation on all of them.
Chasing too many things can diffuse your focus and lead you astray. What happens if you run after 5 flies planning to squat them all? You will hit none of them. Likewise, aiming for a variety of things can lead to mediocre or bad results overall.
If you reduce the number of goals you have to focus on, you channel your energy in the right places. You also notice constant progress both with your level of knowledge and tangible results. These serve as your much-needed source to motivate yourself.
Focus on doing the right things instead of a bunch of things.Mike Krieger
11. Get an accountability partner
Do you know a person who thinks as you do? Consider making him your ally. He can be a friend, a coworker, a neighbor or your mentor(if you have one).
An accountability partner is who you share your targets with regularly. The arrangement works best when your partner does the same. Once every week or two, you discuss your progress on the goals you committed to. If you failed to achieve your targets, you must explain why to your partner.
Even if you partner with a good friend, your ego does not like admitting defeat. Every time you have to accept that you could not achieve your goal, your pride takes a beating. After one or two meetings, you start working just to avoid the embarrassment of explaining why you failed.
12. Get through the first hurdle using the 5-second rule
Achieving a goal consists of two major obstacles.
- Getting started
- Persisting with effort
You can solve the getting started problem using the 5 second rule devised by Mel Robbins. It uses a simple technique of a countdown from 5 to avoid laziness.
- Want to stay in bed when the alarm sounded? Count 5-4-3-2-1 and sit up.
- Want to watch another episode of Netflix when you have work to finish? Count 5-4-3-2-1 and stop.
- Feeling like buying a large bowl of ice-cream after working out? Count 5-4-3-2-1 and walk away.
As simple as it sounds, the technique works wonders. Since our body is eager to act after a countdown, it serves as the trigger to fight laziness and procrastination.
You cannot begin until you begin.Tony Cleaver
Now that you understand the science behind motivation, you know better about how to motivate yourself.
Do not hunt for motivation after you feel the loss of it. Sometimes, motivation is like a chronic disease. You cannot find a cure once infected. A better solution is to prevent the situation from occurring in the first place.
But not always can you prevent your motivation from encountering a bad scenario. When it does, you can use the above tips to get through the hurdles.
Leave a comment about your story where you lost motivation after starting with enthusiasm.
Maxim Dsouza has spent over a decade experimenting and finding various time management techniques to improve his productivity. He strongly understands the fact that time is a limited commodity and tries to make every second count. He has extensive experience in leadership in startups, small businesses, and large corporations.
He has helped people of different professions and age groups gain clarity on their goals, improve focus, revise their time management skills and develop an awareness of their psychological cognitive biases.