Tuesday, 03 January 2023 01:47

The Elusiveness of Motivation

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Have you ever felt that you lacked any and all motivation to do anything? When it comes to motivation, I feel like it’s a game that keeps wanting to be played. Some days motivation comes easily and you’re winning at life. Then other days, you lose all desire to do anything and can’t remember your toast left in your toaster. Are there any solutions to this back-and-forth tug-of-war? 

I’ve read countless books and listened to more podcasts than a pharmacy as drugs and I still haven’t discovered the secret to being motivated all the time. But maybe that’s not the point. We are humans after all, not machines that can function 24-7. With the societal pressure to “be on” all the time, it can be hard to remember that we are humans and not our phones. 

I’d like to share five tips on ways to win at the game against motivation. These tips may or may not work for you, but I've found that they are certainly worth trying because otherwise, I would be scrolling on my phone for an hour looking at funny cat videos. 

  1. Start in small increments 

When you are first motivated to do something, it’s easy to write out all the things you want to accomplish and add time frames to each. For the first few days or weeks, you’re making your way towards your goal and feel unstoppable. You got this, you tell yourself. This is going to be easy, you say. The prize at the finish line is in eyesight and the path is clear. 

But over time and due to circumstances with work, family, personal, or distractions of the everyday, suddenly the prize seems further away and the path sodden with obstacles. This is where performing tasks in small increments comes in handy. 

Instead of running full speed towards your goal (because let's face it, even sprinters and marathon runners pace themselves during a race to prevent burn out) try to accomplish a mini goal each day that will help you towards your bigger goal. 

For instance, I am in the middle of writing a memoir. When I don’t have the time or opportunity to sit down and write for an hour each day (a luxury that I don’t have at the moment) I write in smaller increments. 

Each evening before going to bed, I use an old-fashioned notebook (yes, they still make them) and I write about whatever comes to mind. Maybe it is my intentions for the following day or about my accomplishments from that day. Sometimes I’ll write about a memory or conversation that may make it into my book later. Other times I will use writing prompts that are relatable that I receive from literary journals and authors I subscribe to. I set a timer for 15 minutes and allow whatever thoughts come out of my moving fingers onto the page. 

Even though this isn’t necessarily the writing that will appear in my memoir, I still am writing. I am accomplishing something, even if it’s just establishing a writing habit. 


  1. Take a break when needed

Some days my muse is filling me up with words and thoughts to put down. But other days, I procrastinate, I distract myself with other things, I make excuses to sit down in front of my computer or even with a notebook. Those days I just don’t feel like writing.

Part of this is my perfectionist tendencies. I’ve always been a perfectionist when it comes to certain things, and writing is one of them. I fear failing or not being good enough, so it’s easier to not start than to risk not doing a good job.  

Instead of forcing something that is not there at the moment, I do something else that can indirectly help. I take a break from writing and pick up another memoir. Reading the words of others who have written their stories helps motivate me to keep going. Words, feelings, and experiences of others crack open my mind so I can receive inspiration from these other writers. Eventually, the consistency of reading published authors’ books nudges me enough and I’m ready to sit down and work on my own book. If they can do it, I can too, is my motto then. 

I also enjoy going for walks outside when the weather is nice. Being out in fresh air and moving my body helps open up other things that are tense within me, such as new ideas just under the surface. Any activity you deem appropriate for your unique goals can be done as a way to recharge your motivation. 

As I mentioned, we are humans, not robots. It’s okay to take breaks and recharge. Though most of us aren’t training for an Ironman, our brains are mentally exhausted from the everyday emotions, stress, worry, and information overload that is so prevalent in our lives. If you aren’t feeling like you have the wherewithal to work on your goals, then take a break. Make an intention instead, one for the present moment and not in the future. Allow your mind to reset and recharge. If your ultimate goal is really important to you, then you will get back to it when your mind is ready. 


  1. Increase the duration 

Referring back to tip number one, starting in smaller increments, tip number three is an extension of that one. Smaller is definitely easier and more sustainable, but if you are on a time crunch or you have a deadline, smaller might not be better. 

Let’s say you are working on one of your smaller goals for 10 minutes each day. You’ve gotten into the habit now. Every day at say, five o’clock, you sit down or pull out your tools or show up at the gym and do the activity. After you have this habit established and you feel comfortable, increase it by five minutes. If you want to be ambitious, go for 10 minutes. If you can’t afford that much time quite yet, then heck, increase it by one minute! It may not seem like a big deal in the current moment, but over time, every minute counts! 

Sacrifices may have to be made. You may have to get up earlier or go to bed later or sneak off during your lunch break. But if what you are doing is a priority for you, then you gotta do what you gotta do! 

For me, I sneak in increments to write throughout the day, even if it’s just for five minutes at a time. Normally I have a period of lull during work and I pull up a Google Doc and type away. Other times I’ll get up early and instead of going to the gym, I’ll write for 45 minutes and save the gym for later. I like going to bed fairly early, so I’ll take 30 minutes before I fall asleep to write. This is just one example of how I increase the time spent on my goals.

We all have 24 hours in a day. It might be a challenge, but try and find a small slot of time to work on your goal. Everything will add up, as you will see in my next tip. 


  1. Keep notes or reflect on your accomplishments 

There is nothing quite like looking back on all of your accomplishments that have gotten you where you are now. Every mistake, setback, and aggravation have a place in the journey towards accomplishing your ultimate goal.

It’s important to acknowledge the hard stuff, the unglamorous stuff, and the downright utter failures that you went through to ultimately end up where you are presently. Even if you haven’t completely made it to your end goal, you can still take heart in knowing that you are progressing, moving forward in the pursuit of your desire. 

I have to remind myself that what I’m doing is a marathon and not a sprint. Publishing takes a lot of work, a little luck, and perfect timing. I have to discipline myself each day to write at least a little bit (see the above tips) and I have to psyche myself up for rejection each time I send a piece to a publisher. 

I’ve gone so far as to actually create a list of all the places I have sent work to and which have been accepted or rejected. Believe me, I wish I could say I’ve been accepted more than I have been rejected, but that’s not the case. 

To a certain degree, we all want to be the best at our craft. We think that what we are working so hard towards is our purpose in life so of course we want to magically be the best at it. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work that way. That’s why it’s important to keep reminding yourself of the little things that add up. Everything worth your effort will take time and grit. But don’t forget to acknowledge the little things along the way. Doing so will keep your motivation humming. 


  1. It’s Okay to Start Again if You Have To

No one likes admitting defeat, but sometimes, starting from scratch is a way to build something better. There are countless examples of failing before succeeding that come to mind. Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone. The Wright Brothers and the airplane. Marie Curie and radioactivity. Even Lizzie Magie’s game Monopoly had to be “toyed'' with to get it just right. 

Making mistakes also teaches us a lot about what we can change and do better next time. I often refer to the mistakes I made in my youth. They had consequences at that time and I felt like I should have known better, but looking back, I can honestly say that because of the mistakes, I never repeated the offense again. 

The new year, for example, is a prime example of when many people set out to accomplish some resolutions or goals for the upcoming year. Motivation is plentiful and emotions are revving with confidence and plans on how to forge ahead. But we’ve all seen how time can interfere with those high expectations. Some will give up for good, except maybe until the next “new year.” But others will pick up the pieces of their broken project and start again. I guarantee these will be the people who will eventually succeed. 

Just remember that failure is arguably the greatest lesson you could ever learn. It teaches you more about yourself than succeeding ever will. And the most devastating failure in my opinion is never actually trying at all. 

I think we can all agree that motivation can be a fickle, elusive, temptress that comes and goes on a whim, kind of like a cat. One moment it is all in your face, loving you up, and the next it seems it wants nothing to do with you. But motivation never actually leaves. It’s always inside of you. It’s only taking a little break and will eventually come back ready for you to start working towards your goals again. 

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