It’s frustrating, isn’t it? You’re crystal-clear on what you want to achieve. You have a detailed action plan. You have motivation to get there.
You want to be happy and healthy. You want a fulfilling career, a purposeful, balanced life.
So why, the heck, you don’t feeling like pursuing your goals anymore?
Why did you skip the gym session this morning and ate junk food instead of the healthy salad…
or said yes to another project even though you swore not to take on anymore…
or wasted time mindlessly browsing the Net instead of working on your business idea…
Of course, you still want to be healthier, happier and all that.
But you’re tired of having to constantly ‘motivate yourself’ and find ways to boost your willpower to keep going.
So why did your motivation fail you?
You’re wondering if there is anything wrong with it.
You’re fear there may be something wrong with you…
Stop beating yourself up about your disappearing or dwindling motivation. The reason why you’ve lost it so quickly may be surprising, and easier to fix than trying to constantly ‘motivate yourself’.
Here are sever reasons why you may lose motivation quickly:
1. Because it is so
Psychologists have studied motivation ebbs and flows for years. Conclusions? Motivation is a dynamic process that fluctuates throughout the day and week, and life. There are many complex reasons why it happens and we may not have influence over some, if not many of them.
Surprising? Unsettling? Or maybe – reassuring?
If your motivation is low now, it means it may get better at some point, whether you do anything about it or not.
The key issue is not to rely on motivation. Yes, motivation is important in the overall direction- and goal-setting for your life, career, your business, but don’t depend on it in your day-to-day struggles. Create routines and systems to carry you through the ups and downs instead.
2. Because you’re tired or hungry
If the goals you’re pursuing require you to control your impulses (such as to eat chocolate, be lazy, or spend money), or making multiple decisions (e.g. tasks to prioritise, projects to take on, healthy eating options), you’re likely to need a lot of willpower to carry on. And if you use your willpower,you’re at risk of willpower/ego depletion at some point.
Ego or willpower depletion is a state when you go for the easiest, default option. This is when you’re most at risk of reverting to old habits of unhealthy food, comfort-zone withdrawal and procrastination.
Ego depletion happens when you’re tired of constantly controlling your behaviour, supressing your impulses and making decisions.
The amount of willpower hence depends on the levels of stress, the type of work you do, overall fatigue and, listen carefully! – the level of glucose in your body.
Low glucose diminishes our ability to self-control and push on in the face of hard choices, too! That’s why it’s so hard to deny yourself that piece of cake or stop procrastinating when you’re hungry.
Your motivation will suffer if your willpower (ego) tank is low. So if you want to keep it up, make sure you use your willpower wisely (prioritize the tasks you need it for!), allow it to recover (rest and restoration!) and take care of your glucose levels(eat healthy and balanced diet).
3. You rely on one type of motivation only
You may have heard there are two types of motivation: intrinsic (internal, from within you) and extrinsic (external).
These types of motivation differ in many ways and can serve different purposes.
Extrinsic motivation is all about getting rewards – money, praise, accolades, as well as avoiding punishment, such as disapproval or anger from important people, shame, fines, or loss of privileges and income.
Intrinsic motivation is driven by internal desire to achieve mastery (become a better version of yourself, learning a new skill etc.), autonomy (being the master of your own fate) or purpose (serving others, pursuing your mission in life).
Extrinsic motivation may work very well, but only for a short period of time. That’s why the vision of yet another pay rise may not be enough for you to improve your performance. Students commonly struggle with it – yes, good grades are great and keep your parents happy, but if you’re only studying to keep your parents happy and graduate with accolades, it’s unlikely to last too long, and at some point you’ll notice you don’t care about it anymore.
Intrinsic motivation is what drives us through life, provides us with meaning and purpose. That’s why many people consider intrinsic motivation as essential to achieving your goals.
That’s right, however simply relying on your higher drivers may not be enough. Sometimes when the going gets tough, you feel like you’re wading through mud, there is no inspirational quote that can lift you up from that motivational low. Yet, you still need to keep up and deliver on time, to spec and within budget.
Both types of motivation have their roles to play. If you want to achieve your goals, you shouldn’t rely on just one type of motivational driver. Extrinsic motivation will peter out eventually. Your intrinsic motivation will go through highs and lows. The best way to avoid losing your motivation quickly is to make sure you have a mix of drivers to power you on your journey.
4. Because your motivation is out of balance
I’ve mentioned above that fuelling your motivational tank with only one type of motivation is likely to lead to a goal-achievement failure, but so is getting the mix wrong.
In order to successfully achieve your goals, particularly longer-term, more complex ones (e.g. developing healthy habits, building a successful business), you need a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic drivers, and you need to use them at the right moments.
Intrinsic motivation is great for creating a vision and setting long-term goals. It will last long and drive you through life. Extrinsic rewards will help you kick-start the change (e.g. to start following your exercise routine, or avoiding distractions at work). It will also give you that well-needed boost before the deadline (avoid punishment), or when you bogged down with details. Use them wisely and carefully. Don’t overdo extrinsic drivers, and keep your aspirational, internal motives fresh in your mind.
5. Because you’re following the wrong goals
Whether you’re trying to make someone else’s dreams come true, working on too small goals, or just spending time and effort on things that don’t truly matter to you – your motivation will inevitably die. If you haven’t invested in pursuing the goals you’re pursuing (or pretending to do so), you’re unlikely to succeed.
So when you feel you can’t keep working on getting that promotion, better grades, or independent lifestyle, stop and ask yourself: do I really care? Is this my goal? Is this the right time to pursue it? Do I truly want to invest time and effort into accomplishing it?
6. Because your life circumstances changed
7 years ago I made a decision to change careers. I had a clear plan: step-by-step, with milestones and metrics and powerful motivation. I set off on my journey, measuring my progress. I achieved some milestones, just as planned. Great.
And then, 4 years into my 5-year plan, somehow my progress slowed down. I could not get pass a certain stage.
I felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall. I tried all the regular tricks: boosting my motivation, thinking about the better future, my dreams, etc… but still little happened.
It didn’t occur to me until a year later. While I was toiling away making my dream plan come true, my life changed. I changed. My priorities changed.
I had to reassess my goals and my motivation for achieving them. Now, 18 months into my new life and new pursuits, I’m happily working towardsa different set of goals. Full steam ahead!
If you feel your motivation for pursuing your dreams has dwindled and you don’t feel so strongly about it anymore, reassess your path. Look at your goals, your drivers – are they still relevant to you? Do they still fit in with your life?
7. Because you put the wrong fuel in the tank
I’ve left this one for dessert. This is my newest discovery and a very powerful one. It took me at least 20 years a long time to arrive at it.
That’s a long time, isn’t it?
But it’s not uncommon. I’ve recently spoken to a number of people who got stuck in a similar trap: travelling to their chosen destinations with the wrong fuel in their tank.
I’m a bit cryptic, I know. Here is what I mean.
Motivation is the fuel that powers our mental engines to pursue our goals. And just like with real fuel and cars, some of us run other types of ‘motivational fuel’ than others.
You know the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation already (see point 3) and you are aware you need a good balance between them (point 4). But even with the good mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, you can still get it wrong.
Apply the wrong kind of intrinsic motivation to your goals, and just like with putting petrol (gasoline) into a diesel car, you won’t get too far.
If you need to have a higher purpose in life, pursuing a goal that emphasises mastery will not feed your soul. If you love self-improvement for the fun of it, appealing to achieving financial independence will do little to your motivation.
The bottom line is being true to yourself. Understand what drives you and be honest. Nobody needs to know that. As long as you’re happy and you don’t harm/hurt anyone, it’s nobody’s business if your motivational fuel is based on Mastery, Autonomy, Purpose, or indeed, pursuing rewards or avoiding punishment.
Your motivation to pursue even the biggest and most powerful of your goals will wax and wane as you continue on your journey. Managing those situations is easier when you understand the reason why it’s happening. With better understanding of what’s going on you can prepare yourself better for those moments, or prevent them from happening in the first place.
Now, you know what may be causing your motivational low, next time you feel you can’t whip up any more energy for that workout, to say no to the wrong project, or simply to decline another slice of cake, pause to reflect on what may be going on. Once you clear, apply the appropriate strategy and see if it helps.
Don’t give up – your ultimate goal, your success is awaiting.