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Let me guess – you are frustrated with the lack of progress towards your goals. Your happiness, better health, satisfying relationships, career achievement – still not much closer than when you first set off to achieve those dreams? Achievement motivation is about more than dreaming.
The truth behind getting motivated and staying motivated on the journey towards your goals
You’re blaming yourself for not being ‘motivated enough’. You fear there is something wrong with you, because your motivation never seems to last long. So you try harder: you visualize your goals, remind yourself of them daily, think about the benefits, search for inspirational quotes. And while these strategies help, their effects never seem to last long. And after a few days, maybe a couple of weeks, your motivation dwindles again, and you’re back to your old habits.
Here’s a discovery I made a while ago: lack of motivation is not really the reason you stop progressing towards your goals.
Since you’re here, you are aware you have an issue and working to change it. That clearly indicates – you’re already motivated. What halts your progress is the way you use motivation. In this post I want to tell you about common misconceptions people have about real motivation, and how these hinder their success. If you’re trapped in the vicious cycle of having to constantly motivate yourself – keep reading. I’ll show you how to shift your approach and get unstuck – once and for all.
1. Your motivation rises and falls – naturally. Accept it.
If you feel your motivation comes and goes – you’re right. That’s the way it is. We seem to have a lot of it when we first declare war on old habits or make bold decisions to change the way we’re living. But motivation is an emotion and so it’s capricious. There are so many reasons why this may be the way it is, but the bottom line is: your motivation will continue to fluctuate. That’s why relying on achievement motivation to fulfill your goals it is a bad idea.
A lot of people struggle to carry on with the new behaviors after a while. Bad days – when you’re tired, sleep-deprived, feeling down, or sick they are bound to come. It’s just life. Fighting against it by ‘getting motivated’ is not a very good use of the little energy you have on that day. Moreover, it makes you feel like there is something wrong with your motivation, or worse – with you.
Let me stress it again: achievement motivation comes and goes and does it because it’s the nature of it. There is nothing wrong with you. And the best thing you can do is to accept it and change the way you use your motivation.
2. Using achievement motivation to push yourself towards your goals is a waste – do this instead.
After the initial burst of energy to pursue your newly set goals, comes a motivational low. This is natural (remember what I’ve said above?), and this is also the point when many people give up.
But if you’re dedicated to your goals, you will push yourself harder, and try to ‘motivate yourself’ to go to the gym or eat healthier, even though your body is aching and all your mind can think is something sweet and comforting.
Motivation is a source of energy – it charges your internal batteries. But the problem is – you don’t really know how long it will last and when you will be able to charge your batteries again.And if you had a battery like that, feeding your vital organs, would you think twice before using it, carefully considering what’s the best way to use it, to get most out of its limited life? I would. Well, I do – because this is the way it is for me.
Don’t waste your limited supplies
People who are aware of the limits to their motivation and willpower don’t waste their limited supplies on ‘getting motivated’ or ‘pushing on’. They use whatever energy and enthusiasm they have at the beginning to build systems instead. And those systems allow them to carry on with their work, when they’re low on motivation or willpower.
I’m writing this post on a tiny kitchen table, in a dark, humid room. I’m jet lagged and sticky, and I’d rather go back to bed or stand in the shower for hours, but I want to work on this post. When I got up this early morning, I knew my energy and motivation to carry out my writing plan would wear out quickly. That’s why, I used the limited energy I had on awakening to set up my ‘workstation’ the way that all I could do is writing.
I can’t stress enough the power of using your initial energy to set a system that will make you do ‘the right thing’, regardless of the level of motivation you have on the day.
3. What motivates others doesn’t have to motivate you
Have you ever felt inspired by other people’s pursuits? I have. And I’ve met many people who fell for other people’s dreams. I’ve had a friend who, inspired by her parents, both in healthcare careers, decided to become a nurse to help people. In nursing school, she was a good student, eager to learn, and a very caring person. Her tutors were always full of praise for her. But as she progressed, she felt less and less happy. But she kept pushing on.
Everyone around her – patients, their families and her colleagues, were telling her she would be an awesome nurse. ‘I must be doing a really good job’, she kept telling herself and pushed on. But at the bottom of her heart, she wasn’t feeling happy. For whatever strange reason, despite overwhelming evidence that her work was doing a lot of good for others, she was feeling unfulfilled. Shortly after graduation, she started slipping into a big black hole. She went to seek professional help.
Analysis of motivation
During this exploration, she discovered that her deepest desire, the motivation that pushed her through life was being independent, being the driving force in her life. Even though she enjoyed being part of hospital teams, working in healthcare systems, highly hierarchical and structured was killing her soul. Moreover, she was missing her artistic pursuits so much; she felt she’s lost all her feelings.
‘It was a very strange, but incredibly liberating discovery, she said. I’ve became inspired by my parents’ great work and their passion for helping others. And I still want to help others, but first of all – I need to make sure I’m happy and fulfilled.’ Still working part time, she set up a side craft business and worked on expanding it until she was ready to quit her nursing job.
Yes, she is a much happier person now.
‘Successful people set goals congruent with their personality, their values, interests, strengths, skills, mission and purpose’ writes Ch. Friesen, PhD, a psychologist experienced in helping athletes, entrepreneurs, and professionals achieve their top performance.
You’ve heard that so many times – we only have one life, why wasting it on pursuing the goals that don’t really feed your soul?
But I warn you against pursuing goals and dreams that are not really aligned with who you are, no matter how inspirational and good they sound. If it doesn’t feed your soul, it doesn’t feed your soul. Regardless of how big the reward you’re getting is, if you don’t care about it – you will feel unrewarded and deprived.
You will crash and burn.
4. Being realistic about your goals is key to success
Following daring dreams is important. This is what pushes us to achieve the unimaginable and as a result we grow. But to succeed in a long-haul pursuit, you need to also be realistic.
There will be obstacles. There will be bad days on your journey. To overcome them, you need to accept it and adjust your plan.
Envision your obstacles to check if you’re able to overcome them. If you do – go ahead, but if you don’t feel you have what it takes – don’t waste your energy and time on chasing what’s unrealistic. People who use this method are much more likely to achieve their goals, than those who ‘dream big’, but are unrealistic.
I’ve got an even bolder approach. I know how exhilarating it is to feel you want to pursue a goal. You feel full of energy, and feel like you can move mountains. This is a great feeling. It can also be misleading.Even though I may set my goals when I’m feeling like this, I review them and make my plan on a day I feel ‘average’, or even – on a bad day. Why? Because, when we feel ‘pumped’ and full of energy, we’re more likely to reach for the stars and assume we’ll always feel like today. If you plan your steps on a bad day, you’re more likely to plan for days like this one. And if you can do it on a bad day – imagine how much easier this is going to be on a day when you are feeling ‘pumped’ again!
5. Motivation kills achievement motivation
Have you ever heard of people who stopped enjoying their job once they started doing it for money? No, I’m not kidding you – it’s real, and psychologists even have a name for it – motivation crowding theory.
Multiple studies showed that rewarding people for things they enjoy doing decreases the likelihood of people actually doing this thing. The strange reality of people who turned their hobbies into paid work. This issue is particularly important when motivating others, but I’ve seen it at play when motivating self. And if you’re using rewards to boost your motivation, you need to be careful, too.
Extrinsic rewards, such as money, praise or favorite treats, are good to get us started, on a bad day, or when there is a tight deadline, but they have a dark side, too. At some point, extrinsic rewards, more money, or praise, or thread of being ‘named and shamed’ lose their effectiveness and we just don’t care anymore. Daniel Pink wrote a book (‘Drive’) and gave an excellent TED talk on this issue – people are in search of a deeper meaning and rewards that appeal to their inner needs – of autonomy, mastery or purpose, rather than material rewards or avoidance of punishment.
If you use extrinsic, material rewards to boost your motivation – be careful. Watch for that moment when you start doing whatever you’re working on (e.g. regular exercise, healthy eating, reading more books, etc.) for the sheer pleasure of doing it. This is definitely the point when you need to stop rewarding yourself extrinsically.
Don’t work for motivation – make it work for you
I don’t know about you, but discovering how motivation works was an eye-opener and the beginning for a new era for me. All of a sudden, my motivational ups and downs didn’t matter any more. Sure they still came and still come (and go), but I can carry on on my journey towards a better me.
Those things are within your reach. Now you know how real motivation operates, you can use this knowledge to your advantage, too. Just imagine, how much easier your journey to your goals would be, how much more enjoyable without those constant struggles to keep at it. No more frustration with ‘running out of motivation’, no more fears that there is something wrong with you.
Not only you can achieve your goals faster, but also – have fun on the way! Your goals are waiting for you. Achievement motivation is just a step away!