Have you ever had a day when you felt being productive would require nothing short of divine intervention?
We all know what it feels like to wake up, ready to go only to realize our motivation has decided to take a sick day (without even giving notice!). In a state of desperate optimism, we do our best to push forward only to end up in a hopeless cycle of stop and start. It isn’t long before our best laid plans end up on the “when I get around to it” list… where tasks go to die!
So, what happened? Why does motivation seem to be fleeting???
The myth of motivation
We tend to think of motivation as being the magical feeling that shows up and showers us with the energy needed to get things done. In this way we understand motivation to be uni-directional; that is, a force that moves us forward in one direction. This is the myth of motivation.
The truth is motivation is multi-directional and is often responsible for pulling us in many directions at once.
For example, I LOVE chocolate ice cream. Not the soft serve kind, the real-deal, hard scoop, original chocolate ice cream. I might not give up my daughter for a cone, but I would definitely take a minute to consider my options ? Anyways, let’s say it is a beautiful summer day and a walk through the park brings me to the ice cream stand where they serve waffle cones filled with chocolate bliss!
As I approach the ice cream stand, my motivation pushes me forward toward the open sale window, BUT at the same time, I feel a pull in an opposite direction – reminding me of my commitment to avoid sugary snacks. I stop still in my tracks unable to decide. In that moment I have fallen victim to opposing motivations.
Motivation stops moving us forward when other motivations present an equal or great opposing force or “pull”. In the example above, I was motivated to move in 2 opposing directions – forward toward ice cream and backwards towards my goal of sugar-free snacking. As long as the two options were of equal value (I equally want both) then I will struggle to make a decision.
Opposing motivations are not always obvious. For example, many of my clients report difficulty “finding the motivation” for self-care. It is only after we do a bit of digging, that they realize they are being held back by a competing motivation – a fear of being selfish. Often the fear of being seen as selfish can overpower one’s motivation for self-care or self-development and lead to burnout and a variety of other negative consequences.
Whether our opposing motivations are obvious or not, they can only be overcome by adding additional ‘pull’ in the direction we want to go. Think of a tug of war where we win by adding more people to our side of the rope. With motivation, instead of adding people to increase the pull, we add reasons that support our choice.
Operation Ice Cream: adding more pull.
To support my ice cream motivation, I might add the following reasons:
- I haven’t had any sweet treats this week, one ice cream won’t hurt.
- All of my friends are having one, I don’t want to be the only one missing out.
- Who knows when the shop will have to close again, I better get one now while I can.
These might not be stellar reasons, but if no reasons are added to the opposing side, my net motivation will be enough to get my ice cream.
Two ways to boost your motivation.
Now that you know opposing motivations can leave you feeling stuck, let’s explore where you feel your motivation might need a little boost. Use these three steps:
- Think of a decision you have had trouble making. Draw a line down the middle of a blank piece of paper and list each option at the top (E.g. Ice Cream VS No Sugary Treats)
- Identify motivations (reasons) for each option.
- Boost your motivation by adding additional reasons to the side you wish to “win” OR by listing reasons that remove support your opposing motivation.
- a) (Supporting the ice-cream motivation) I have not had any sugary treats this week, and I will only have 1 scoop.
- b) (Removing support for staying sugar free) Making healthy choices doesn’t mean I have to restrict myself completely. Moderation will help me in the long term.
Motivation can be an effective tool in helping us reach our goals, but we must keep in mind that we can have many motivational pulls at once. Feeling “unmotivated” can serve as a great reminder to look for other pulls or motivations that may be pulling us in an opposing direction. The better we get at understanding and boosting our motivation, the better we will get at moving consistently in the direction of our goals!
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Bonnie J. Skinner, MEd, CCC, RP
B. Skinner Coaching & Psychotherapy