Do you ever get that feeling when you know what you need to do, but just can’t find the desire or energy to actually do it? Lack of motivation manifests itself different ways for different people. For some, lack of motivation may look like surfing the net for hours on end when they have a fast-approaching deadline. For another it may feel as though they are physically incapable of opening the books they need to study for an upcoming exam. For another, it may be having a hard time getting to polishing up that resume for an imminent and necessary job search.
Lack of motivation is common, and is something that some of the most successful and driven leaders can succumb to at times. It’s okay to feel unmotivated at times; but equally important is recognizing a lack of motivation and finding strategies to find that motivation again in order to build momentum for the things you need to do.
First, let’s look at motivation itself. What is motivation, and what does it mean to be motivated? Motivation refers to the reasons behind someone doing something, or their general interest or willingness to behave in a certain way to order to work towards certain results. Motivation is what gets us up in the morning in order to get ready for school or work. Motivation is what makes us study hard in order to do achieve high exam scores. Motivation is what causes us to choose a university to attend in order to start on a path to a particular career.
Many things in life rely on a force of motivation that is expected to exist within us to be moved forward. Studying for exams, getting into a choice university or program, earning a degree or diploma, getting your first job, gaining a promotion, saving money, buying a home, having a family, and so on, are important life achievements we have placed value on as a society. Through placing value on these things as a society, together we have built the correlation between motivation and the degree to which we achieve success in these life accomplishments. The harder work, the greater the dividends.
With all this pressure to succeed and achieve, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, question your abilities to meet expectations, and let your motivation be negatively affected. This is something we’ve come to understand at Education Lab.
Lack of or loss of motivation can happen for many reasons. Perhaps you feel as though your efforts aren’t paying off: no matter how hard you study, you can’t get to get that A you want; or no matter how many interviews you go on, you just can’t land the job you’re hoping to get – it’s that feeling as though everything seems to be going against you and you’re not sure why you even continue to try. Sometimes lack of motivation comes from not being able to see connections between why you’re doing something now for a future requirement that you know you will need to fulfill (such as studying hard to achieve high exam scores). Sometimes lack of motivation can come because your goal isn’t clearly defined, or your goal is not in line with what you truly want for yourself and your life.
Lack of motivation is common but the key is to not succumb to the NEED for motivation. Motivation is good when it is available but is also highly unreliable. It is a bad friend who is only around sometimes. But first, we need to know the basics of what motivation is, how to get more of it when it is available, and finally how to not grow dependent on it.
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Here are some helpful tips to understand and find your motivation:
DETERMINE THE GOAL
What is it exactly you are working towards? Is your goal to get a score in an exam to improve your chances of getting the job you want? Is your goal to sustain an 85% average throughout university? Is your goal to get into a study abroad program that will allow you to go to a different continent? Is your goal to make $200,000 in a year? Is it to start your own business? You will increase your ability to achieve your goal, and your motivation to do so, if you work as hard as you can to make your goal specific, within your reach, and something that you can measure your own progress on. However, on the flip side, allow you goals to be flexible enough to allow yourself some wiggle room as you review your goal on a regular basis.
Using visualization, or taking the time to reflect and “see” yourself in the future, is one of the most effective strategies to restore motivation. There are two things you can visualize when you feel as though you are stalled in your efforts. First, visualize achieving your goal. What does that achievement feel like? How has attaining that goal changed your life? This can help give you the excitement you need to push on when you can see what you are working towards. Next, visualize not achieving your goal. How does coming short of your goal feel? What would you have lost in your life had you not achieved your goal? Visualization is an effective motivator as it helps bring us into that mind frame of achievement and success, but also spurs us into action by helping us anticipate the consequences of not achieving what we have set out to do.
Another exercise in visualization is to picture your ideal self. The absolute best version of yourself is someone might be someone who has good habits, who is true to their word, is organised. This version might have other aspects of their life in order that doesn't relate to the goal you want to achieve but is somehow intrinsically related. This version of yourself is healthier, stronger, more composed than yourself now. This person can make your goal look easy. If you feel the emotions surrounding this visualization exercise, this can be the trigger that gives you that extra bit of energy and that allows you to overcome obstacles that your current self might see daunting.
IMPROVE YOUR PHYSICAL HEALTH.
One of the best things you can do to kickstart your internal motivation is to release the endorphins within yourself that lead to positive thoughts and action. It’s very simple: when you have a healthy body, you have a healthy mind. Taking small steps to improve your physical health can improve your energy levels so that you can get up a bit earlier to get to your to-do list. Sleeping and getting sufficient rest will improve your endurance, concentration levels and ability to work through things demanding your attention a little easier. Improving your physical health reduces overall strain and allows motivation to take over.
TAKE A BREAK
Sometimes regaining your motivation will require you to take a break and unplug in order to avoid burnout. Take time away from studying to watch Netflix for a few hours in order to give your mind a break, dedicate your Saturday to spending time with your family, or simply just put down the books a whole day to fully rejuvenate and restore your energy. Perhaps your lack of motivation is due to simply being just too involved and ingrained in what you’re trying to accomplish that you’re forgetting to “look up” from time to time, which is exhausting and can lead to a lack of motivation, due to mental fatigue.
BREAK THINGS DOWN
Lack of motivation can often come as a result of being overwhelmed with the task at hand, or the plethora of tasks you know you’ll eventually have to get to. The human brain has limitations, in that it simply cannot focus on two or more complex things in parallel. It simply stops working and being effective. The feeling of being overwhelmed becomes so distracting and all-encompassing that we can go from wanting to do everything, to accomplishing literally nothing at all. We need to help our brains work at their best by minimizing the strain we are putting on it all at once. Breaking down tasks into their individual steps, and committing to taking only one step at a time can help decrease that feeling of being overwhelmed and help restore your motivation. For instance, you know that you need to read a 300 page book in one week for one of your school courses. You look at that big thick book and wonder how you’re going to manage to get through 300 pages in just 7 days. Reduce your feeling being overwhelmed by breaking down the book into daily manageable chunks – read 50 pages of your book a night six nights of this week while giving yourself a night off. Suddenly 300 pages becomes 50 pages, 6 times. Perhaps reward yourself with an extra day off by committing to reading 75 pages two of those nights. It’s these small little mind shifts that can help your brain work more effectively, reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed and clear the way for motivation towards action and productivity.
DON’T WAIT FOR MOTIVATION. RELY ON DISCIPLINE.
A caveat about motivation is that it is not reliable. It comes and goes even for the most successful. It is like having a friend who for the most care wants to see you do well, but isn’t reliable in showing they actually care about what you’re doing or how you’re feeling. Sometimes you have to quit waiting on motivation and instead rely on discipline. Discipline is doing something without thinking about whether you ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ do it - because you have already decided you should do them already. It is a machine like process that doesn’t rely on emotions, energy or thought. It doesn’t wait for the perfect conditions for you do do something. After you have mastered discipline, motivation is unnecessary.
We recognise that the expectations that are placed on people today can sometimes lead to, or cause, a lack of motivation. We also understand that young people have to push through necessary educational requirements in order to achieve their goals. We work with our students to understand motivation, define what motivates them, and find the strategies that work for them to ensure that motivation turns into momentum.
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