Feeling Unmotivated? Don’t Beat Yourself up. Do This Instead.

“How do I get motivated?”

This is a question I often get asked.

The scenario is usually around something that the person feels they “should” do, but just can’t bring themselves to do it.

You may have heard the advice: “If you really want something nothing will stop you”. 

I think this is the most UNHELPFUL advice. It has an undercurrent of blame (“Don’t you want this enough?”) and in many cases misses what’s really going on.

Let’s look at some examples:

a. Susan had lost 20 pounds of weight and needed to lose 5 pounds more. But she found it really hard to get “motivated” to keep taking action.

b. Rob thought it would be great to be rich. When he saw someone drive past in a nice car, he felt jealous. But he could never get around to doing anything about it. He noticed each year pass by, and he was still in a go-nowhere job, struggling to get by.

c. Liam wanted to write a book, but would never actually sit down to write.

d. Emma thought she should attend more networking events to find a job. But she could never force himself to go.

e. Jim wanted to work on his business idea in the evenings, but he found it hard to actually do it.

Do each of these people need motivation?

Do they need a carnival barker self-help guru standing over them telling them to “Just go and do it!”

This is the simplistic view of motivation, but the truth is a bit more complicated.

Motivation explained in 5 questions

There are lots of different factors that affect your motivation. Here are the main ones, presented as questions:

  • Is the goal worthwhile?
  • Are you sufficiently distressed by your current state of affairs to take action?
  • Do you feel capable of achieving the goal?
  • Do you feel that taking action will help you get the goal?
  • Are there any disadvantages to taking action?

And let’s return back to our examples, and go through each of these questions.

The Weight Loss Stagnation

With Susan, given that she had lost 20 pounds already, she should have no problem doing what it takes to lose another 5 pounds. But it wasn’t her ability or confidence getting in the way.

The real issues were that:

a. Susan was relatively satisfied with her situation now that she was 20 pounds lighter. Although she said she wanted to lose the last 5 pounds, unconsciously she couldn’t see the real benefits. The “fire” wasn’t there to keep pushing on.

b. There were now disadvantages to going on, (cutting out more calories) that discouraged her, and given that she was already relatively happy, it didn’t seem worth paying the price.

But I Really Do Want To Be Rich! (I think)

Rob told himself he wanted to be rich. And of course, for anyone “it would be nice” to have lots of money. But for something to become a reality, it needs to move from the SHOULD category to the MUST. 

Rob’s desire to be rich was not really based on anything except the occasional feelings of desire around luxury cars. This is not a sufficient reason to take the action needed to be successful.

How to Stop Being An Almost-Novelist

Wanting to write a novel and not doing it is a cliche. But in Liam’s case, it wasn’t that he didn’t want to do it, it’s that he didn’t think he was capable of doing it.

It’s quite intimidating to go from having written nothing, to writing a novel. Some people can be very perfectionistic, and expect the words they write to unfold as a masterpiece from the moment they put pen to paper.

If you can disengage the inner editor, you can get things written, telling yourself that it’s the first draft and as Hemmingway said “the first draft of anything is s**t”.

Your Network is Your Net Worth?

Emma could not bring herself to attend networking events, even though she was told it could be useful to help her find a job.

She may have felt she needed a pep-talk, but the underlying issue was that she wasn’t really convinced that networking could help her get a job.

She had been to networking events before and she had got nothing out of them. This experience and consequent belief kept her from taking action.

Choosing Between Family and Job

Jim found it hard to tear himself away from family to work on his business idea in the evenings. In this case the disadvantage of taking action (spending less time with his family) was a constant hurdle to be overcome.

Again, getting more motivation was not about getting a pep talk, but figuring out ways to ensure both important parts of his life were respected.

If You’re Not Feeling Motivated, Look Deeper

It’s easy to simplify motivation as being someone needing a kick up the backside to take action. But if you’re not taking action on something you appear to desire, then there’s something else going on. 

When you’re not doing something even though you think you want to, ask these 5 questions:

  • Am I really unhappy enough with my current situation to take action?
  • Is the goal I’m striving for REALLY what I want?
  • Am I not taking action because I don’t think I can do it?
  • Am I really convinced that this action will lead to my goal?
  • Are there disadvantages to taking action that are stopping me?

Figuring this out will save you YEARS of frustration, self-blame and disappointment.

Originally published on Medium.com on April 18th 2016.