On whys, goals, exhaustion, and self-belief
Motivation is like a campfire. You need three components to reap its full rewards: the matches that get the fire started, the wood that keeps the fire going, and the heat to roast your marshmallows.
If you’ve been struggling with motivation lately, you have to take a comprehensive look at your campfire. There could be a problem with your matches, your wood, or the campfire environment. Or even worse, you might have been throwing water on your campfire the entire time!
Use this checklist to identify what is killing your campfire and understand how to fix it.
1. You Lack a Strong Reason Why
You might not be admitting it to yourself, but you’re not really interested in doing this thing. Whether it’s a goal you set for yourself like starting your own business or completing a project at work, you kind of CBA (can’t be asked). Deep down, you either just don’t see the point of it all, or the reward you get from doing it is just not attractive enough.
There are two options in dealing with this brutal motivation killer:
- Don’t do it: Stop lying to yourself and just quit. It will do you—and potentially others—a huge favor. You don’t give a f*ck about it anyway.
- Find a strong WHY under the surface: If you can’t quit because it’s part of your job, or you don’t want to break a promise, or ________________ (fill in the blank with your custom excuse), you need to find a way to think differently about it. If you think long enough, you can find value in almost anything. It might not be directly associated with it, but it could serve a deeper purpose. Here is an example: This project is boring but doing well on it will show my boss that I can get my hands dirty (and that will build my reputation at work, and I care about that!).
2. Your Goal Is Overwhelming You
When you think or talk about your thing, your mind is commenting with a big “arghhhh.” You dread this thing so much. It feels like a big monster that you don’t even know where to attack first. And you can’t see yourself ever bringing it down; it’s just too big! As a result, you procrastinate on starting.
Some might say “just start somewhere.” But this is probably the worst advice I’ve ever heard when it comes to dealing with overwhelm.
Here’s what actually works: Break it down! Look the monster in the eye and break it down into parts. Identify its legs, head, arms, and belly. Then, put a structure around it. Line the parts up as chronological steps or categorize them according to topics. Within your chunks, draft a rough overview as well. And then, make a rough project timeline and identify the first chunk to start with and, within the first chunk, the very first action. By looking the monster in the eye and analyzing it, you no longer see it as this abstract scary fury thing. Instead, you see it as a—still—challenging opponent, but one you can conquer—if you are strategic.
3. You Don’t Believe in Yourself
You kind of want to do this thing, but deep down you don’t believe you can. And it’s wreaking havoc on your motivation because the voice in your head keeps telling you, “Why are you even trying? You won’t get there anyway … ”
For a quick fix: Look at your past achievements and remind yourself that you achieved very challenging goals before, and you weren’t so sure about yourself then either. Thus, you can tackle this one now as well!
To fix this issue for good: Identify your limiting beliefs and replace them with empowering ones. Limiting beliefs are subconscious thought patterns that guide your actions and decisions. Most of these self-limiting beliefs were created in your childhood or teenage years and still largely determine how you think of yourself. But since those beliefs have been programmed into your subconscious mind, they guide your decisions and actions without you even noticing. To achieve big, bold goals, you need to upgrade your mindset with a new set of empowering beliefs that will get you the necessary confidence to take on your goals.
4. You Are Simply Exhausted
There is so much going on in your life. So many things to do. So many things to take care of. You are stressed out at best and burnt out at worst. Hence, you completely lost your willingness to do this thing, even if you really want to. When everything else is taking up your physical and mental energy, none is left to spark the fire and push hard on your goal.
Free up physical and mental energy and reprioritize! Rest, de-stress and sleep enough to recharge your batteries. Say “no” to things that are less important than your goal. Clear your mind with meditation and journaling. Maybe you even need to do a full life detox to free up the necessary space in your life.
5. You Suffer From the Fear Disease
Your fear is subconsciously holding you back from gathering the motivation to get started. Deep down, you are afraid to fail or embarrass yourself, you are scared of the unknown, or you are even afraid of success. And thus, you suffer from one or more of these fear disease symptoms: procrastination, anxiety, resistance, and excessive worrying.
Get clear about what you are afraid of, how it is holding you back and how this fear shows up in your life (aka. the symptoms). Understanding this is the basis for coming up with a specific strategy to deal with your fear.
Here are a couple of powerful strategies I have used myself and with my coaching clients to act despite fear:
- Get to know your fear: Start by identifying how fear shows up in your life. For some people, fear hides behind procrastination or perfectionism. Others experience physical effects like tightness in the chest, chronic pain, or recurring illnesses. Sometimes, fear is suppressed by destructive behavior like excessive drinking, smoking, working, shopping, or eating. The next time you see this pattern show up in your life again, sit with your fear instead and feel it deeply. Ask yourself, “What am I actually afraid of?” Then go even deeper and ask, “Why am I so afraid of this?” Are you afraid of not being able to pay rent, or are you more afraid of what your friends will think if your business fails and you can’t pay your rent? And if that happens, how will that make you feel? What are you so afraid to feel? What are you so afraid to find out about yourself?
- Transform your fear into empowering energy: We can’t control the emotions that enter our minds; we can only control how we react to them. Thus, transforming fear is ultimately a daily practice. A daily practice of becoming aware of our fear, understanding and metabolizing it, reframing it, and letting it go. There are a few practices I’ve found very powerful for that: journaling (try my four-step emotional release process here), breathing exercises (try the 4–7–8 technique here), tapping (check out Brad Yates on Youtube), and moving your body (getting your heart rate up relaxes your mind, lightens your mood and helps you to break out of the negative thought cycles of fear and worry).
- Take action despite the fear, step by step: It’s normal to feel overwhelmed and scared to start a big life-changing project. But if we are afraid of something, the only way to move forward is to face the fear and do it anyway. And the more we take small action steps, the more we gain the confidence to take the next, bigger step. The key is to not obsess about having it all figured out and to start with the easiest first step we are confident to take.
6. Your Unhealthy Lifestyle Is Taking a Toll
You feel sluggish and constantly tired. You suffer from chronic physical pain (most likely digestive issues, back pain, or headaches). You experience brain fog and have trouble focusing.
Fix your unhealthy lifestyle and your motivation problem (and much much more) will take care of itself. Here are some good guidelines:
- Sleep eight hours every night.
- Sweat every day: Even if it is just for 15 minutes.
- Start your day with a healthy breakfast: This will make it easier to opt for healthy choices later in the day as well.
- Eat mindfully: When you eat, just eat. Don’t watch TV or try to reply to emails. Focus on the taste of the food in your mouth and enjoy every little bite. Take a break halfway through and ask yourself whether you are still hungry. And if not, stop eating. This habit might even make you lose some weight, effortlessly.
- Eat well: Opt for fresh, healthy, unprocessed, and nourishing food. Cut out gluten, dairy, refined sugar, and processed foods if you’re having digestive issues.
- Limit your intake of stimulants like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.
7. You Set Your Goals Too Small or Too Big
You are doing one or both of these: 1. You set your goals so small that they fail to inspire you to get out of our comfort zone or 2. you set them so high that you don’t even know how to tackle them and lack the confidence to do so (see 2 and 3).
Both ends of the spectrum are equally bad for your motivation and morale. Yes, dream big; dream so big it scares you. And yes, 10x your goals to force yourself to come up with out-of-the-box approaches. But please, set your actual weekly goals in a doable yet challenging way. Your motivation will thank you!
8. You Are Impatient
You’re demotivated because you thought you’d be there by now. You wouldn’t have thought that achieving your goal would take so long. You might even be playing with the idea of quitting because you’re so impatient.
Understand that good things take time. This sounds cliché, but seriously; you need to change how you think about this. Focus on the progress and enjoy the journey because it is as much of a reward as achieving your goal. Furthermore, celebrate little milestones along the way and reward yourself for your efforts. This will keep your morale up and your impatience at bay.
Next time you can’t find the motivation to work, ask yourself what’s really going on. Do you really want to do this task? Are you overwhelmed? Are you afraid to fail? Are your goals too big or too small? Do you believe you can do it? How is your energy—are you eating healthy, drinking and sleeping enough? Is there something else in your life that’s taking up all your brain space?
Once you know what’s really going on, you can attack the root cause, and your motivation will come right back!
Liz Huber is a Mindset & Productivity Coach and Founder of refinedlife.io. With her books, courses, and 1-on-1 work, she helps entrepreneurs overcome overwhelm, lack of focus, fear, and self-doubt. As a result, her clients are able to confidently achieve their goals by prioritizing what is truly important and streamlining everything else.