We all have those days.
I had one just recently, where it was difficult to get out of bed - particularly at 5am - and every task that I’d normally charge through without a second thought was a slow chore that I felt obliged to push through. It’s normal, as human beings, to feel unmotivated. The difference is, some of us are better at recognising this, and practicing ways to curb our procrastination into productivity than others. It’s not rocket science, although it is another discipline entirely: psychology.
Thankfully for you, though, I’ve done the work in collating advice and research from professionals for this piece. So sit back and discover how you can become more motivated, and implement new ways of doing things in both your personal and professional life that will see you more disciplined, productive, energetic and motivated.
If we look to a simple metaphor to define motivation, it’s not the engine that turns the wheels, but the fuel that makes the other parts move that is the best analogy for motivation. Some days, we’re running a bit low on fuel, and those are the days that you’ll be endlessly staring at a blank document or spreadsheet that needs to be filled up. There’s another way to picture it, too. Textbook definitions and psychologists alike say motivation is the process by which projects and obligations are started, directed and sustained, and is what guides us to complete a goal, task or project. In light of the second definition, you can think of motivation as the road map inside the car that is guiding the occupants to their destination. With a lack of motivation - or absence of a map - we can go around in circles, never reaching the destination we’d first planned.
With a lack of motivation - or absence of a map - we can go around in circles, never reaching the destination we’d first planned. - Kobi Simmat.
According to some researchers and psychologists, there are two distinct types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic, as you can imagine, is the motivation that comes from within you, or you’re motivated by the reward at the completion of the task or project at hand. The example of finishing a crossword puzzle because of the intrinsic gratification in overcoming a challenge is often cited. On the other side of the equation, extrinsic motivation stems from avoiding punishment, or to get a reward. The motivation behind the act comes from outside yourself, be it external pressures from supervisors or managers. Extrinsic motivation can get you through to a deadline, but it’s also not sustainable to rely upon to get yourself up and moving toward a goal. The most effective way to motivate yourself is to capitalise on intrinsic motivation- so how can be best accomplish this?
Psychologists say that one of the most important pieces of the puzzle in this regard is to understand the three components of motivation: activation, persistence and intensity. Activation in this sense refers to your ability to start the task, project or kick off your day with a certain behaviour, or capitalise off certain emotions. We published a piece recently on the ways in which you can anchor certain emotions - often triggered through smell and memory - that can perpetuate positive, productive change. From here, we move to the second stage in the process: persistence. Persistence is your ability to keep the car on the road, pointed in the right direction, and your ability to achieve that goal, overcoming obstacles that present themselves. The last consideration, intensity, is represented by just how much of your energy you’re willing to put into getting that task accomplished, which can change as environmental and social factors dictate.
Now, moving onto what I believe to be three of the most important theories of motivation, all of which take into account the fact that motivation can stem from certain cognitive, social, biological and emotional factors. The first of which, instinct theory, says that as humans, we’re motivated to achieve our goals through, as the name would suggest, our instincts. The theory dictates that our motivation is spurred in the face of an existential threat, which comes back to the classic example of fear dictating our decision making, as well as our motivation to get certain tasks done. If you’re underprepared to deliver an important presentation in front of the executive team, your instincts will begin to spur motivation inside you to get the job done, and to avoid the detrimental impact of not delivering.
The second theory centres on drives and needs, and ties closely in with the themes of the point we’ve just covered. Our behaviour - and subsequent motivations - are driven by certain biological needs in the case of human survival, and more socially-constructed needs in the context of doing business. We look for shelter, food and water in the case of the first, and look to high-quality work on time in the case of the latter. The third and final theory dives into the topic from a different angle, and talks of just how much engagement in a certain task you can get through what’s known as arousal theory. Someone with high arousal needs might need a higher level of stimulus to stay motivated with a certain task before they lose motivation, while someone on the opposite end of the spectrum won’t need as much spurring to keep going on the task.
Now, to put it all into practice, being aware of the different aspects that make up just how motivated we’re feeling is half the battle. If you can recognise your drive and behaviour fitting more into one of the aforementioned categories than others, you can prepare yourself for periods of procrastination ahead of time. Alternatively, if you’re in a slump, you’re better equipped to recognise this, and take steps to make your actions more proactive.
You can also try to refine your goals, or in the absence of goals, start setting them. If you think of one specific, achievable goal that you’d like to accomplish both in the short and long term future, you should then have some ideas how to make that goal a reality. This is achieved best through breaking the goal into smaller tasks that you can regularly ‘tick off’ on your list. The subsequent sense of achievement should help to spur motivation inside you, or at the very least, give you a reference point of where you need to go next, all the while taking into account the steps you’ve accomplished to get to this point.
Before we wrap things up, it’s worth mentioning a few more simple tricks that can help spur some motivation inside of you. Remember to first of all, eat healthy ingredients, and try to exercise regularly to keep your body topped up with those invaluable endorphins that work wonders for productivity. Try to surround yourself with positive, highly functioning people that you can use to mentor yourself, or at the very least, soak up the ways in which they stay motivated. Use their advice, and refer back to your own goals as to how you can better achieve what you’ve already set out to accomplish, to hopefully keep that momentum up!
I hope you’ve found some value in this piece, I know I have, as I now feel more motivated to go out and attack the day than when I started.