Motivation is often the most important ingredient in our goals, and the one that goes missing the quickest. It is supposed to be what fuels us to move forward and bring our ambitions into fruition. Realistically though, motivation is lost in the midst of life. We may be pumped to start that new workout program, begin school again, or decide to start that project we've been daydreaming about forever but once we find ourselves in the midst of the process motivation has gone missing. During these times of self quarantine and losing our jobs/income due to the pandemic, it may feel harder than ever before to maintain a sense of motivation. Luckily for us humans, our brains are very malleable therefore we still have the power to succeed in any area we choose without the fleeting feeling of motivation.
First and foremost, motivation is an emotion. One of the definitions of motivation that Oxford describes motivation as "the desire one has to do something." Desire. Desire is also an emotion that fuels working towards something, whether that be someone we are attracted to or moving up in the workforce. We desire to be with someone, we desire to get that promotion, we desire to move, etc. Motivation is just another word to describe the feeling behind our wants. As we all have experienced in the human condition, emotion comes and goes. When we are angry we are not angry forever. When we are in a long term relationship we do not feel butterflies and love continuously. When we are sad we are not sad for the remainder of our existence. When we are motivated, we are not motivated consistently. We aren't motivated forever. And our feelings of motivation develop, much like love sometimes develops into routine, anger develops into sadness, and sadness develops into happiness again. We are doing ourselves a disservice by expecting all emotions to be permanent, which also extends to motivation. To expect ourselves to be just as motivated in the process of a goal as we were in the beginning of a goal is unfair to ourselves in every aspect. If we practice negative self talk and engage in self deprecating language because our actions are not reflecting our goals but rather reflecting our current emotional state, we will be harming our mental health, sense of balance in life, and potentially our physical health as well. The first step in achieving motivation is understanding that it will leave us high and dry again and again, and that is okay.
"Motivation is just another word to describe the feeling behind our wants."
After we understand that motivation is fleeting, we can turn to the next step in "achieving motivation" which is rewiring the neurons in our brains that are currently firing. This sounds intense and perhaps a bit invasive, but it is rather simple when practiced consistently. Every time that we experience something, new connections between neurons in our brain are made. When more experiences take place that validate the original experience, those initial neuron connections become stronger. If these experiences are negative, then we are reinforcing in our brain at the neuron level that "x" is bad.
For example, if we really like someone and make the first move but are rejected, we have the foundation in our brain that "making the first move leads to rejection which makes us feel sad/angry." If we ever muster up the courage to make the first move again, and are rejected again, we are validating the idea our brain already believes that "making the first move leads to rejection which makes us feel sad/angry." Moving forward in our life, we want to avoid being sad or angry and we know that being rejected makes us feel like way, so to avoid that we avoid making the first move.
In cognitive-behavioral therapy, they teach you many different ways to rewire your neuron connections. This can aid in coping or treating depression, anxiety, PTSD, relationship issues, grief, and more. Each individual has their own individual needs, and I am not a professional. I can share the techniques that my therapist taught me and which ones worked for me. Some of these techniques include:
- positive affirmations
- challenging cognitive distortions
- thought diffusion techniques
Positive affirmations are positive statements that counteract our already existing negative thoughts. They are most beneficial written down and posted somewhere you see them daily, such as a mirror or your wall. Challenging cognitive distortions is the act of challenging our unhealthy thought patterns. When an unhealthy or untrue negative thought crosses our mind, we counter it by telling ourselves that it is untrue/unhealthy and replace it with a more positive and true thought. Thought diffusion helps specifically with intrusive thoughts and thinking things like "well that's an interesting thought!" sarcastically when an unwanted thought crosses our mind. And mindfulness, where you practice being mindful of our emotional and physical state in our everyday situations. Mindfulness can teach us our boundaries, our likes, and dislikes, and so much more.
In the context of motivation, we can use the power we have over our mind to basically "trick" ourselves into thinking the things that we need to in order to complete the process that leads us to achieving our goals. We can think things like "I am successful" or "I am productive" and remind ourselves of these truths as we work towards reaching our successes and completing our to-do lists. We can challenge our negative self talk and focus on the truth that is we really are smart, powerful, good problem solvers, or whatever positive thing it is we are seeking or need in order to be successful. We can be mindful of our routines and our habits, and adjust them to become more successful.
"Every time that we experience something, new connections between neurons in our brain are made."
We know that feeling motivated isn't permanent and we know we have the power to still work on our goals even when we don't feel like it when we manage our thoughts. But how do we go about putting these concepts into practice?
Have a Plan
Having a plan will help keep us on track for our short term and long term goals. We should be practicing a daily routine while also including or making time for our long term plans. If we have a project we want to finish and publicize, we should be including time to work on it in our routine. If we want to graduate with a degree, school should be apart of our routine. Whether this plan be in our calendar, planner, or just a list in order of what we need to achieve in the day/week/year, it should exist. Essentially, a daily routine that allows time for adjustment and is in order. For me, my routine looks something like:
Wake up, morning manifestations (future journaling), self care, work, gym, homework/study, self care, sleep. I include meditating in my self care and try to get a quick yoga session in during or after my time at the gym. Of equal importance is my 7-8 hours of sleep a night.
If it's the weekend, my daily routine looks a little bit more like:
Wake up, morning manifestations (future journaling), self care, gym, shower, work on a project, self care, sleep. Spending time with my friends and family is also there or combined (like when I write content for the website at my boyfriend's house).
If we go into our day knowing exactly what we need to do, and the best order to get it done, we are more likely to get it done. This statement rings true a thousand times more when we also add to the recipe thought management and not clinging onto the feeling of motivation. We must have a plan, both short term and long term, if we want to achieve anything.
Ask Yourself "What do I need right now?"
Lastly, in the pursuit of motivation, it is extremely helpful to focus on what you need to do in the present moment. I tend to find myself feeling really overwhelmed when working on certain projects for too long, or while cooking and cleaning. When this happens, I take a step back and breathe then ask myself "What do I need to do right now?" And then I do it. In moments of tension or feeling overwhelmed, this helps me stay on track. It can be very beneficial in focusing on what is right in front of you, so that the end of the day or even the long term plan doesn't seem too heavy.
Life is challenging, even without the presence of a pandemic. In the midst of the chaos, or in the pursuit of a new goal or lifestyle, motivation feels like the first step. In most cases, it is but we still need to understand that there is so much more that goes into motivation. We need to understand that motivation is fleeting like all emotions, trust in the power of our brains, have a plan, and stay focused in the moment to reach the end. The end is whatever you decide it is. These concepts may not be easy to adapt quickly, and no one is perfect, but consistency in our practice of motivation will move us farther and farther towards our goals, whatever they may be.
Maren Hoflund MT HHP, is a massage therapist and holistic health practitioner based in San Diego. This her self created space where she explores topics such as mental and physical health, self care, spirituality, and child development; in addition to her poetry and prose.