Motivation can feel like an elusive goal. You know you need to get motivated to exercise more regularly, or to sign up (and attend) that class that will help you work toward your career goals, but sometimes that “get up and go” just… isn’t there. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to capture motivation, even when you’re not quite “feelin’ it.”
Understanding internal versus external motivation
First of all, it’s important to understand that there are two basic types of motivation — internal (intrinsic) motivation, and external (extrinsic) motivation. Internal motivation is the ultimate goal — it’s that deep-seated drive to go after the things you want in life, regardless of what’s going on around you, how you feel, or what other stressors or responsibilities are tugging at your sleeves. External motivation, on the other hand, comes from outside source pushing you to go after something. For instance, maybe your boss is offering a bonus if you attend virtual classes or if you sign up more clients in this quarter. You may not have the deep-seated drive to go after those things on your own, but that promise of a bonus is enough to get you moving toward the goal.
And here’s the thing, external motivation can help you develop the habits and feedback success loop (you work towards your goal, feel successful at what you’re doing, which makes you want to work more toward your goal) that translates to internal motivation. In other words, a true drive to tackle new goals can be developed and learned, it doesn’t have to be inherent.
Habits are the foundation of motivation
When you’re not feeling all that motivated, sometimes you have to create habits that are non-negotiables, regardless of how you feel. And often, it’s helpful if those habits are underscored by an external resource to help hold you accountable. For instance, if you have a personal goal of writing a book, but you can never find the motivation to write, maybe you enlist a writing coach to meet with you once a week and to provide you with writing prompts and “homework” to help you develop a writing habit. As part of this work, you might commit to writing for at least 20 minutes per day, right after you wake up.
Habits aren’t necessarily exciting. They may not feel “sexy.” Sometimes you won’t want to do it. But just like brushing your teeth is a daily habit that helps you feel clean and confident, with time, the daily habits you develop to support your goal will help you start feeling better. You’ll feel better about your success. You’ll feel better about your knowledge and skills. You’ll feel better about your ability to follow through on something important to you. And as you go, you just might start realizing that the habit stops feeling as much like a habit, and more like something you really enjoy pursuing because it’s helping you work toward your goals.
Develop your own external motivators
While internal motivation is the type of motivation that feels like a fire you can’t put out (in a good way), there’s absolutely nothing wrong with external motivation. External motivation is like chasing after a reward you really want. Sometimes it comes from other people, like a coach, or a boss, or a spouse. But other times, you have to create your own external motivators. Don’t be shy about it!
For instance, if you know you need to log three hours a week of coursework in order to qualify for your next pay rise … but the pay rise seems like a “someday” reward that’s not going to help you sit through weekly online classes you’re not that excited about, look for a way to reward yourself for every class you attend.
Maybe you decide you can reward yourself with a post-class order from your favourite takeaway, or having a bottle of your favourite beer to celebrate another step closer to your goal. This process of short-term rewards helps you turn something you’re not looking forward to into a more enjoyable experience, which also helps solidify the ongoing habit.
Journal your feelings along the way to support the success loop
It’s important, too, to recognise that the act of doing the habit, or pursuing the goal, usually makes you feel good about yourself in the moment. As the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as a bad workout.” The idea being, even a rough workout feels good when you know you’re doing something good for your body .
It’s also very easy to forget the positive way you feel about yourself performing a habit when you’re not feeling very motivated. For instance, you might feel great about a three mile jog right when you finish doing it, but that doesn’t mean the next day at 6:00 am you’re going to remember those positive feelings. Rather, you’re likely to focus more on the fact that it’s early, you’re tired, it’s cold outside, and putting on your shoes to head outside in the dark doesn’t sound very appealing when you have a nice, warm bed to crawl back into.
Putting together a motivation journal that helps you identify and write down the good things about your new habit at the moment can help you remember those feelings when you need them. So right after you finish your three mile run, pull out your phone or a notebook, write down the date, and jot a sentence or two about how you feel as a result. Something as simple as, “Tired but strong. Glad I followed through,” or “I feel less stressed and more ready to face my day,” can be incredibly helpful on the days where motivation is lacking. Just pull out your journal and remind yourself of the internal benefits your new habit will give you. You might just be surprised at how quickly you start to develop your own internal motivation to go after your goals.