I don’t think I’ve ever had as much difficulty with finding motivation as I have over the past few months. Growing up as a competitive athlete, it felt like I automatically came with some motivation software installed. But as I’ve learned over the last few years, motivation is so much more than just a drive that you either have or don’t have.

One of my readings defined motivation as…

“activating orientation of current life pursuits toward a positively evaluated goal state”

(Rheinberg & Vollmeyer, 2018).

What does that even mean?

Well, that definition touches on a few things that really should be elaborated.

  1. That “positively evaluated goal state” might be towards a desired outcome BUT, it might also be to avoid/prevent undesired outcomes too.
    – For example, quitting cigarettes to avoid health complications might be one.

  2. The word “pursuit” is important. By reducing motivation to just the outcome alone, you neglect the powerful incentives embedded in the consequences of that outcome.
    – You might find that not freezing your butt off in the cold, spending more time with your family, and saving money are a few of the positive consequences of your efforts that really help you quit smoking cold turkey.

  3. Sometimes incentives and outcomes are aligned in their ‘valence’ of positivity or negativity, and sometimes they are inverse.
    – For example, there are enjoyable activities such as playing soccer with your buddies that get you the result you want. And other times, there are less appealing activities (e.g. using the stair master) that produce the result you want (being healthier) – this works vice versa as well.

  4. Consider that if a consequence has a high enough incentive – people might even participate in activities that they hate. – Please refer to all the Saw movies for an extreme example.

  5. Often, people will procrastinate until the consequences of inaction are more unpleasant than the hated activity itself.
    — Let that one sink in for a second.
    How often have you let the anxiety of completing an annoying task become so uncomfortable to the point where completing the original task becomes an easy relief? Then you start chasing this feeling of relief and the cycle of anxiety develops.

Points 2 & 5 were heavy-hitters for me.

When you focus so heavily on just the outcome of your efforts, you don’t get to fully commit yourself to the process. And the process is really where you get to study your approach, hone in on your skills, and begin perfecting your craft. The crucial thing to accept here is that committing to the process really means becoming an expert on failing until you become the best person to ask about how NOT to do that thing.

When I reflect on activities with which I’ve found the most success or improvement, it was my attitude about the process that really made a difference in the outcome for me.

When I think about weightlifting, I realized that I fell in love with pursuit of caring for myself and being healthy, not a specific body image or goal weight. My motivation for exercising really flourished once I focused on the parts that I enjoyed the most (the endorphins post-workout, the mental clarity, the alone time with my music…and so much more).

It’s hard for humans to keep working towards a goal just based on the thought of a future reward in their minds over long periods of time. That’s normal. Especially with external stressors or uncertainty regarding future rewards that many of us are experiencing right now. But if you’re like me, and looking for a few ways to maintain motivation for long-term goals, I’ve shared them below.

  • identify specific, achievable goals and write them down – it’s easier to maintain motivation when you are working towards things that you can actually make progress towards and achieve. Writing them down and displaying them somewhere you see often can help make them feel more tangible. It can also help you visualize your progress and movements towards these goals in your daily life.

  • set smaller, achievable subgoals towards larger long-term goals – breaking apart larger tasks into smaller parts makes them way more approachable and helps remind you of all your progress along the way.

  • re-wire your relationship with failure – start looking at failure as progress because it is more accurately a process of elimination towards the outcome you want.

  • start with parts of the process that you enjoy or make parts of the process more enjoyable for yourself – your attitude and perspective about the process is KEY.

  • remind yourself of the cost of your inaction or increase that cost – think about why you set this goal and it’s importance. Then ask yourself how your procrastination will impact that goal. Are the consequences of inaction unpleasant enough? Try to remember that the sooner you do the stuff you don’t enjoy, the sooner you get back to stuff you enjoy, and the faster you get to your goal.

  • reward yourself often and take time to really absorb feelings of accomplishment no matter how big or small – journal, talk to a supportive friend about your progress, go out for dinner to celebrate. Just make sure to treat yourself whenever you work towards that goal state.

    These little efforts might be all that you really need to keep going or to even get the ball rolling. Reflecting on what seems to work for you and then rewarding yourself whenever you have glimmers of it might be all you can reasonably ask of yourself right now.

    Motivation, like many other parts of you and your mental health needs care and attention. It’s natural for it to fluctuate so don’t be so hard on yourself when you have less of it.

Rheinberg, F., & Vollmeyer, R. (2018). Motivation. Kohlhammer Verlag.

Published by theartofhina

Clinical & Counselling Psychology Master’s student based in Toronto. 
As a South Asian immigrant, WOC, and future clinician - I am committed to creating positive social change by advocating for mental health initiatives emphasizing cultural competence.

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