Kate's Nuggets

What can you do when lack of motivation to get started is stopping you from reaching your goals? 

When people aren’t meeting their goals because they are getting in their own way, there are several places they can get stuck. They may not know what to do differently. They may not be able to find the motivation to get started. They may need to develop some new or better skills. They may have trouble sticking with the process.
Many people come to coaching thinking they need help figuring out what to do differently. Many more know what needs to be done and want accountability doing it. Few think motivation is their sticking point. 

They know they want things to be different. They are genuinely baffled about why they aren’t doing what it takes to make things different.  They think there is something wrong with their ability to follow-through or their self-discipline. But, for many people the biggest hinderance to sticking with a plan is a competition between conflicting desires and motivations.
Luckily, motivation and willingness to get into action are surprisingly malleable. In this episode, Kate offers a few suggestions.

What is Kate's Nuggets?

Bite-sized chunks of wisdom about self-leadership for you to chew on.

How to Find a Motivating Perspective in Any Situation
Episode 31

Podcast Opening over Theme Music:
Hello and welcome. This is Kate's Nuggets, the podcast where I share bite-size nuggets of wisdom about self-leadership. I am your host, Kate Arms. I invite you to listen lightly, let these ideas wash over you. Take what you take and let the rest go. You can always come back and listen again.

Kate Arms:
Today I want to talk a little bit about motivation.

Lack of motivation is often what gets in the way of people meeting their goals. And when I say lack of motivation, I don't mean a lack of desire for things to be different. Because that desire for things to be different is why people have goals in the first place. I'm really talking about the motivation to do the work that is required to meet those goals. Often motivation is a problem right at the beginning.

One of the things that's fascinating about motivation is that motivation is like inertia. Things in motion tend to stay in motion. Things at rest tend to stay at rest.

It takes energy to get a human being to change what they're doing, to break habits, or do something new. And human beings are naturally energy-conserving beings. So, motivation is typically an issue at the beginning of a task and after a setback or a mistake, or when it feels like the end goal is too far out of reach.

When people come to me for coaching, they typically don't think they have a motivation issue. They think they don't know what to do or they do know what to do and they just aren't doing it, so they want accountability to do it. They want me to be strict with them and enforce them doing the things.

Part of the problem with this is without actually being in the room with them and able to touch them and make their hands do the things that are necessary to get the work done, I can't actually make anybody do the work. What I can do however, is help people uncover their own motivation that is sufficient to keep them doing the work.

There are a couple of things about motivation that it's worth mentioning. The first is we are not always conscious of our motivations, and sometimes we have conflicting motivations. Often we have conflicting motivations. Sometimes we know what they are and sometimes we don't know what they are.

When I was lying in bed this morning, I was very tired and I have a commitment to myself that I will walk six miles a day every day. And my habit is as much as possible, I do that walk before breakfast, get it out of the way and I'm done. But it was a Saturday morning after a late night, I hadn't slept well and I just wanted to lay in bed. So in that moment, I had at least two motivations. I wanted to get more sleep and I wanted to walk six miles. I wasn't going to be able to do both of them at once, so there was a conflict between my motivations.

Often we're not aware of the motivations. Sometimes the motivation that wins is the one that is about staying where I am, being comfortable, not risking anything, and saving energy. This desire to have things stay the way they are and to not expend the energy to change is a natural human resistance to any new endeavor.

Anytime we want to try something new, we are going to have to overcome this kind of resistance. Sometimes this resistance has active fear around it. Sometimes it feels like it could be dangerous to undertake what we're doing. It is arguable that every time we undertake something new, it's about fear. There's always the fear that I'll become somebody else if I change what I'm doing. Because our personalities are created by what we do in the world.

Every time we think about starting something new, doing something different, we actually are raising the possibility that we're going to become somebody different. And the version of us that exists now doesn't want to surrender to the version of ourselves that we're going to be later.

It feels like a little bit of death. And yet there's another greater hole that sees our developmental trajectory that says, I want to be that. And those two motivations conflict. So what overcomes this natural resistance? A combination of vision of how things could be different, dissatisfaction with how things are now, and taking some steps, getting into motion and doing things.

I want to talk about getting into motion, doing things first. Lots of people wait to do something until they feel motivated. You'll hear people talk about writing saying, "I only write when I'm inspired." And then you'll listen to a lot of professional writers who are like, "I'm at my desk at 9:00 AM every day or 2:00 PM every day." Or whatever their writing time is, "And I write whether I'm inspired or not. It's surprising how often I get a couple of sentences in, and I'm inspired, and the inspiration comes after starting to type."

Action creates motivation. Motivation is that energy to move and an object in motion tends to stay in motion.

A human who's moving, tends to stay moving in that direction. So sometimes when you're thinking, I don't want to do this thing, I can feel myself not motivated to do it, and I want the result, you can say to yourself, "Okay, I don't feel like doing it now, but action creates motivation. I'm going to do something for two, three minutes and see if there's some motivation that gets generated that way."

Another thing that you can do to increase your motivation is to really think about what it is you're trying to accomplish and really flesh out that vision as fully as you can. Add all of the parts of that vision that make it as appealing as possible, which will increase your motivation to do something to get there.

At the same time, if you increase your awareness of the problems with the current situation and think about how much better things could be because they're so bad now and if nothing ever changes, they're going to stay this bad forever. How bad are they right now? If you really focus on feeling all of those areas of dissatisfaction, that can motivate change. If none of those quite do it, then there's the possibility of looking at the challenge from a variety of perspectives.

I was talking this week with a client who doesn't like their job and would like to do something different, and right now is not a great time to be looking for a job. Right now, they're grateful that they're making enough money to pay for the household expenses and take care of their children. And one of the things that helps them when they're having a rough day at work is, when they're having a rough day at work, they tend to look very closely at this dynamic with that person is bad and this project is off the rails and I'm frustrated. And that can be overwhelming and can make it so they don't want to do any of the work.

But if they step back and they look from a bird's eye view and see that, sure, the job's irritating, but the job is serving a purpose. The job is actually providing for their family. When they can remember that, it's easier to let go of the petty annoyances and let those roll off their back and just step in and do the work.

A phrase that I like to use when facing something that is going to be uncomfortable or unpleasant in the short term and is necessary for what I really want for the longer term, it won't be easy. It will be worth it. It won't be pleasant. It will be worth it. Now one of the things about things being worth it is that we value things we put effort into more than things we don't put effort into. If you work really hard on something, when you're done, there's more to celebrate.

When we choose to do a project that we might otherwise have hired somebody else to do, but we do it ourselves to save some money or to get it done in a timeframe that's better for us or because there's some particular part of it that we're picky about that we think it'll be easier for us to do ourselves than to explain to somebody else.

When we do that project with our own hands, we get proud of the accomplishment, and we appreciate the result. Even if it's not as good as someone else might have done for us, we appreciate it more because we invested in it. So sometimes that bird's eye view of, this pain is worth it because there's an end result that really matters to me.

This is much easier to use if the end result is really in alignment with values that are important to you. In my client's case, supporting their children financially was part of a huge value set. In my case, working jobs I don't like in order to make money to support my children comes with a conflicting motivation, because I don't like who I am when I come home from work after working a day at a job I don't like. And if I don't like who I am and how I'm being, I have a much harder time being the loving, generous, kind, compassionate parent that I want to be. You need to find what works for you.

Now, this is all sort of serious and heady and might actually not be helpful. In terms of getting moving and figuring out how to get started, often we want a more light and playful approach. Often if we can take a slightly easier focus and a slightly softer perspective that can help.

Here's a game that you can play. You can look around your room and you can see all sorts of things in your room, and you could say to yourself, "If this thing that I'm looking at that catches my eye, had a message for me about how to approach this task, what would it be?" And do this three or four times with different things in the room and see what happens.

For instance, I am seeing around me a bottle of water. Water often has a sense of ease because it flows downhill. So, if I'm working on a difficult project, I might take from a bottle of water a message that is, find the easy way down to the end of this project. What obstacles can I flow around? I've also got a sculpture in front of me, a cat, and the cat is having a nap. And this cat has served as a metaphor for me many, many times, and typically the metaphor I use this cat to remind me of is that cats rest so completely and then they're, boom on the ball when something catches their attention or wakes them up.

And so when I'm working on a project that feels like it's going on for a very long time, I often use the cat as a way to remind me, rest until the next moment you have to get started and then let it just wake you up because you have to get it done, because the next deliverable is coming up. And that gives me permission to rest and to take breaks so that I don't burn out over the course of a month's long project.

I have behind me a bookshelf with lots of books. A place that that could give me a message is to say, all right, so this is going to be kind of tough and boring, but what can I learn from this? Those books are all over there because I've learned things from them. So, what's the learning opportunity in this challenge?

That's another way of taking a perspective. I've got a piece of artwork above me that often reminds me of the hero's journey. How am I the hero of this project? And I often use the metaphor of hiking a mountain, where the ascent isn't always easy, but the view at the top is beautiful. Any one of those metaphors where approaches can be a perspective to take on the task that makes it feel less daunting and can help overcome resistance.

And you are creative.

You can look around any space and you can find something, and if you just ask the question, what is the message for me in this thing that caught my eye? Your brain will come up with an answer and it will be possibly surprising, maybe a little bit weird, maybe useful, if not useful directly, it will shake things up to give you some alternative perspectives, and maybe you'll come up with a new one that's not the one that this object was giving you.

I have done this exercise in so many places, in so many different coaching schools, and it's shocking how profound a message you can get when your eye catches the corner of a really boring carpet in a really boring hotel, but there's one corner that's a little bit frayed and it catches your eye and you use it as your self-coaching metaphor because you've been given an assignment and you have to use it. I've had insights from that kind of creative play, and I've seen other people have insights from that kind of creative play.

I invite you to try it and see if you can find motivation in the things that catch your eye when you ask them, what's the message you have for me with regard to this challenge I'm facing?

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Here's to Thriving! Catch you next time.
Kate's Nuggets is a Signal Fire Coaching production. The music is adapted under license from Heroic Age by Kevin McLeod.