Wouldn’t it be nice if you woke up each morning ready to take on the world? But for most of us, motivation waxes and wanes, and as a result, our performance goes through peaks and valleys. In this post, we’ll explore some proven tactics for increasing motivation levels and keeping them high, particularly when encountering adversity, discouragement, and other external factors that can conspire to keep us down.
1) Tap into a Higher Purpose
What or who motivates you to be your best? This is a question that sports psychologist Dr. Jim Afremow often poses to the athletes and teams he works with. When we know what or who we’re fighting for, we’re more motivated to bring the heat each and every day. Perhaps it’s the mentor who believed in you, the coach who invested extra time to help you work on your game after practice, or the parent who worked three jobs to pay for your education. We all have someone who has poured good things into our lives. You’re not just doing your best for you, but also for them.
To take this one step further, review your goals and decide to dedicate the pursuit of a particularly ambitious aim to someone who means a lot to you. Write this aim out and then put a picture of them next to it where you can see it every morning. Then resolve to give your absolute best to get one step closer to hitting your target. This is the art of doing what Simon Sinek suggests when he talks about finding your “why” and then putting it into practice. But in this case, it’s tying a “who” to the “why.” Only then can you start figuring out the “what” – the tactics that are going to get you to your goal.
2) Chop Wood, Carry Water
All too often, we get caught up in complexity or stuck trying to chase the latest new thing. As a result, we lose sight of the fundamentals that got us to this point and abandon tried and true habits in favor of flitting from one fad to the next. If you feel like your motivation wanes because you’re stuck in such a pattern, take a moment to ponder this Zen quote: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
You don’t need to buy into the Colorado hipster trend of wearing flannel, sporting a Grizzly Adams beard, and buying an overpriced, small-batch hatchet to embrace and apply the gist of what this unknown ancient philosopher was trying to convey. The true lesson in the “chop wood, carry water” notion is that you need to become brilliant with the basics and stick with being consistent day in and day out.
Before trying any advanced tactics in your work or jumping on a bandwagon in your workouts, do the small things right and commit to perfecting them. As legendary strength coach Dan John often says, “Little and often over the long haul” is what helps us achieve results, rather than going hard one day and slacking off the next. Simplifying what you’re doing down to a couple of essential tasks will also help you to stay motivated because you’ll know exactly what you need to be pouring your energy into.
3) Celebrate Small Wins (and Don’t Fixate on Losses)
If you’re a highly driven person, it’s all too easy to crank through every item on your daily to-do list or time-blocked calendar and never pause to savor successes along the way. In his inspiring book Unscripted, Emmy-winning TV broadcaster Ernie Johnson calls these “blackberry moments.” Here’s how he describes the obstacles to celebrating small wins: “We’re all so focused on sticking to the script from one day to the next, one meeting to the next, one sales call to the next, that we blow right by the unscripted moments that can profoundly impact not just our lives but also the lives of those with whom we share the planet, the workplace, or a home.”
The next time you close a deal, earn a promotion, set a new 5K PR, take time to mark the achievement. It can feel braggy to tell the world about such things via social media, but you could at least share your joy with a close friend or family member, and then make an effort to join them in celebrating their milestones in work, sports, or life. Doing so will give you and the people you care about a motivational boost that will fuel you to the next success and the one after that.
On the flipside, don’t let yourself fixate on perceived losses. Reframe an “L” as a lesson from which you can learn something and come back stronger and smarter the next time. It’s OK to acknowledge when you fall short or a result doesn’t go your way, but remember, even the best baseball players only hit three out of every 10 pitches thrown at them. As long as you gave your best effort to put yourself in a winning position, that’s all you’re accountable for.
4) Choose to Contribute
Martin Luther King Jr. once remarked that, “Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve.” When you make serving others your daily focus, it removes the ability of your self-defeating inner voice to bring you down. Say you’re on a basketball team and your first few shots don’t fall. OK, maybe you’re not going to emulate Steph Curry and score 60 points. But you could still set picks for your teammates, play hard defense, and grab as many rebounds as you can, realizing that your shot will probably return in the next game.
It’s the same at work. You might go through a whole day feeling too sluggish to bang out a couple of thousand words or finish a whole presentation. It’s in these times that you can offer to help a colleague with her work project or offer your services to your boss. Very few people will turn you away if you ask, “How can I help?” And while you’re busy assisting them, you’ll probably discover untapped energy that will carry over when you return to your own big projects.It’s a cliché to say it, but you can also do something nice for someone else when you’re having a down day or find your motivation flagging. This could mean buying a small gift to show your appreciation or volunteering some time for a local non-profit. Taking yourself out of the picture for a while can do wonders and restoke your own motivational fire to make a difference in the world around you.