What’s Sapping Your Motivation? Find out!

Google the word “motivation” and you’ll get back over 265 million results. It’s a hugely popular self-help topic for at least one reason: motivation is difficult to sustain over the long haul. It needs to be nurtured by the right conditions, sustained by an environment that reinforces and energizes the activity you undertake to achieve your goals. Too often, however, we find ourselves in an atmosphere at work, at home, or at school that does the opposite. It drains our motivation and leaves us exhausted.

What kills or builds motivation will be different for different personality styles. See where you fit in the list below:

  • Delighted by Details – if this describes you, then one major drain on your motivation is being put in a position where you have to act before you completely understand the situation. You enjoy getting all the facts and comprehending all the implications. Until you’re satisfied that you know precisely what will happen as a result of an action, you’re not ready to make a move.
  • Like to Take it Slow – if you’d prefer a steady, even pace, then sudden changes in direction will sap your motivational energy. Interruptions and pressure cause you to shut down. You need an environment in which you’re allowed to take time to adapt to change. If change is forced on you, you may react with passive negativity.
  • Driven to Achieve – for you, the least motivational atmosphere is one in which you’re given direct orders without getting a “say.” You much prefer to be in control and in charge, especially in situations where your leadership can be recognized and appreciated. When you feel pushed and bossed around, you don’t shut down. Instead, you push back. The conflict quickly drains any positive motivation.
  • Loving the Social Life – if you’re a talkative, relational person, then what messes with your motivation is the feeling that you’ve been rejected. You enjoy developing rapport with others, giving and receiving affirmation in equal measure. The unexpected sting of being criticized or put down will deplete your positive energy.

 If you can relate to one or more of the behavioral styles above, watch out for the motivation-busters listed. If you can, try to insulate yourself from the negative influences that consistently weaken your resolve. Choose to spend time with people whose positivity has an uplifting effect on you. If possible, express your desire for a change in the environment. If you’d like more time to think through a problem, ask for it. Want more control and responsibility in a project? Volunteer to lead it. Sometimes you can’t escape or change the difficult atmosphere. In those cases, try to take the long view – remember that the pressure can’t last forever. Hang in there!


Skill-building: speak with strength

Great leaders are assertive – they tell it to you straight. They’re confident and ask for what they want and say “no” to what they don’t want. You can do it too – with an assertive statement that communicates facts, feelings, conditions, and consequences. The skill-building goal is to speak with clarity and strength while respecting both yourself and your listener. 

Facts – describe the behavior that bothers you. For example, if someone often interrupts you, say: “Several times today, you’ve interrupted me before I could finish what I had to say.” You’re just stating the facts – it happened that way, and the other person can’t deny it.

Feelings – calmly and firmly express your emotional reaction to the troublesome behavior. Say: “I feel disrespected and frustrated because I can’t finish my sentences.” These are your feelings – they can’t be denied by the other person.

Conditions – lay out the specifics of what you want the other person to do. Example: “When we talk, I’d like you to let me finish my sentence before you respond.” This is the “strong” part – you’re daring to ask for exactly what you want.

Consequences – state the positive or negative results that will occur if the other person does or doesn’t agree to your conditions. Example: “When I can say what I need to say, then I’ll be glad to hear your side.” Or you might talk about a negative consequence: “If you continue to interrupt, I’m going to end our conversations.”

In four steps – maybe 15-20 seconds of talking – you’ve demanded to be heard and respectfully expressed your expectations. Here’s another example, with all the parts tied together. Say you need to talk to your neighbor about a problem with noise:

“Lisa, when you play loud music at five o’clock in the morning, it wakes up the baby. We’re frustrated because she isn’t getting the rest she needs. We would like you to keep it down until after 7. Could you do that? Great. Then you’ll have some happy neighbors and we can coexist in peace.” Or: “No you can’t? Then I’ll need to call the apartment manager to help us work this out.”

Speak with strength! Use these four steps and experiment with assertive statements. You’ll communicate in a clear and positive way that will earn respect.

Looking forward, looking back

Other than stories about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, do you remember anything else written by Mark Twain? After taking every Twain class offered at my college and reading everything Clemens ever wrote, I remember only one Twain quote. Maybe it stuck because of the wisdom it expresses. Here it is:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Twain wasn’t an icon of positive thinking. In fact, much of what he wrote was quite cynical. Therefore it’s no surprise that although this quote is attributed to Twain, its origin can’t be verified. Even so, I like to think that maybe a grumpy old Mark Twain really did share this wise counsel at some point – maybe in a speech or in a letter. Perhaps in a moment of wistful reminiscence, he spoke from the heart and urged someone who still had the chance to take that chance.

For me, looking back over the past two decades is easy, but I find it hard to look forward twenty years. So many variables! But when I do look forward that far and imagine myself really there – really twenty years older – everything from my life in the present seems to fall into perspective. Looking back from that point twenty years in the future, I recognize that much of the drama of my present daily life is really trivial and inconsequential. So many things that seem desperately important today are really insignificant when my perspective is larger – on the scale of decades. Insights like these sharpen my focus and help me clarify what I’m really here to do and to be. Another pivotal insight that comes from this exercise of my imagination is that I see that most of my fears are unfounded. And fear is what keeps me – keeps everyone – from “sailing away from safe harbor” and exploring, dreaming and discovering.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do….”

If you were looking back from your future, what would you regret not doing? Leave a comment!

<this post originally appeared here in early 2010, but I came across it and thought you might enjoy it today.>