What is wrong with this thing called motivation? It comes without notice and provides an encouraging feeling of power like you can do anything. But then without warning, it’s ripped away from you, and nowhere to be found!
Last week, I wrote about Falling Out Of Habit, and what happens when your habits and routine break down. One of my readers wrote back discussing how they were experiencing the same problem.
They made a plan, identified what was wrong and how to fix it – but had zero motivation to take action.
Even though all the steps were laid out clearly, putting them into motion seemed impossible. And no matter how much you want it, you can’t rely on willpower alone to take action.
So what happens when you’re experiencing a motivation slump? Let us look at what makes up motivation and how you can use it to your advantage.
The Motivational Drive
Daniel Pink, author of Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us found that there are 3 driving motivators.
- Biological drive: To satisfy hunger, thirst, and sex.
- Reward/Punishment drive: Responding to external reward or punishment for completing or not completing a task.
- Performance of task drive: The act of performing a task provides an internal reward.
The biological drive is an effort to survive. The reward/punishment drive is akin to the carrot and the stick; if you do the work you get a carrot if you don’t… you get the stick.
Lastly and most interesting is the performance of a task drive; that is doing something for the pure pleasure of doing it. Including your hobbies, extra-curricular activities and for some even their work!
In the end, the role of motivation is to help you do hard things.
Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Rewards
These rewards can be helpful when used properly to overcome a motivation slump.
Extrinsic rewards: External rewards are tangible, usually some form of financial compensation.
Intrinsic rewards: Internal rewards that are non-tangible, such as a feeling or emotion.
An example of this can be someone who is trying to lose weight. Losing the weight (tangible) is an extrinsic reward, but the confidence derived from weight-loss (non-tangible) is an intrinsic reward.
When experiencing a motivation slump, intrinsic rewards work best because of the emotional connection they create.
For example, a study by PWC on Millennials At Work showed that training and development were more important to Millennials than cash bonuses.
Extrinsic reward: Cash Bonus
Intrinsic Reward: Training and Development
You may hear about someone leaving their high paying job to do something else that pays less. Satisfying an intrinsic need for fulfillment over an extrinsic need for money.
How can you use these rewards in your life to boost your motivation? Extrinsic rewards can be as simple as providing yourself with a small reward for completing a habit or routine.
For example, eating a small piece of chocolate after a workout. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, over time, you’ll begin to make working out a habit. As you start to feel the intrinsic rewards of going to the gym, you’ll forgo the extrinsic reward of chocolate.
They key is to use extrinsic rewards to get momentum and then rely on the intrinsic feeling of completing the behavior to make it a habit.
Ride The Motivation Wave
Stanford behavior scientist and author B.J Fogg describes motivation like a wave. Sometimes it pushes you forward, and at other times it pulls you back.
If you’ve ever tried swimming against the current, that’s what it’s like not to have any motivation. Here is a diagram of to explain his concept further.
Line A represents a habit or task that is tough to accomplish without a certain level of motivation.
Line B represents the same habit or task, except made easy to accomplish.
Let me explain further. You’re motivated to make a habit of packing lunch for work. The first few mornings you wake up 10 minutes early and have time to make yourself a sandwich or salad.
But after a lousy night sleep, you miss one day and sleep in, causing you to rush to work without your lunch. A couple of days go by, and you’ve lost the motivation to make your lunch every morning. Sound familiar?
No matter how strong you want it, you find yourself in a motivation slump.
But what if you made packing your lunch so easy, that it was hard not to do? When you reduce the friction to pack your lunch, less motivation is required to take action.
Here are just a few ways you can make simplify packing your lunch:
- Make your lunch the night before.
- Buy pre-sliced cold cuts for sandwiches
- Buy prewashed salad or wash a whole head of lettuce at the beginning of the week.
- Buy pre-sliced vegetables or cut up entire vegetables at the beginning of the week.
- Cook a batch of brown rice or quinoa for the week to add to your salads.
- Use individual containers to pack snacks for each day.
Simplifying the process will make it easier when you’re experiencing a motivation slump.
The same can be said about putting your clothes out for the gym the day before, preparing the coffee machine before bed or ironing your clothes for the week.
Line A represents packing your lunch every morning without any processes in place. You success varies based on your motivation.
Line B represents packing your lunch every morning when you already have snacks laid; sandwiches made and ready to go. Your success is consistent regardless of your motivation.
Ride the motivation wave when it is high and create processes that will simplify the habit you’re trying to create. When motivation starts to decline, you’ll already have a system in place to take action on.
Overcoming The Motivation Slump
Multiple factors can cause a motivation slump including:
- Two opposite tasks are competing for your motivation.
- More motivated to take care of one task than the other.
- Stress, anxiety, tired, etc.
The solution lies in prioritizing competing behaviors that require your motivation. Determine what is most important to you or is your highest pay off task and use your motivation on that.
Similar to what BJ Fogg recommended, when you’re feeling anxious, stressed or tired– go back to the basics. Reduce the friction in taking action on a task and make it so easy; it’s impossible to say no.
For example, instead of committing to eating healthy all the time, start with eating a healthy breakfast. Your goal becomes eating a healthy breakfast every morning rather than having to use your willpower to avoid sweets and treats all day.
When looking to overcome a motivation slump, stick with these 3 principals
- Use extrinsic rewards to gain momentum until you begin experiencing the intrinsic benefit of the habit (ex: gym + chocolate -> gym + feeling good).
- When highly motivated ride the wave and create easy to apply systems which are used when motivation is low.
- Prioritize where to apply your motivation when the mood strikes and go back to the basics when feeling stressed, anxious or tired.
Find ways to reduce friction in your everyday life and apply your motivation on what means the most to you.
If you’d like to learn the tools, I use to increase my motivation, such as the two-minute rule and self-fulfilling image, download my Habit Hacks Guide to boosting your productivity, taking action and developing habits!