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MOTIVATION: Creating Meaning as We Face Ourselves

Posted by Dan Petrocelli, Director of Counseling Services on Apr 29, 2020 5:15:00 PM

Behind every accomplishment lies some form of motivation. Consider some of life's most notable accomplishments: high school graduation, securing a job, providing food for the family, or buying that first car.thumbnail_joshua-earle-Hn8N4I4eHA0-unsplash These are all accomplishments that do not occur without that foundational level of persistent motivation that it takes to spring into action. So, what about those stretches of time where for some reason or other we really struggle to motivate? Those times when all of the ideal factors are not in place for generating that quick-access motivation. Let’s break it down and identify solutions!       

There are times when it seems to require very little effort to motivate ourselves to accomplish something we desire. Think back to a time in your life when you did so, successfully. In my case, I recall my desire to become a star basketball player. As I set out to take the necessary steps to accomplish my goal, the most important exterior components were available to me to help naturally generate the endless motivation to begin with: a basketball, a basketball hoop in the driveway, basketball sneakers, and the peers to connect with for daily competition within a very strong school community (yes, privilege). That made it easier to avoid discouragement with resources so easily available. I possessed the material items that were needed, and the community support to ignite a passionate fire under me for daily motivation. But, what if all of those pieces were not in place? 

This leads me to the present moment and the pandemic-driven limitations and isolation we are experiencing in our daily lives. Over the past several weeks it has become increasingly clear that many people are struggling to generate the motivation to engage in their daily routine of online classes or work responsibilities. I’m hearing more frequent struggles related to low energy, too much screen-time, and people feeling like it just doesn’t matter in this format. As “I don’t feel motivated” has become the focal point of many discussions this week, I think it is time to identify the core influences, and how to generate the motivation & productivity we are capable of.

Motivation represents the very aspiration prompting us into action towards attaining a goal. Extrinsic motivation comes from any outside force such as people, earning good grades, or monetary gains, etc. If we were previously motivated by extrinsic factors, those driving factors may no longer be present to provide that extra boost throughout this time. Intrinsic motivation is driven by internal desires such as mastering a skill or activity for the love of it. Intrinsic motivation is more likely to provide deeper fulfillment, leading to more meaningful outcomes. While extrinsic motivation can be powerful, especially while in the midst of peers and our community, what happens when that reward is removed and our routine is completely restructured? Then add the temporary removal of in-person contact and you lose the very energy exchange between us that fuels social & personal inspiration.     

With our current life structure being limited to social-distancing, many of the extrinsic rewards that generate a certain level of perceived confidence, such as grades, social status, materialism, and day to day interactions, have suddenly been removed leaving us face to face with ourselves. In consideration of what the remedy might be for such a disorienting challenge, let’s delve into the core of the issue. Consider the following: 

CREATE MEANING: Look back at a time in your life when you experienced something so satisfying that it felt effortless to pursue. More likely than not, your pursuit was probably very meaningful to you. Intrinsic motivation evolves out of personal meaning and importance that transcends social influence and external reward. As we recall the importance of our goals for direction, consider a personal passion and how you might be able to use it to generate daily motivation. I choose to write as a means to communicate ideas that might benefit others. That comes from intrinsic motivation driven by a deep sense of life purpose and meaning deep within me. What moves YOU?  

SET GOALS: Once we have identified what is most meaningful to us, we can begin to formulate goals as the guiding force to map our way. The most powerfully motivating goals reflect our values. Once identified, our goals should not be easy to reach, but they should be attainable. That way we won’t become frustrated and easily give up. Once we identify our outcome goal, we set daily process goals to represent the steps of the ladder necessary to reach our outcome goal. For added accountability, post your goals up where you can see them every day (mirror, wall) as a reminder for continual pursuit. 

BROADEN PERSPECTIVE: With meaningful goals in place, it is critically important to consider other perspectives alongside of our own. When we lack motivation one of the powerful contributions is a negative thought pattern. This most often occurs when people become isolated and eventually stuck. It may seem like an obvious point, but every one of us falls into this kind of “mental rut” at some point. When we choose to connect with a trusted or inspiring friend, it often leads to feeling better. We often fail to realize when we are stuck in an unmotivated pattern until someone else’s perspective (friend, family, counselor, teacher, boss) expands our thinking beyond our stuck point. 

If carried out with consistent commitment, it is highly likely that these foundational practices will lead to solution-focused thinking, and increased motivation. These practices are connected to the root core of what matters to us most, and they are the very origins to generating motivation. Start small and remain committed throughout a significant period of time. As mentioned in my previous blog entry, If you put these practices into motion daily for at least 4-6 weeks, they will likely become habits. On the contrary, if you continue to struggle you may be experiencing difficulties related to other challenges such as perfectionism, self-sabotage, depression, or just being burnt-out. Consider speaking with a mental health professional or primary healthcare provider if symptoms persist. Remember, at an unprecedented time like this, consider your life values, create meaningful goals, and surround yourself with quality people who are caring, positive, and living with purpose. Then dig deep with intention to own your routine. Whether we are required to do less than usual or not right now, be very careful to practice the kind of habits that will lay the foundation for a healthy, productive, and satisfying future!