Maintaining Motivation

Claire is a University professor. She is smart and accomplished, and successfully leads a team of college instructors. And yet, she lacked motivation.

“I am so frustrated with myself. I am failing at the project I need to do this summer before Fall term. I know exactly what to do, and I can’t get myself to do it. It’s a terrible pattern for me. I work extremely hard and exceptionally long hours during the academic year. When summer comes, all I want is a break without any pressure or stress. Updating the course material created 2 years ago seems overwhelming. I just keep stewing about it and feeling guilty. I feel stressed and pressured even though I’m not doing anything. It’s driving me crazy. Why can’t I make myself get this done?”

Does this sound familiar? Is there something you know you need to do, in fact you actually want to get it done, but for some reason you are stuck? You just can’t make yourself get started, or you can’t stick with it even when you do start. Something else (anything else!) is more appealing.

Some might say “Stop procrastinating. Get over yourself and get focused.” However, we took it deeper so Claire could connect to her motivation daily in a positive and productive way. That beat gritting her teeth all summer and plowing ahead full of resistance and frustration. Where is the fun or joy in that? Here is the first of three key practices Claire used to overcome being stuck. The next 2 will be in next week’s article. 

First – Connect to Your WHHY (not a typo) – To stay motivated about anything, you need to be clear why the project or goal is meaningful. Get connected to your WHHYWhat makes your Head and Heart say Yes at the same time. 

It is that feeling of things falling into place, like a thunk inside, when your goal or inspired idea aligns with both your logical brain and your heart’s desire and/or sense of purpose. 

When your motivation slips, check in with the following three components of WHHY and discover what is missing for you. All three components are equally important to staying motivated.

1. Embrace Logic – Satisfy your brain’s desire for clear, valid, practical reasons to spend your time and energy on a particular goal. What are the specific possibilities or opportunities that open up for you as a result of your efforts? This component is about the good your goal or project does for you – personally and/or professionally.

Boldly list your benefits and the desired outcomes for accomplishing your goal. Post them where you can see them daily. 

2. Make a Difference – How does achieving your goal create value for others? Once again, list the logical benefits and outcomes for others when you achieve your goal. If you think your goal is just about you, think bigger and broader. We always make ripples for others with our actions and words.

Even a goal like getting a promotion (which could appear selfish) impacts others. Your current role will be vacant and create an opportunity for someone else to step up (you don’t have to know who). Do you have a plan in your new position to change policies to improve morale?

Really consider your potential impacts to benefit others.

3. Feel Your Accomplishment – This component satisfies your heart’s need to be connected to your goal emotionally. This is where you acknowledge aspects of your goal that ‘does your heart good’. Imagine how you will feel when your goal is achieved. Place yourself in the experience of finally finishing, and being proud of a job well done. 

Receive acknowledgement and praise from yourself and others. Since you are imagining, why have it any other way?

Enjoy the experience!  How does it feel to actually achieve the list of benefits and desired outcomes (both for yourself and others)? Notice your boosted confidence and sense of empowerment. It is important to do this daily. This imagining exercise connects you emotionally to the logical outcomes you want.  This process aligns your head and heart.

Claire was sure updating her course material would improve both the student and instructor experience. She also knew that accomplishing her goal would reduce her own stress when the new term began. However, when she actually connected emotionally to that feeling of greater ease afterward, and the enthusiasm from instructors and students, it freed her to take action now. 

When Claire realized the course upgrade would be noticed by her Dean, she could feel how it was a positive step toward the promotion she was actively seeking. Connecting the experience and feeling of receiving her promotion along with improving the course for others made working on the update feel interesting and exciting, and not drudgery. 

If you are stuck, try connecting to your WHHY to maintain motivation.

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