Motivation Is Misunderstood. That’s Okay, You Don’t Need It Anyway.

Are you struggling to get motivated?

For me, the feeling of being unmotivated is easier to understand if it’s reframed into something like ‘I’m struggling to force myself to do something that I don’t want to do’. Now it makes sense.

It’s easy to be motivated when you enjoy what you are doing, you just become motivated. You don’t have to do anything to make it happen. When what you are doing make sense to you, motivation becomes a non-issue.

I used to have a regular job, and I would often feel unmotivated because a lot of what I was doing in my work just didn’t make sense to me.

I spent a few years feeling like that, and it wasn’t just that specific job. I didn’t believe in what I was doing any more. I would spend a lot of time daydreaming about doing something else instead. Something with more meaning.

It’s easy to drift along in this state for a while, but sure enough, eventually, it will get to you. It got to me. The dissatisfaction grew, and the motivation dwindled further. I was stuck. I wasn’t stressed at work, and I didn’t find anything I was expected to do particularly difficult. In some ways, it would have been easy to just carry on. Turn up, go through the motions, collect the salary.

Rinse and repeat for another thirty years, collect the pension and be ‘comfortable’.

Funnily enough, it was actually receiving a letter about my pension that brought all this into focus for me, and that was what made me realise what motivation really was.

I had a sudden realisation that staying the same way would be worse than making changes. Even big, life-changing changes.

Which seems obvious in a way, and I suppose it is. But, it’s easy to stay the same because change can feel threatening. Whether it’s the fear of failing or the anxiety that we often feel when stepping into the unknown, there is always a part of you that wants things to remain the same. Maybe you feel comfortable with the familiar, even though things aren’t going how you’d like them to.

At some point, you’re going to start to feel uncomfortable living like this. As that feeling grows, the need to do something about it gets harder to ignore.

I remember someone at work telling me about a research study which involved a group of women who were pregnant for the first time. In the early stages of their pregnancies, many of them spoke about being terrified at the prospect of giving birth.

As things progressed, they got more and more uncomfortable with the physical burdens of pregnancy, until there eventually came a point when their motivation changed. They became motivated to have their babies.

Staying pregnant and ridiculously uncomfortable was harder to deal with than the prospect of giving birth, and now the previously incomprehensible becomes the preferred option.

My wife was telling me yesterday about how our messy attic sometimes gets her down. She feels like she should do something about it, but lacks the motivation. The problem with this problem is that there is very little downside to leaving the attic as it is. Yep, it can be a bit hard to find stuff on the few occasions that one of us venture up there, but besides that?

I’m pretty convinced that if we found out the ceiling would collapse within a week if we didn’t clear out the space, we wouldn’t need to ‘find’ the motivation. The motivation would find us.

When I first left my job, people would often ask me questions like ‘how will you motivate yourself when you don’t have a boss telling you what to do?’

The reality is that I had the opposite problem for the first few years. I would be working more or less constantly. I would be working more than double the hours I worked in my job and for a tiny fraction of the money. I would often feel that I wasn’t getting anywhere, but that didn’t stop me slogging away at it relentlessly.

Motivation was never an issue because I was doing something that made sense. I had a purpose. For the first time in my life, I would have to learn how to stop working, which is much harder than it sounds and a topic for a different article.

Does this mean that I’m always motivated now that I run my own business? If only. There are plenty of things that I hate doing, plenty of things that feel like a waste of time. That’s life though, right?

There is probably someone in the team that is good at those things that I find tedious, or who even enjoys that kind of work.

We can always pay other people to do those things for us, or we can ignore those tasks altogether and not do it at all — until not doing it becomes more painful than getting it done.

Even then, there are things that we can’t easily outsource and that we don’t want to do. I can think of a hundred jobs that need doing around the house that definitely fit into this category, but I don’t spend much time thinking about them. They’ll get done when not doing them starts to cause me problems. I’m not usually motivated to do laundry, for example — but if it’s either that or going into work naked, the motivation is suddenly easier to come by.

When you’re feeling unmotivated, it’s probably because you are trying to do something that you don’t want to do. Fix that if you can. If you seem to spend most of your life struggling with motivation, then maybe you need to shift your focus to something that makes more sense to you instead. Do that, and the motivation will take care of itself.