Work Motivation In The Dumps? Look Here…

September 23, 2018 Glenn Case

Business person pushing large boulder up hill signifying low motivationMost of us find our motivation and passion lacking at some point in our jobs. It's normal. But when this situation lingers and you find yourself feeling stuck and hopeless, it's time to take a deeper look.

In my own life and as a professional coach, these 5 culprits continually make an appearance when motivation wanes. 5 masked adversaries along the road to finding work fulfillment and success.

As Sun Tzu sagely advises in The Art of War, "Lay plans to discover the enemy's intention."

This article will hopefully help you accomplish just that. By studying these 5 motivation hijackers, you will not only have a bead on your enemy's intentions, but better strengthen your own as well...

Culprit 1: Unclear Vision

Simon Sinek said, "Vision is a destination - a fixed point to which we focus all effort".

The road to all success starts with a vision. Some people have such a clear vision of their future - and what success looks like - that they can describe it in detail. Not only by the five senses, but on a deeper, guttural level. They can describe a purpose and a meaning fulfilled. 

Sinek himself said, "Start with why". Purpose doesn't have to be some selfless, lofty ideal. Sure, achieving for the greater good is indeed a very powerful "why". But purpose is individual. Whether you strive for knowledge, achievement, self-improvement, power, lifestyle, etc., it's important that your purpose is clear.

A well-crafted vision is a potent motivator. When you have crystal clarity on where you want to go, why you want to go there, and who you'll be when you arrive, you're likely passionate about what you're doing. And, actually more likely to be doing it!

Culprit 2: Limiting Beliefs

This is a big one. We have little need to search outside for obstacles. As humans, we're quite adept at creating our own, thank you very much.

We all fall into this trap at some point or another. My coaching clients are successful. Yet, even high-achievers get caught up in their own heads - when thinking turns inward, perspective changes and the walls start closing in. When this happens, motivation is one of the first casualties.

Change in the external environment may be the spark, but the winds that fan the flames are often compliments of our Inner Critic.

Our Inner Critic is a tenacious, mean little creature. Mine sits on my right-shoulder. I can even picture him. An impish, angular little man in a dark hoodie with a devious smile. When he comes along, self-doubt, assumption and self-denigration are sure to follow. And while we allow ourselves to be taken in by him, we forget that we are his creator.

We are what we think. We are what we choose to focus on.

When our Inner-critic comes along, self-doubt, assumption and self-denigration are sure to follow. And while we allow ourselves to be taken in by him, we forget that we are his creator. 

For my part, now that I have this fellow's measure, I find myself constantly figuratively swiping my right shoulder.

The road to freedom and renewed motivation starts with self-awareness, self-compassion and a choice. Do you have a bead on your Inner Critic? If not, it might be time to take its measure and put it in its rightful place.

Culprit 3: Ill-defined Goals

As a coach, I always start by helping my clients define their goals for the coaching process. This is critical, because if goals are hazy, it's impossible to plot a way forward and to assess progress and success. Unclear goals can also undermine your motivation.

If your success is not materializing - if your motivation levels have taken a hit - it might be time to take a hard look at your goals as they exist.

Are they still serving you? Do they still align with your vision of your future and of success (assuming you have one)? If so, are they clearly defined (think SMART.) or do they just feel right? Are they written down and reflect your true intention, or are they just swirling around not fully formed in the ether?

Honesty is essential as you answer these questions. If you struggle with answering them, take this as an added incentive to investigate further. It likely means you have some work to do.

Culprit 4: Inaction

Thomas Edison said, "Vision without execution is delusion."

Maybe a no-brainer, but from my experience sometimes even people with the clearest of goals flounder due to a lack of action. This may result from any number of causes, but these are 3 of the most common ones....

Photos of director's board stating Lights Camera Action

1) Not knowing where to start

Pursuing a goal, especially ones that have been assigned multiple action steps, can feel overwhelming. To a point where it's simply easier to stay within your comfort zone and do nothing.

In these cases, it's important to know that any action, however small, begets more action. Movement and progress are immensely motivational. Pick a component of your plan - one that is most manageable - and start there. As you pick up momentum, your mindset will also shift to one that is more empowering and your motivation level will soar.

2) Lack of confidence

In a recent post, I wrote about the confidence-action relationship.

A lack of self-confidence can inhibit action taking. Yet, paradoxically, the best medicine for building confidence is actually taking action. In my personal experience, anytime I've jumped into something in spite of my fledgling confidence, I've emerged stronger because of it.

It's important to know that any action, however small, begets more action. Movement and progress are immensely motivational.

3) Hidden commitments

I can pretty much 100% guarantee that if you're struggling to meet your commitments on your goals, it's partly because another stronger and deeper commitment is drawing your focus. 

Robert Keigan and Lisa Laskow Lahey refer to this as Immunity to Change - a self-protection, anxiety-management system human beings create in the face of pending change. In this book, they highlight that competing, more comfortable commitments unconsciously shift us away from our conscious goals.

Take, for example, the person who has committed to a new fitness regimen, yet finds himself sitting on the couch watching TV instead of attending a training class. Clearly, in this case a deeper commitment is being honoured - one of comfort over fitness.

What hidden commitments might be impeding your action taking? Illuminating these is a starting point to refocusing your priorities and rekindling your motivation.

Culprit 5: Lack of Accountability

Some people have no problem with accountability. They're quick to take out the whip and keep themselves on track. Most of us mere mortals, however, struggle with this one. We're prone to take the road of least resistance, and left to our own devices, this is exactly what we do.

Starting my coaching practice some time ago was my first foray into entrepreneurship. For the first time, I was left accountable only to myself. I'd prided myself on my self-discipline but, boy, was this ever a wake up call!

Thank goodness I still have my own coach to support me with this. She doesn't hold me accountable, but she does a great job of ensuring that I'm keeping myself accountable.

When it comes to our personal goals, we're all entrepreneurs. We work alone to realize our vision. If accountability is inhibiting you on your path to success, find an accountability partner. Someone objective, free of any emotional investment in your endeavour. Whether a friend, co-worker or coach, an accountability partner can keep you true to your commitments to yourself.


So there we have it. The 5 most common hijackers of motivation, and of success. At least from my own experience. Awareness of these is a starting point to taking action to remove them. To quote once more Sun Tzu...

"...a general must acquaint himself with the terrain...before he can march his army through it."

March on!

Glenn Case is a Leadership, Executive and Team Coach in Vancouver, Canada. 

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