February 5, 2023
Motivation Activation
Motivation is an energy you can feel. The experience of the impetus is compelling, and sometimes inexplicable. It can almost feel as though we've been captured by something beyond us to move, speak, or act in a way that we didn't even think of. I firmly believe that so much of what we will do in the future has already been decided by what we're doing now, and every step we take sets up our future actions and reactions.

Motivation - the key ingredient behind creating the life and self we most desire. It's the gas in the gas tank, and the wind in our sails. It's the energy that makes everything possible, graspable - the energy we need to turn thought into thing.

And yet it's ephemeral. It waxes and wanes, and sometimes comes in with a bang just to leave us completely tapped out after the short burst of excitement. It's directly connected to our daily physical energy, which means it's connected to our sleep cycles, our adrenal system, our nervous system, our hormones and stress levels. It can be elusive and seem impossible to find, and can make us turn to substances (looking at you caffeine) to help us artificially create it.

When genuinely motivated, it feels like a spark that you never want to let go of. It can be scary because it feels fleeting, and the loss of motivation can bring disappointment. And at the same time, it can also be confusing to wrap your head around - to know what to do with it and how to nurture it.

So what are the natural, consistent, and effective ways to cultivate our motivation, so that we can tap into it when we need it? How can we brew motivation as easily as we brew our morning coffee? How can we understand our personal energetic cycles so that we understand when and how motivation can be turned on and tuned into easily, and when we can naturally rest and relax?

Motivation means:

  1. the general desire or willingness of someone to do something
  2. the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.

Motive originates from the Latin motivus which means "a moving cause"

How we access motivation

Motivation is an energy you can feel. The experience of the impetus is compelling, and sometimes inexplicable. It can almost feel as though we've been captured by something beyond us to move, speak, or act in a way that we didn't even think of. I firmly believe that so much of what we will do in the future has already been decided by what we're doing now, and every step we take sets up our future actions and reactions.

On a more grounded and practical level, motivation can come simply through a conversation with friends, listening to a new song, pondering art, or going for a walk. Motivation is very much connected to inspiration in that it can come seemingly out of nowhere, as if an idea just fell from the sky and into our thoughts. At the same time, motivation can be like warming up for your workout - you start with a little bit of movement and before you know it you're sprinting.

  • What does it feel like to be initially motivated to do something?
  • When do the ebbs and flows of motivation feel like in your body?
  • When you want to do something but then decide not to do it - why? What gets in the way? What stops yourself from acting?

Is it really for you? Or is it for someone else?

We are a communal species and we are often inspired by what we see other people doing. At the same time, we can also be inspired by seeing what other people are not doing, or recognizing how we want to do something differently. The benefit of comparison is that it can sometimes help us decide what we want to do and what we don't want to do, rather than sitting in a vacuum by yourself.

That said, there is also a downside to comparison. It can be tricky to identify if the motivation to do something is actually worth our time or something that we truly want to be doing. When being motivated by others, it's important to define if the motivation is actually exciting and aligned with what you really want to be doing, or if it's born out of insecurity and lack. It's the question of: Am I being inspired or am I feeling pressured?

In these instances, you can ask yourself if the essence of the end goal is actually something you want, or if you can achieve it another way. 

For example, a friend of yours just asked for and got a raise at work, and you feel the urgency to do the same. Ask yourself - why do I suddenly also want a raise? Is it because my friend helped me realize that it's time and I'm contributing more than I'm receiving at work? What will asking for, and potentially getting this raise bring to my life? Will it be to prove to myself that other people think I'm valuable? Will it be to raise my social status? Will it actually bring me more security? Will asking for the raise prove to myself that I'm confident enough and believe in myself enough to ask for more?

And then ask yourself if the answers to the questions align with the action (whether it's asking yourself if you want to ask for a raise or if it's something else), or if these qualities can be achieved another way. Sure, we all would likely agree that more money would be nice, but if the motivation to ask for more doesn't actually align with what's received at the outcome, then is it really worth your time and energy?

  • What is the difference between forcing yourself to do something and being excited and revved up to do something?
  • When does it feel really difficult to build or tap into your motivation?

Allocating your energy accordingly

Motivation is also intimately tied to our natural cycles and rhythms of energy. Being conscious about your energy reservation, and how much you want to dedicate to each type of activity, and additionally if it builds or depletes your energy, can help regulate the ebbs and flows of inspiration and motivation.

For example, if you have a project or job that you're doing strictly for financial support, it can be helpful to define how much time and energy you want to dedicate to it and how much you want to reserve for your passion projects, social time, etc. Is there benefit to going over time, putting in extra effort, or showing up more than you're required? Or is allotting the necessary amount of time, energy, and creativity enough, and you can save the rest of your energy for your passion projects and social activities.

Additionally, we all have natural rhythms and cycles that our bodies naturally follow. Rather than getting down on ourselves for the times we’re feeling tired or a lack of energy, perhaps we can ask ourselves what might be contributing to that desire for a break? Similarly, we can pay attention to the times when we feel motivated and activated and ask ourselves what might be contributing to that desire to take action? Recognizing that rest is an integral part of our energetic cycle can help us to not beat ourselves up when we need a break, and then we can come back to our motivation more naturally and abundantly.

When our emotions are the gas gauge

It’s in this instance that we can start to pay attention to when our emotions support us energetically. Frustration is a great example - if you’re starting to notice that you’re experiencing more frustration at your job, it might be a sign that you’re giving more than you’re getting. You can take a moment to examine whether you’re in fact applying too much energy, and where you might want to reserve some for your personal life/ give back some of that energy to yourself. 

Anxiety and excitement on the other hand are also very useful, but can motivate us in the other direction. Healthy anxiety arises when we feel the need to take action - when there is something that we need to do next in order to have our needs or desires met. When utilized supportively, it can be just like excitement, in that it drives us to the accomplishment or step to keep us achieving.

Please note that I specified healthy anxiety, which comes and goes naturally and is not chronic. Chronic anxiety may cause us to feel fear and insecurities on a deeper level, and it is less connected to our actions, and has more connection to our sense of safety. To know if your anxiety is a productive and motivating force, you can ask yourself if the step it’s asking you to take will provide relief, or if it will further confusion or doubt. 

Finally, anger is an emotion that we tend to stray away from, and is often shunned in our society. But when discussing anger in connection with motivation, there is no doubt that it is the most powerful and energizing force. Noticing when our anger arises, and why it arises, can give us incredible insight into what we want to create, protect, and support. When we feel anger, asking ourselves what it is that is asking for respect, appreciation, or compassion can guide us into taking powerful action to restore integrity. Anger stirs up our adrenaline, and when we leverage that adrenaline incredible achievements can be made.

No matter what emotions come up that spur you to move and take action, the more we follow through with those cues the better we’ll become at leveraging our motivation when it arises, and feeling secure enough in our cycles when it doesn’t arise. Even if that means putting the task on the to-do list for the next day or acting on it a little later, you can always honor your inner guidance by taking the smallest step in the direction of our instincts.

  1. Pay attention to your rhythms and cycles. What time of day, what day of the week, what times of the month do you have more energy?
  2. Tip: When you make your lists of things to do, organize them in terms of most enjoyable and least enjoyable. Ask yourself how to make the least enjoyable more palatable. For example if you don't like broccoli, you're not going to eat it raw with no seasonings. You're going to saute with some amazing olive oil and herbs, sneak finely chopped pieces into a salad or pasta, or even blend it into a creamy soup. You can get the benefit and not have to suffer through the process. How can you apply this same thinking to the more difficult or challenging tasks?
  3. Don't beat yourself up for not having the energy to do something. Some things aren't meant for us, and some things take time to warm up to, and some days our bodies just need to chill. Going down the guilt and shame spiral will only make things worse. Learn to lean into the days when you need to rest,and it will become even easier and more exciting to lean into and utilize the energy when it comes back. 

Building inspiration from nothing

We can often think about energy and motivation as this passing thing that we're lucky to grasp when it comes along, and sometimes it's definitely like that. However, there are qualities of our motivation that we can learn so that we can leverage those qualities when we’re losing or completely out of steam. 

The ‘Do Something’ Principle created by Mark Manson is a great example of this in action. He says:

Motivation is not just the cause of action, but also the effect. 

Inspiration -> Motivation -> Action
Is actually
Action -> Inspiration -> Motivation

Your actions create inspiration, and move on to motivate your next actions. If you lack the inspiration and motivation in the first place, try action first. Just do something. Anything. Then harness the emotional inspiration to that action to motivate yourself.

With this in mind - what does it look like to build motivation for you? Example: for me, I need to let an idea germinate, and simmer, then I have to put my thoughts down on paper, organize them, and outline simple steps. From there I see the process really clearly, and creating or doing the thing requires simply following the bite sized steps towards the finish line. It requires a set up, and a build up, before actually sitting down and doing the thing.

This is how I take action towards building my inspiration and motivation, rather than hoping it comes to me naturally. 

  • When faced with a big or challenging task, how can you apply the step of simply taking action, any action, to get the ball rolling?

How to stick with the waxing and waning of the motivation journey

Lastly, motivation is not about force - it's about fun! Why would you be doing something if you weren't excited about the process, the journey, the discovery or the end result? I think we often get caught up in the labor of a process and we start to lose sight of why we chose to do it in the first place. We can start to feel like we're working just for working's sake, and we forget our reasoning behind why we started in the first place.

When motivation starts to dissipate, rather than feeling like you have to grin and bear your way through a process, consider what you can bring in for help. Your energy will naturally ebb and flow, so how can you support yourself through that journey? 

Get clear about the set up, the snacks, the chair, the time of day - all the elements you need to make the process feel enjoyable and maybe even luxurious. Keep your end goal in a place where you can easily see it and be reminded of it, and consistently check in with yourself - am I having fun? And if not, how can I make this more fun?

  • Identify if rewards or end goals support your motivation to start. Does having a reward at the end of the process sound exciting? Does the feeling of accomplishment motivate you?
  • Get very comfortable with the process. Many of us are not used to instantaneous results, thanks to one-click purchasing, next-day delivery, etc. How can you be conscious of entering into the mindset of a process, a journey of development and the enjoyment of that process?

Motivation, although seemingly allusive, is actually something that we can create, generate and tap into as we need it. When we honor and respect our natural rhythms and cycles, lean into our energizing emotions, and get clear on our priorities and what actually lights us up, motivation can be poured into just as readily as pouring that morning coffee into our coffee cup. Learning about the functions and nuances of our motivation is a gateway into understanding how we authentically wish to express and share ourselves with the world. The action of which is itself highly inspiring and motivating - for ourselves and everyone we come in contact with.

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