How to improve motivation

Motivation is directed by positive emotion. Motivation propels us towards something rather than holding us back.

If there is a positive expectation of the outcome of what we are doing then that expectation will motivate us towards it.

If we experience anxiety, anger or other negative expectations then this will maintain and increase stress levels which in turn, if unchecked, will interfere with the positive elements of the expectation, often by distorting or deleting those positive elements.

What is it we want to achieve? Is it motivation we lack when feeling lacklustre about a Monday morning or a particular task? Or is it something else? Are we tired? What is going on in the rest of our life?

If we think of our life as a hammock with strings on either side supporting it, each of those strings representing status, competence, achievement, privacy, being stretched, a sense of volition, autonomy, safe and secure environment, connection with the wider community, social connection, a close connection with a friend or partner or family member, is there any particular aspect which is lacking or at low levels? If so, this will be causing background stress because the emotional brain will be telling us that something in our life is out of balance and reducing our capacity for motivation and for building positive expectations. We need to step back from time to time to have a calm look at what is actually going on and address things which may be out of kilter to get back our balance. Sometimes we can become so caught up in what we are doing that we don’t spend the time to reflect on the bigger picture.

A client, who had been finding work difficult and who had been sleeping badly, recently told me that as she went into the kitchen one evening she saw a packet of biscuits and was overcome with hunger for them. She could think of nothing else but to wolf the lot. However, she paused for a moment and asked herself what was it she was actually hungry for? She concluded that she was hungry for sleep. She left the biscuits, had an early night, slept soundly and was ready in the morning, refreshed, for whatever the day had to throw at her.

Or might it be that our motivation is reduced because we are scared of getting things wrong or not doing a good enough job or, the flip side, raising the bar of perfectionism so high that it is too daunting to embark on or finish something? These emotions too can hold us back. It is really important to build a detailed picture of what it is that we want. Without the detail it is a tough mission for the mind to mobilise its resources to bring what you want about. So, we need to be really specific to build the necessary positive expectations and also identify any skills that we might need to help us get what we want to break down the barriers to feeling positive and motivated. Then of course, if we do need skills, we need then to do something about acquiring them!

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