“The difference between failure and success is doing a thing nearly right and doing a thing exactly right.” — Edward Simmons
Motivation is not the problem.
Sure, many times the problem may look like a motivation issue, but often that’s not the case.
It’s actually a lack of a method, system, or approach that you believe in.
If you knew it would actually work, or if you had specific instructions that you could follow, you would be more inclined to take action. Simply having too many choices to take action can also lead to inaction (i.e. analysis paralysis) or demotivate you.
That’s why motivation itself is a chicken or the egg type of problem.
Simple, Decisive Instructions Lead to Action
One of my favorite quote on the power of prescriptive guidance is from The Bowflex Body Leanness Program, by Dr. Ellington Darden. Here is the quote:
“People are not lazy by choice. They are forced into it by the confusion that surrounds the abundance of fitness information that is available.
If these individuals are given simple, decisive instructions, they will train very intensely.
People, if they are provided with specific menus, will drastically alter their eating habits.
Most of these people, however, will do neither of these challenging things for more than a week – unless they quickly see and feel changes in their body.”
Although, Dr. Darden is referring to people and their motivation toward working out or getting in shape, you can imagine how the same concept is broadly applicable to other areas of life.
If you can see the path from A to B, you’ll follow the path from A to B.
The bottom line is that a little clarity goes a long way.
Additional Factors that Limit Motivation
Here are some common factors that limit our motivation:
- Learned helplessness – Coined by Martin Seligman, Learned Helplessness is when you explain a bad event or situation to yourself as permanent, personal, and pervasive. This explanatory style causes you to shut down instead of inspire you to action. To defeat Learned Helplessness you need to adopt an explanatory style that explains negative situations or events as transient, situational, and specific.
- Lack of an effective mental model – If you can’t see it, you won’t believe it … where there’s no will, there’s no way. If you believe it in your heart of hearts or soul of souls then you can find a way to make it happen.
- Lack of effective feedback – If you’re not getting timely, specific, relevant, actionable feedback, you’ll lose motivation. One of the keys here is to create shorter cycles or loops so that you can shorten the feedback loop. Another key is to go beyond purely quantitative and practice your sensory acuity (for example, your belt “feels” looser.)
- Lack of an effective mentor – An effective mentor can share “proven practices” or short-cuts on the success path. This helps you find an approach you believe in and gives you a better mental model to work from. An effective mentor can also give your more relevant feedback and expose your blind spots. They can also help tailor an approach or method to you or your situation. I like to think of this as, “Who’s in your corner?”
- Rumination – This is like playing a broken record. You can dwell on things or play them over and over. If you’re an optimist and you ruminate on things, then it’s not so much a problem. If you tend to ruminate and you are a pessimist, then there is a problem. That’s how you get stuck or lose motivation. The key is to take action and become an action-oriented pessimist.
The next time you catch yourself lacking motivation ask yourself whether you really believe whether the approach or method you’re using would really work. Change your beliefs or change your approach to change your results.