Motivation: Master Your emotions to move you forward.

Motivation is the energy which moves you forward to start, work-on, and complete a project. The word emotion comes from the Latin word emovere which means to move out, stir up, agitate. When you feel motivated, you are energized, excited, or driven to accomplish a specific task.

You can be “motivated” by someone or something outside of (or external to) yourself. External motivation “pushes” you to accomplish a task. An example is your boss giving you a deadline.

You can also be motivated by an internal desire to accomplish a task because it is important to you for whatever reason.  In this case, you can think of yourself as being pulled toward a future desirable “payoff”.

In some ways, being pushed is easier. However, being pulled is often more rewarding.

When I schedule an exam for my students and they study for it, the motivation can be external if their focus in on the deadline of the test and the negative consequences of not doing well or internal if their focus is on doing well because it is important to them to maintain a good grade point average (GPA).

External motivation can be negatively impacted if it is extreme and elicits resistance or resignation or disinterest if it is viewed as too difficult to obtain as in a poorly developed incentive system.

Internal motivation can also be negatively impacted.

On the one hand, the power of internal motivation can be negatively impacted or sabotaged by anxiety.

Secondly,  the energy of internal motivation can increase or decrease. This fluctuation in the power of internal motivation can happen over time or it can happen if the task becomes more difficult then initially anticipated.

Here are three scenarios:

  1. You get this great idea and, as you think about taking action and start to focus on all the possible things that could go wrong, you lose your motivation to act, get stuck, and procrastinate.
  2. You have begun a project about which you are all excited and, at some point during the process, the level of your excitement begins to waver and you want to put the project aside.
  3. You are motivated and working on a task and things are going very well.  At some point, you encounter difficulties you did not anticipate.  While you know you can get the job done, you begin to wonder if it is worth the effort.

Scenario #1

When you think about

  • asking your boss for a raise,
  • asking someone out on a date,
  • bringing up a sensitive topic of discussion with a spouse or a friend, assertively dealing with a vendor,
  • turning down an invitation to do something,
  • and so forth

and you find yourself hesitating because you are worried about the outcome, you are experiencing anxiety as “distress”.

As I discuss in my book Emotions as Tools: A Self Help Guide to Controlling Your Life not Your Feelings, anxiety is a future based emotion which informs you that you are thinking about a threat that might happen and are acting as if that threat will happen.

So, you get all excited because you believe you deserve a raise, have gathered all the facts you need, and have set a date on which you will go to your boss and ask for what you want.  The closer you get to the date, the more you begin to think about all the possible bad outcomes that could occur and your motivation to act noticeably declines.

Not only that, but you may begin to focus only on the worst things that could happen.  This is called catastrophising.

And, based on your desire to avoid experiencing these clearly negative outcomes, you decide not to ask for the raise.

Your anxiety about the future has stopped you in your tracks and it doesn’t occur to you that there might be a positive outcome and your boss will give you the raise.

There are two antidotes to anxiety as distress.

The first antidote is to use anxiety as eutress. When you use the nervous energy of the emotion as a motivator, you engage the sister emotion of anxiety which is the emotion of anticipation.  The message of anticipation is that there MAY be a desirable outcome that would benefit me.  With anticipation you act as if the positive outcome will occur and you get excited about (or motivated by) that possibility.  Think about how excited you get when you are anticipating an upcoming vacation.

The second antidote to anxiety is to approach your emotion from a different point of view.  Your anxiety stems from the  implicit question “What if everything goes wrong and the result “kills” me? Note that I am not talking about physical death here but rather about a possible catastrophic death from which it will be difficult to recover.

Instead of this typical question, ask yourself, ” If the worst possible outcome does occur, can I survive it?”  In nearly every case, the answer will be “yes”.  If you know you can survive the worst possible outcome, you no longer need to be overwhelmed by it.  Getting out from “overwhelm” frees you up to continue with the task you are working on.  Your motivation can come back.

Scenario #2

Excitement is an emotion.  Understanding an emotion is the beginning of mastering it.

All feelings, by their nature, tend to be temporary in that they happen, move you to take action and then subside.  This process takes place physiologically.

But, it also takes place psychologically.  It is natural for your interest level in a project to lessen over time as you are working on the project.  If you don’t understand this, then you may mistake your fluctuating interest level and the associated level of motivation as indicating that you no longer believe the project to be important, relevant, or desirable and stop working on the project.

You don’t want to confuse your fluctuating excitement for disinterest.

The antidote to fluctuating motivational energy is to take a break from the project, get a good night’s rest (or a few days) and then go back to the project and do an “assessment”.  What you want to ask yourself is whether you still believe the project is worthwhile and whether the original elements of the project which so excited you when you began are still relevant.  If they are, your motivation will come back and you can get back to work on the project.

Scenario #3

You are humming along on your project and you hit a snag. Perhaps, you get “writer’s bloc”, your imagination isn’t giving you any good material, you need to do more research than you anticipated, and so forth.  When this happens, you may become frustrated and find that your motivational energy tank feels like it is “empty”.

As in scenario #2, you don’t want to assume that you no longer interested in (or motivated to complete) the task at hand.

The antidote to frustration is to take a break, acknowledge your frustration, make a plan to get the information you need and continue to work on (take action) your project.  In time, because the project is worthwhile, your motivation will return.

Please let me know if the above has been helpful.

I welcome your comments.

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