Motivation can be a huge challenge. Sometimes you can have the finest of intentions, but when it comes down to it, you just can’t get motivated to get going. This is especially true if the activity is something that you do not want to do, such as exercising, calling a difficult person back or dealing with a project task that is really challenging. All of the time expended on not wanting to do something is a big waste, and can lead to you feeling unhappy and stressed. This leads to Heidi Grant Halvorson of the Harvard Business Review blog (2014) asking:
“Can you imagine how much less guilt, stress and frustration you would feel if you could somehow just make yourself do the things you don’t want to do when you are actually supposed to be doing them?”
It is a good point, and Halvorson also points out that if you could do that you would also be much more happy and effective too. Halvorson argues that at the heart of the challenge is understanding why you are procrastinating at all about the task. Once you know why, you can take proactive action to fight against that procrastination, leading to greater motivation to perform the task.
The first reason for not being motivated according to Halvorson is putting off something out of fear of doing it wrong. She argues for a focus of prevention in this case. This problem is caused by anxiety and doubt which lead you to not feel motivated. She explains that taking a prevention focus can make you see why you have to do the activity or task to “hang on to what you already have”. That is, you motivate yourself by understanding the loss that will occur if you do not do it. An example given of this is how people motivate themselves to do exercise by thinking of how their body will be if they do not do it. The need to not lose a great figure and become fat and unhealthy is a major motivator in this case. This approach works in such a way that it helps people to avoid danger. Halvorson admits this is not the most exciting way to get motivated, but that certainly thinking through the dreadful impact of not doing what you need to can certainly be highly effective.Image source: Intelligenthq
The second reason that Halvorson cites for not being motivated is when people put tasks off because they don’t feel like doing them. Her solution to this problem is “Ignore your feelings. They’re getting in the way”. Her approach is that just because you do not feel like doing something does not mean that you cannot physically do it. The example provided is getting out of bed in the morning. Many people do not feel like getting out of bed in the morning, but they are usually not tied to the bed and actually physically prevented from leaving it. Yet still people get up and go about their business anyway, regardless of those feelings. Halvorson argues that it is a misnomer that we have to feel excited about something in order to do it. Commitment is needed, but feeling like it is not. As a result, she explains that when you “don’t feel like it” you should simply do it anyway because you do not have to feel like it to get it done, and nothing is actually physically getting in your way.
The third scenario for not being motivated to do something according to Halvorson is because it is either difficult, boring or unpleasant. Her solution in this case is to use what is known as “If-Then Planning”. She argues that willpower alone will not always be enough to make you do something that you do not want to. Rather she advocates deciding on where and when the action will be taken, to define when it will be done. The way it works is by telling yourself “If X then Y”. If you have a phone call to make that you were hoping to delegate to someone else, you could tell yourself “If Jane does not come in again today then I will make the call myself at 3pm”. By doing this it cuts out on some of the mental deliberation that occurs when the time comes to do the job.
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.