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Why is it so hard to get motivated some days while other times you easily find a well of inspiration and drive?

Self-motivation is essential to achieving our goals both personally and within the context of a team or an organization. Motivation is one of the core competencies of emotional intelligence, and recent studies find that personal EI levels positively relate to individuals’ capacity to self-motivate. In our Search Inside Yourself program, we explore the research behind motivation, what hinders it and what helps it grow.

We want to share a few science-backed strategies to help you reignite the spark of motivation for your work when you lack focus and drive.

Find out what’s in your way.

Step one is to ‘search within’ to determine what might be in your way of feeling motivated. Practices like open awareness and journaling can support this internal inquiry.

→ Are you too distracted?

Throughout your workday, it is easy to let your motivation slip by engaging with distractions—Facebook, answering emails, browsing blogs (hi there!). Developing the mindfulness skill of focused attention is key to staying on task. Learn how to optimize your work-flow by turning off all notifications for some time, minimize your email browser window, silence your phone, so you can stay in the flow and accomplish more. Learning to maintain consistent effort on a task provides a sustainable approach to self-motivation.

→ Is it fear of failure?

If you are afraid of messing up, getting it wrong or failing in your endeavor, you’re not alone. Although it may feel like shame and fear are positive motivators, according to research by Breines and Chen, self-compassion increases self-improvement motivation and lessens the negative impact of the inner-critic. Try a self-compassion strategy from our article The Most Needed, but Counter-Intuitive Leadership Skill: Self-Compassion. Once you’ve established self-compassion, see if you can up-level your skills if they do not meet the requirements of the task at hand.

→ Are you experiencing burnout?

Evaluate if you’re not motivated because you are feeling burnt out. Acknowledging burnout begins with identifying the symptoms, including, “Feelings of exhaustion or energy depletion, Negative feelings or cynicism about work, Poor performance.” If you check some of those boxes, head over to our article, 5 strategies for the Burnout Pandemic, for some suggestions on managing burnout.

It can also be helpful to reflect on when you have felt motivated. What conditions were in place? Were you collaborating with someone? Did you start the work-period with a brief mindfulness practice? See if you can recreate that environment next time you want to find motivation. Identifying what supports motivation is just as important as determining what’s hindering it.

Suggested Practice: Journal for 3-5 minutes with the prompts, “I feel unmotivated because…”, and then, “What supports my motivation is…” Keep the pen moving on the page even if you feel like you have nothing to say; something will come!

Align with your purpose.

Even if you know what supports your motivation, sometimes putting pen to paper, getting on the workout clothes, or sitting down at your computer is the hardest step. When this is the case, you may require a more in-depth reflection.

When you align our work with your values and higher purpose, motivation is much easier to summon. This doesn’t (always) mean you have to quit your job and pursue your passion for circus arts. Instead, finding meaning and purpose in what you do can be as simple as remembering the importance and impact of each task you perform, however small. Do you keep schedules and organize meetings? Reflect on how essential these tasks are to the organization you work within. Are you in customer relations? Imagine how you can use your work to embody your values and how you would like to treat people.

Self-awareness supports and strengthens alignment; the better you understand your values, the more you can use them as a source of intrinsic motivation. Look at how you can apply your values to your work. Consider how you might consciously demonstrate your values with each task you work on. If you value integrity, ask yourself, how am I living with integrity as I work today? If you value compassion, how can I express understanding and care for my colleagues or clients as I perform this task?

Suggested Practice: Create an intention before starting your day or a task. How do I want to show up for the task at hand? What is the long-term vision that this task contributes to? How will I live my values today?

Envision your future. 

It is much easier to create something if we can envision it first. This crucial step in acquiring motivation requires a little imagination and thinking ‘outside the box’. Consider what your hopes, dreams and goals are for your future and try to imagine what life would be like if they all came true. This practice doesn’t assume that you will accomplish your goals by merely thinking about them; of course, you need to put in the effort. Studies like the one detailed in this Forbes article show that envisioning prepares your brain to take action towards your goals.

Suggested Practice: Think about a long-term goal and take a few minutes to journal as if you have completed it. Consider these questions: how does it feel, who is there with you and what might it lead to?

Strengthen your resilience.

Resilience is the ability to overcome obstacles in our path, and it requires mindfulness and the ability to shift your mindset. Research from the Personality and Individual Differences Journal found that participants with higher mindfulness have greater resilience and better life satisfaction. So if you want to build resilience, start first by practicing mindfulness. No matter what you put effort towards (work, creative projects, relationships), there are sure to be some bumps in the road. It is essential to learn how to navigate those challenges skillfully rather than giving up when it gets hard. Mindfulness practices can help you access inner calm amid chaos and shift your mindset to one of self-compassion and optimism—both essential to resilience.

Practices like open-awareness can help you to identify and work with unproductive mental habits. You can learn more about how to cultivate resilience skills in our program, Adaptive Resilience.

Suggested Practice: Try our guided meditation, “Finding Inner Calm” to help you relax when you feel overwhelmed, or try “Facing what’s here with Compassion” to help shift your mindset.

These practices combined constitute a set of tools that can help you find out how you want your life to unfold and to navigate the path to get there. We hope they support your growth.

To learn more about our upcoming programs that help you build the skills of emotional intelligence, visit our calendar.