Have you ever felt a little bit unmotivated, like you can’t really be bothered to do anything, even though you love what you do?
I’ve been fascinated with psychology and how the mind works for years now. One of the things that I’ve learned is that all of the emotional states we feel such as motivation, confidence, anger, and sadness are created internally. They’re created by the way our brain filters external events, creates meaning and turns them into emotions. For example, have you ever witnessed the exact same event as someone else but they have reacted completely differently to you? That’s your internal filter at work.
Most people don’t realise that it’s even happening because the process is so fast. So when we’re looking at something like motivation, it’s actually very similar to the way that we create other emotions. And there’s this assumption that either we just have the motivation or we don’t. It often feels like our levels of motivation are dictated by what’s happening in the outside world.
You might be surprised to know that there is actually a way to create motivation internally. When I start working with my clients, no matter what they’re struggling with, I always look for the same thing; what is the internal pattern that is creating the emotion they are experiencing. The human brain is really interesting because it actually runs patterns a little bit like a computer program. The reason is that at a fundamental level it’s trying to keep us safe. You wouldn’t want to think everything through to figure out whether it’s going to hurt or harm you. So our brain creates these shortcuts a bit like computer programs.
They are great when it stops us from getting hit by a car or when we need to run away from something, but there are times in everyday life when these patterns can work against us. So how does this all relate to motivation? Well, motivation is no different from any other emotion and it has its own pattern. If you can work out what that pattern is, then you can choose to run it whenever you like. Imagine being able to activate any emotion whenever you wanted…
I’ll give you an example; A client of mine recently told me they felt really unmotivated and they were finding it hard to get into their creative work, even though they were passionate about it. The first thing I asked him was to think about a time in his life when he felt really motivated. Then I got him to describe three key elements that make up the pattern that creates emotions.
The first element is the images that we’re making in our minds. I asked him what was he imagining when he was feeling really motivated. I found that he was imagining totally different things when he was unmotivated compared to when he was motivated. For example, when he was feeling motivated he was imagining the end result or goal he set himself. He had a vivid picture in his mind about what it was going to be like when he got there. When he was feeling unmotivated, he was focused on all of the tasks he had to do and had a vivid picture of himself working really hard.
The second element I got him to describe was his language at that moment. This is sometimes referred to as the little voice in your head. When he was feeling really motivated, he was saying things like “this is exciting” and “I can’t wait to do this”. When he was feeling unmotivated, he was saying things like “I have to do this” and “this is going to be really hard work”.
The final element of the pattern I uncovered was his physiology or how he was using his body. Sure enough, when he felt really motivated and pumped he was using his body in a completely different way to when he was unmotivated. It might seem like these elements are a result of the emotion, but actually they are created before the emotion. Try changing those three elements and being completely unmotivated, it’s virtually impossible. If you jump up and down, listen to great music and make vivid images of the goal or results you are moving towards, it will feel completely different than if you do the opposite.
This might seem obvious when we are looking at someone else, we can say, that person is clearly not feeling motivated or that person is clearly feeling excited. But how do we control this ourselves?
The first step is to be aware of the pattern (which most of us aren’t) and then to consciously change what we are doing. If you really want to get yourself motivated and be able to switch it on whenever you need it, just go back to a time when you feel motivated and make a note of those three things. Firstly what you were imagining then or the images you were making in your head. Second, the way you were talking to yourself about the thing you were about to do. Finally, how you were using your body.
Let’s use going to the gym as an example; if you can’t get yourself motivated to go to the gym, it’s probably because you’re imagining really struggling, sweating and it being really horrible. Maybe you are imagining everyone else looking at you and feeling self-conscious. You might be saying things like “I should really go to the gym”. You are probably sitting down or not being very active when you’re thinking about it. All of those things would make anyone feel unmotivated, but what about if you focused on the end goal? The reason why you’re going to the gym in the first place. Maybe it’s to get fitter or to have a better body or maybe it’s simply to lose weight. If you imagine what it’s going to be like when you get there and how it’s going to feel, you will change the emotion you are experiencing in this present moment.
This isn’t just about faking it until you make it. You’ll actually notice as soon as you change these patterns, you will start to feel differently.
Just like every emotion, there’s a formula to create it. If you can slow that process down and observe rather than just being inside the emotion you’ll be able to create or change it whenever you want. So give that a try next time you are feeling unmotivated. I’d love to know, your experience in the comments below.