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The Problem Isn’t Your Lack of Motivation


Recently, I had a client sit down for our session and with a heavy sigh lament “I just need to get motivated.” She had recently lost her job and was in a transition and had a lot of things she wanted to get done during this time. But she was struggling to get up out of bed in the morning and get going with her day. Her list was LONG, but her motivation was short. This lament is a frequent one of my clients, maybe you can relate. There is a lot you want/should/need to accomplish in your life, but at the end of the day, you just feel lazy and stuck in a rut. So what do you do? You set a goal; you set up a reward system. You hammer yourself into submission. Because somewhere you learned that the harder you are on yourself the more productive you will be.

The problem is that over time, these ideas usually fail. Why is that? Why is it most of the time goals fail us? Goals are great. They inspire us to do new things and accomplish tasks and live our dreams. So it isn’t so much the goals themselves, it is our approach to the goals.

Here are some ideas to look at when approaching your goals and a way to approach motivation in a different way.

Let’s say your goal is to walk 30 minutes every day.

Telling yourself how much you suck is not motivating.

Goals are fantastic but when we set a goal in an attempt to get us to feel like we suck less it is hard to motivate. Pay attention to how you talk to yourself about a goal. When we set a goal to ‘fix ourselves’ or because we are broken it usually doesn’t go over well. When compassion is missing from our self-talk, goals won’t work. The goal to walk 30 minutes a day is a great goal! Good for your health and heart. But your motivation for doing it is because you are fat and out of shape and need to get in line or you will be old and decrepit. Your motivation is coming from a place of lack; you are fat and out of shape so you must walk every day to be a good person. That is a hard message to get motivated around because if yourself talk is true; you are already fat and out of shape so who cares if you walk or not?!?! This negative shaming talk isn’t motivational. Changing a habit to walk every day for 30 minutes is a hard habit to change when the whole time you are telling yourself how fat and out of shape you are.

Ask yourself, why is this goal important?

And dig for the answer.

Your first answer is probably going to be a little negative:

  • “Because I am fat and out of shape and walking 30 minutes a day is what they recommend.”

Dig a little deeper. What’s the more personal answer? How does this goal fit your values?

  • Because I want to be able to play with my kids/grandkids and not be so out of shape.
  • Because we are headed to Disney World and I want to enjoy my time and not worry about walking
  • Because I enjoy being outdoors and miss exercise.
  • Because I feel better when I move my body.

When you dig deep, you unearth the real motivations that fit your values. These motivations can be used when you are full of excuses for not doing the walk.

Ask yourself, why you DON’T want to do this goal?

This question is tough, and I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but trust me. Again dig deep. An easy answer is:

  • Because I am fat and out of shape and walking is going to be hard and painful at first.

But keep going.

  • I am afraid to have all that time just to let my thoughts wander.
  • What if I fail?
  • What if I don’t feel any better?
  • I don’t want to get up early because I lack enough sleep already.

By asking why you don’t want to do this goal, you start noticing your resistance. When you pay attention to the resistance, you can deal with it in a productive way. This step is frequently the part we miss. We diminish our resistance and simply try to will ourselves out of it. We tell ourselves, I SHOULD NOT feel any resistance because this is a good goal. When resistance steps up is where the grace and compassion come in. When we can pay attention to the resistance, we can set goals that are accomplishable based on where we are right now.

For example:  If we are resistant to waking up and immediately heading out the door to walk then, we decide to walk during our lunch break. And if we are resistant to walking at lunch because we will be too sweaty then we choose to walk before dinner every night. And if we are resistant that when we get home, we are too exhausted we can look at all three options and see which is the most doable or we decide we are going to walk for 15 minutes at lunch and 15 minutes before dinner.

Or if you are afraid of letting your thoughts wander and getting anxious about all that ‘time’ then pick out a few podcasts or books on tape that you can listen to.

When we look at resistance, we can then create goals that fit us. They aren’t as narrow or fixed. Our goals have more expansiveness. This question also opens up to what lies underneath the goal. The fear of failure, the fear of success, the fear of change in general. When we are aware of our resistance, we can give ourselves more grace and compassion as we embark on change. We can say, yes I might fail, and fear of change is ok, AND I am going to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Final reminder…Compassion does not mean ‘excuses’.

So often I hear “if I give myself compassion I won’t do it. I will just stay in bed.” Well, compassion doesn’t mean you always get a pass. The opposite of beating yourself up for not walking isn’t ‘not walking at all’. The opposite is walking while honoring that it is uncomfortable and hard. Compassion means you honor where you are.

  • You honor that you don’t want to get up.
  • You honor that you are afraid of failing.
  • You honor the voice in your head that says how much you suck and kindly ask it to move along.

When you do that, it makes getting out of bed that much easier because what is meeting you on the other side isn’t some mean bully telling you how much you suck but rather a loving kind friend telling you ‘hey, I know this is hard but we can do it.”

Beating yourself into submission and calling it motivation will not work. The only way to change your behavior is to honor what comes up and move through it.

As I said to my client, you don’t need more motivation…

you need more compassion.


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