As we’re coming into the 3rd week of January the question on most people’s mind is “why can’t I stay motivated?” And following close behind, likely something along the lines of “what’s wrong with me?” Here’s the reality… nothing is wrong with you and you aren’t alone, FAR from it! Around Jan 17th most people completely lose motivation and quit working on their new year’s resolution all together. Understanding how and why this happens just might be the very thing you need to push through this situation and continue on with your goals regardless of your motivation level. (Oh… and I’ll also be sharing a big secret about what works WAY better than motivation).
What is Motivation?
Most people would describe motivation as a feeling. They would say it’s a compulsion or drive or maybe even feeling inspired to take action. But the truth is it’s not really a feeling at all. It’s actually a hit of dopamine. Yep, that’s right… it’s dopamine that makes you feel fired up and unstoppable. This powerful little chemical is the biggest motivation for every action you take and is required for the very survival of our species. But lots of things can cause a dopamine hit and that’s where motivation can get challenging. Just like you can get that dopamine boost from actively planning or working toward your goals you can also get it from eating sugar, having sex, scrolling social media and so much more.
Where Does Motivation Come From?
Notice above that I said you get that dopamine hit from actively planning or working toward your goals? Yep, you read that right. Many people think that they will get motivate and then take action but the truth is taking action is what creates motivation. So, if you don’t take action you won’t be motivated.
Why Does Motivation Fade?
Here’s the BIG question… what happens to motivation? Why does it seem to fade and fizzle away? Why is motivation like a toxic lover, there one minute gone the next and you have no idea why?
There are 2 BIG reasons for this.
Oftentimes when we first start out on our goals journey we feel incredibly fired up. This also happens when we attend personal development conferences, masterclasses, etc (there is actually a formula that is taught to speakers to ensure this happens, but that’s a different story for a different day). After a couple weeks that motivation fades, sometimes fast. And you find yourself feeling stalled, overwhelmed, or in a funk. This is caused by what’s known by psychologists who dedicate their lives to studying motivation and goals as “hyper-motivation”.
That fired up feeling is actually caused by a FLOOD of dopamine. This happens when we are super excited (or scared, and sometimes even when we’re overtired… ever been slap happy?). When we experience this flood we feel like we could conquer the world. We often make grandiose plans and for a couple weeks we can even stick with them. But when we over produce dopamine our body feels dysregulated and responds by bringing new production almost to a screeching halt and soaking it up as quickly as possible. That leaves us dopamine starved. And well… dopamine starved = stalled. No amount of force, self-discipline, or willpower is going to change that. And by the time you could get back to it you feel like such a failure you simply don’t know how.
Essentially the hyper-motivation –> motivation loss cycle is the same as having a sugar or caffeine crash mid day. It takes a little longer but it’s a chemical thing, not a character flaw.
So… you’ve learned the hard way that going in hyper-motivated, full steam ahead doesn’t work and just leads to a crash and you’ve changed your ways but you’re still struggling. What’s that about? Well… you’ve probably stagnated. You’ve built a tolerance in your dopamine cycle. Remember… the first cup of coffee you had likely made you jittery but now a pot doesn’t seem like enough to make you alert.
You are stagnating because you’ve become numb and you’re just going through the motions. The things that used to be novel and make you feel successful no longer do so you aren’t getting that dopamine boost from them. UGH!
Thankfully there’s a simple solution to both of these issues!
What Works Better Than Motivation?
Maybe this is really a motivation hack not a full work around but whatever it is… it works to keep you on track! And… it’s SO shockingly simple!
Keep an accomplishment journal!
Simply write 3 – 5 things you’ve accomplished every day before you go to bed and when you are feeling stuck, read it!
This will work to stave off hyper-motivation because it will encourage you to look for small details and wins in your day rather than going in hard. In addition it will prevent stagnation because it will keep you aware of your progress and success.
An accomplishment journal is the surefire way to keep that dopamine flowing in a regulated and reliable way. And the best part is that even when life gets in the way and you find that you’re feeling tapped or pulled in too many other directions the record of your successes will get you moving again.
If you’re looking for a new journal page to get you started go ahead and grab yours here. But if you’re more the “who can keep track of a journal and remember to fill it out” type… check this out instead!