A while ago a coaching client asked me this:
"Regarding a goal, if you feel unmotivated is it a sign you should stop? Or is it self-sabotage?"
This is a great question. Here’s my response, for her and for you:
1) Notice how you feel about the goal itself
Let’s say you want to write a book and get it published. Forgetting how hard it might be to achieve this goal, do you feel excited about holding your published book in your hands one day? Does the idea thrill you? If so, you’ve passed the first test. Your heart is in this goal or dream.
2) Detail clearly what "unmotivated" feels like and looks like
Do you dislike the work itself? If you want to write or study something, do you like your topic, or do you secretly want to throw away what’s practical and focus on something else that’s more risky yet much more exciting to you?
Do you feel unexcited about your workspace or environment? During seasons of my life where I’ve had yucky workspaces (one was a tiny office with no windows, another a cluttered space which hardly had room to turn around in) I got almost no writing or creating done. These days I’m in a beautiful bright space which is steps away from nature, I look forward to sitting at my desk and reward work done with a walk in the fresh air with my dog.
Often you’ll discover that it isn’t that you suffer from a motivation problem, you just haven’t got the ingredients of your circumstances right yet.
3) Do you believe you deserve to dream what you’re dreaming?
When I’m working with a client and they haven’t done their "homework", meaning they haven’t taken the steps they said they would to move closer to their goal, I dig deeper. Often what’s holding them back (though they may erroneously label themselves as lazy, unmotivated or flaky) is that they suffer from "Who am I to think I could" syndrome.
Like them, you may believe that even though you have lots of life experience you want to share and people have told you you’re a great speaker, you couldn’t lead the workshops you long to give because you need a long list of credentials after your name first.
You may be bubbling over with great ideas or great art, but you’re just a regular person, so who are you to start a website showcasing your work? Wouldn’t all your Facebook friends just laugh at you? The latter is actually a real fear I have to talk clients through – people feel really self-conscious letting others see what they are starting to do, because it may be very different from who they’ve "been" publicly up until now.
So often it isn’t that you’re unmotivated, it’s that you’re afraid that you don’t deserve to have this dream. That you’re being ridiculous or perhaps grandiose to even dream of it. You’re afraid you’re not enough. Afraid that people will laugh. Afraid that you’ll fail (and that that would be worse than just dreaming the dream for the rest of your life). Afraid that when you finally step up and do what you’re most passionate about, it will suck and no one will care and you’ll have egg all over your face and no dreams left.
The thing is, most people who’ve ever done anything they’ve longed to do have had to stare down these demons. The only way to get past them is to do what needs to be done (figure out the next step and do it). Alternatively, you could spend your life wondering what if.
4) Understand Resistance
One of my favorite books of all time is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (I have written more about this book in my article The Reason Why You’re Avoiding Your Most Important Work).
Pressfield is a genius at describing what he calls Resistance, the invisible force that rises up to block anyone who wants to accomplish anything. If you want to do something worthwhile, this force will come against you. It will try to convince you that you should take a nap before getting started, or wait until tomorrow. It will make you feel bored, grouchy, totally uninterested in doing what needs to be done. The only way to take down this enemy is to do the work.
The next time you feel unmotivated to do something that you could have sworn you’d love to do, push past the lack of inspiration and just go do it. Notice what happens. Today I really didn’t feel like writing, but I’ve learned to force myself to sit at my desk and open a Word document. Now I’ve written almost a thousand words. Happens pretty much every time if I just get my butt in the chair and manage to stay off Facebook (one of Resistance’s favorite weapons these days) long enough to write something.
5) Use the Muse
Steven Pressfield recently wrote a wonderful blog post called You, as the Muse Sees You. He describes his vision of how creativity and inspiration work: the Muse flies over the world every day with a bag of fabulous ideas, looking for people who have shown up. If you are sitting at your desk ready to write (or are sitting at your easel, or are ready to outline that workshop you dream of giving) the Muse will see you from up high and toss down an idea to you. If the Muse flies over your house day after day and each time you’re procrastinating or avoiding what you’re meant to do, eventually she gives up and doesn’t stop by anymore.
What Pressfield describes as his Muse I like to call Divine Inspiration, but I adore his whimsical description of what happens when you just keep showing up. In my experience, not only do you get great ideas but doors start to open, you meet people that have or know just what you need, all kinds of good things happen. The ball gets rolling. You are on your way.
But first, you have to get past a whole lot of unmotivation.
Of course, you may be genuinely unmotivated because you have a goal that truly isn’t worth pursuing.
Chances are, though, you just need to get up every day and do what you say you want to do.