You look at your desk to see piles of papers that are far from organized. You mentally add up the tasks you have to get done for the day and know you will do them—right after a nap. And you can’t even bring yourself to look at your cluttered email inbox.
Let’s face it—all of us have done this at some point in our lives.
If you constantly procrastinate on assignments or deadlines, avoid responding to emails, or prepare at the last minute for meetings, you’re not alone. You might even think this means you aren’t motivated.
Some experts believe lack of success happens because of “selective motivation,” or the idea that you are only motivated to do certain activities. And while that concept may seem accurate, it’s not entirely true. You are always motivated to do something; whether or not your choices are productive is the real question.
Spoiler alert: you are motivated. You are motivated every single day.
You are motivated to eat, sleep, and practice good hygiene. Why? You know it’s vital for your survival.
You are motivated to lounge on your couch for long periods of time, play endless video games, and browse social media until you fall asleep at night. Why? These activities are enjoyable and relaxing.
The key to translating your motivation to success is not a matter of if you are motivated, but of identifying the reason that motivates you.
Identifying Unhealthy Motivations
There are many external factors that play into your reason for being motivated. Consider the following scenarios that might make a simple activity feel like an arduous task. These reasons could be the difference between viewing a certain action as something you have to do versus something you want to do.
1. You feel overwhelmed.
Perhaps you’re flooded with a myriad of chores to add to your daily responsibilities. Maybe you’ve just endured family issues or a medical emergency and need a break.
All you want is time for yourself, yet your kids are demanding more of your attention and you realize that you haven’t talked to your best friend in a month. Your desk is flooded with paperwork, you have to have a conference meeting with your boss this afternoon, and you can barely remember what you’ve planned for dinner tonight. Now you just discovered another work situation that can only be resolved by more of your time.
Needless to say, you’re overwhelmed.
2. You feel resentful having to do it.
You really shouldn’t have to be in charge of offering a solution to your coworker that has a neighbor whose cat ran away. You know your boss should be handling the assignment they just gave you. You believe if situations were reversed, this person would have a hard time doing that task as well.
Maybe your reasons are justifiable, or maybe altering your view of your own expectations would help you feel less resentful. Before tackling your resentment, it’s worth understanding that this resentment is probably why you feel less motivated.
3. You’re only doing it for money.
This one mostly applies to tasks at your day job. Beyond the value of a dollar, you see this particular action has no importance. It does not further impact your life other than to benefit your employer.
At the end of the day, you notice a lot of your time is being spent on tasks that don’t support you intrinsically as an individual. Your job environment may be lacking. You probably don’t even enjoy what you are doing for work. It may not contribute to your career path overall. You just don’t see the point in doing it.
Yes, money is important for keeping up your lifestyle, but it’s not everything. And as you try to take this action, which you know you should be doing for your job, you notice that all you’re receiving in exchange is money.
4. You want to avoid guilt or shame if you don’t do it.
Does this activity give you a nasty feeling in the pit of your stomach every time you think about it? Do you usually feel guilty if you don’t get your work done?
It’s normal to feel bad at the initial result of not accomplishing a goal you set out to do. However, it is not normal to live in a perpetual cycle of shame, especially when your feelings get triggered before you even start your work.
5. You want to please or impress someone.
Many people fall into this category. Whether it’s your boss, your significant other, or your two-year-old, there is always someone you will want to please.
But if there comes a point when impressing them is the only reason you want to do something, you might start to feel like the activity isn’t worth completing. Plus, if you fall into a routine where you consistently please everyone instead of taking care of yourself, you might just wake up one morning and feel like you have lost your sense of purpose.
Obviously, this is to be avoided at all costs. Impressing your boss occasionally is healthy; impressing your boss to the point where you lose yourself is not.
6. You think it will help you become more powerful over others.
There may be a time when you are presented with an opportunity to advance in your career. Or there could be a shift in the dynamics of your relationships where you begin to lead and make decisions. Perhaps you want to gain more control over your responsibilities within your job title, or you simply want to be the alpha in your relationships.
Whatever the situation may be, you would end up in a state of power. If you have your eyes set on a newfound role of dominance, and that alone is the sole reason for your motivation, it could make you exhausted or anxious before embarking on that journey.
7. You cannot see any merit in it.
Whether it’s reorganizing a set of files for the fifth time or cleaning an area of your house that notoriously becomes messy no matter how often you clean it, there is probably at least one task you have to do that feels pointless. You still have motivation to do it, but that motivation is on thin ice, ready to collapse at any moment.
Bottom line: whatever you have to do feels like something you do not want to do.
8. You feel devalued by doing it.
It’s an activity below your standards, and you know it. You might have to give your company a “facelift” appearance by crunching numbers in a certain way. Perhaps you know you’re responsible for targeting a client’s personal life in order to make a sale. Or you have to keep up the façade of certain cultural standards, such as telling little white lies during the holidays about how great everything is with the family, work, and life.
Although this action could be small, it will still make you feel devalued in some way. Ultimately, you are compromising your moral or ethical values and that saps your motivation to do the task.
9. You feel a lot of pressure to get it done.
Let’s face it—pressure is not something you like to experience. It’s extremely difficult to get something done (and done well) when you are faced with high expectations, strict deadlines, and little flexibility.
But at the end of the day, this is your reason for motivation. Sometimes you pull through under pressure; other times, you crack.
If you are able to use pressure to your advantage, you could be a well-adjusted procrastinator. Of course, procrastination leads to inconsistent successes and possibly shoddy work. In the worst-case scenario, such pressure could ignite social anxiety, general nervousness, depression, or other crippling mental health challenges.
If you’re motivated but still not successful, you probably face one or more of these scenarios on a regular basis. This type of unhealthy, unsupportive, unsustainable motivation can leave you feeling exhausted, restless, fearful, or physically unwell. Even if you achieve a goal under such circumstances, research shows that you are unlikely to maintain these successes over time.
Instead, identify these subpar reasons for motivation and learn to change them. Oftentimes, this means allowing yourself more time to complete the task, or working in a setting with fewer distractions.
If you’ve been doing something for external reasons only—meaning, the activity has not contributed to your overall purpose or brought you a sense of joy—you will burn out quickly. Shift your motivational focus to reasons that benefit your autonomy and lifestyle.
From Motivation to Success: The Big Secret
All success is first established through action. While understanding the root of your motivation is the key to knowing why you might not take action in the first place, motivation in itself is not the only reason for your lack of success. Countless experts have stated that failure is simply the absence of performance, and they indicate that trying to do a task is always on the road leading to success.
But what is the secret to bridging motivation and success? Productivity. Being motivated is one thing, but translating motivation into meaningful action is a whole other story.
You can be motivated, take action, and still be unsuccessful. Just look at businesses that shut down after a few years, people who maintain their same job position for decades, or a room that can be clean while looking disorganized.
The key to productivity is positive change. Whether you want to move up the ladder in your company, grow in your relationships, or develop new skills that save you time, you need to dedicate yourself to planning positive actions that lead to positive change—which, in turn, yields the successful outcomes we all desire.
Productivity is the difference between expending time and energy on tasks that do not promote growth and taking action on tasks that will benefit you in both the short and long term.
Think of it this way: you could easily clean all of your ceilings in your house each week, but you wouldn’t be able to navigate throughout your home if all of your floors are cluttered and dirty.
To see real change and success in your life, ask yourself these questions:
- What is your goal?
- Why do you want to achieve it?
- What steps do you need to take to reach that goal?
- What one small action can you take today to start moving toward that goal?
The Bottom Line
Motivation is incredibly powerful in developing a mindset that will produce results. However, you cannot produce successful outcomes without strategy.
In whatever tasks you have to tackle for each day, look at your plan of action. Are you organized? Do you have a timeframe for when you want to achieve this? And do you have a goal for how success will look?
Whether it’s writing a simple email or finishing your book, use these steps to develop positive motivations based on actions to enhance your productivity in everything you do. Focus on accomplishing what you set out to do with positive intention, and success will find you—one way or another.
The question really isn’t if you are motivated; it is if you are willing to take action with the intention of positive change. It might require you to look at the big picture and small details surrounding the activity.
Now, think about your situation. List the actions you’ve taken that proved to be uneventful, the ones you might have even repeated once or twice. What can you do in this moment to change how you next take action in order to be productive?
Share in the comments—we’d love to help you develop healthy motivations and achieve success!
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