We all lack motivation sometimes. 

Maybe work is feeling like a slog. Maybe people you rely on are dragging their feet.

Recently I was talking with a coach colleague about my own lack of motivation for something I knew I “should” be doing, creating more of a presence on social media. I knew what I was supposed to be doing, and yet I kept putting it off.

She pointed out that the way I was talking about it was negative. I was speaking as if I didn’t really want to do it. And she was 100% right.

I was thinking: “I know I need to, and I said I would, but ugh – really?!”

#1: Move towards (not away)

Just saying you or your team “need to” or “should” do something does not create motivation for it.

Our brains would much rather guide us towards something positive than away from something negative.

Tali Sharot, cognitive neuroscientist and professor at University College London, explains in The Influential Mind that when it comes to taking action, the brain has two responses: no go, or go.

The “no go” or freezing response is an activation of the amygdala, an area of the brain connected to our emotions and our freeze reaction. When we freeze, we are trying to avoid pain. We tend to be afraid or anxious.

But the “go” response can be linked to positive reward. Even anticipation of a reward can cause a release of dopamine which is involved in the brain’s reward circuit. So when a reward is anticipated, and then received, not only does this help us to feel good, but it will also motivate us to take that action again.

Moving towards a reward is much less stressful and depleting than avoiding pain.

Suppose in the middle of a busy week, you see a meeting on your calendar that you aren’t excited to attend. In order to motivate yourself, which thought would make you more likely to go?
(1) If I don’t go, people will judge me poorly; or
(2) If I go, I could build relationships and trust with colleagues.

When we’re trying to avoid pain or negative consequences, we are focusing on fear and will be more likely to activate the amygdala and the freeze response.

For me, my focus on avoiding failure – if I don’t finally do this, I will fail again – was not very motivating. So I kept putting it off.

I needed to see that I actually wanted to do this, and why. Once I did, I had much more energy and motivation to act.

This brings me to point #2.

#2: Find the why

I needed to get clear on why taking action mattered to me.

To build brand awareness? Not really. It’s about supporting more people and organizations, so they can make a bigger difference in the world.

Getting clear on the why for you or your team will support motivation.

But ask the why question several times, because the answer tends to change and get closer to the real meaningful answer which will be much more motivating.

Connecting with your values can also support you and your team in tackling a stressful challenge. Research shows that people who reflected on authentic values prior to stressful tasks showed significantly lower cortisol levels afterwards, even up to 45 minutes after the task. 

In addition, research shows that reflecting on and affirming personal values can actually improve problem-solving and creativity, both of which can be disrupted by stress. 

Join me in the journey

So whether there’s resistance to change, or lack of motivation, you can activate the brain’s reward circuit and tackle a challenge with less stress by getting clear on what you’re choosing to work towards, and why.

As for my stressful social media challenge, my brain’s reward circuit is getting activated because each time I do another post, I feel more motivated to continue. Thanks, dopamine.

I would love for you to follow my journey and get some quick tips as well over on Instagram @jenriggscoach

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash