Understanding motivation is often a complex and frustrating subject. Everyone at some point will tell you they know there is something they need to do but can’t understand why they were able to do it one day without much effort and struggle a few days later. A lot of our difficulty with motivation is based on our concept of it. A popular visualization of motivation is: Whatever prompts the desire to perform a particular behavior.

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Where the popular concept runs into trouble is that we expect to behave almost like machines in that every time we receive the prompt we will perform the behavior regardless of the circumstances involved. With that in mind I wanted to offer a little information on some of the situations that can hinder motivation and then provide ways to help make your own motivation a little more consistent.

First off you need to understand that all behavior is motivated. Your mind and body are constantly working together to determine your level of response to any given situation, however the level of response may not the same based on any number of factors. You may go to the gym for a heavy workout or effortlessly grind out a report one day and then not be able to repeat the effort a few days later due to what is called “performance inconsistency”. That means one day you may be mentally fresh and that gym workout or report came with little effort. A few days later you may be physically and mentally drained or having problems at home and just can’t seem to get started. This is where performance inconsistency comes in because every situation is NOT the same even if your desire is. Motivation does not come and go, if you are really interested in something, but performance and progress does.

So what can you do to get around the dips created by performance inconsistency? The following are a few things to consider to keep the work flowing even if it is not at the same level:

Push versus pull motivation
We’ve all experienced push motivation where you literally “will” yourself to do something. This works for some people but others may become discouraged when an additional hurdle presents itself. And, most people report feelings of regret and dissatisfaction when they are not able to rise to the challenge.

Pull motivation tends to be stronger because it involves additional benefits like running on the beach to get a good workout rather than going to the gym, or visualizing how you are going to knock your boss’ socks off with the stats in that report. Taking it to another level, you have a few days before a planned weekend getaway and that is your reward for all the work you’re getting done. Those added benefits are enough to pull you toward that extra effort to finish the required task.

Recognize learned helplessness
We all have something we have told ourselves we can’t do and based on that are not prompted to act because the tape goals 1Bplaying in your head says you can’t do it, resistance or procrastination quickly follow. A great example of this is how elephants are trained. They are chained to a stake and can only move a certain distance; after a while a string tied to a stick will create the same effect. This is where I like to use the phrase: “Give the chain a tug.” Tugging the chain reminds you of those instances where you didn’t know something and were able to work your way through to learn it despite your assumptions. That may mean talking with someone in the office who can point you in the right direction or doing a little research before attempting the task. But more than anything realize that you have previously worked your way out of difficult situations and what is standing in front of you is no different.

Breaking the task into smaller easier portions is an often cited suggestion but it works because it builds confidence to tackle the more difficult tasks. On a visual basis looking at the total of the goal creates a visualization of a huge mountain to climb and generates the need for an even bigger motivational response. Several small tasks are not as mentally challenging and don’t create the need for huge motivation. Build in that there is going to be a period of disorientation but if you keep going things will become easier and your motivation higher.

Work groups build motivation
If you have ever been to a sporting event and noticed how people banded together to support a team, then you will understand how work groups increase motivation. People will go to great lengths for a goal that is bigger than themselves. Creating a work group offers the added benefit of support during those low motivation response days that you might not have when working alone.

Now that you know there are going to be up’s and down’s in your motivation based on the principle of performance inconsistency, stop beating yourself over the head on your high motivation days with phrases like why can’t I be like this all the time, or I wish I was like this yesterday; because you now understand that motivation was there but progress and performance weren’t. Take into account those periods when motivation is high and use them to great effect. By the same token, understand when your motivation is highest on a day to day basis and make the best use of it. One client who is a night owl does housework in the middle of the night. This is peak response time for her and it works, short of using the vacuum cleaner that is…