Fixing Lost Motivation

Getting Things Done When Motivation Escapes

Written by Pam Lefkowitz on June 16, 2022

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I used to think that lack of motivation was just an excuse for being lazy. The working world was (and still is in too many cases) filled with the notion you should not have down time, that you have to always be working on something. Fill up your calendar! Wake up at 4, exercise, shower, dress, make coffee, work, eat lunch, work, eat dinner, work/volunteer/work out/childcare, plan for tomorrow, sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat. And if you didn’t operate like this every day, you were lazy.

Stop that train and let me off! Inaction is NOT (necessarily) laziness. It might be simply a lack of motivation.

Today we’ll explore what motivation is and how to retrieve it if it’s flown the coop.

Chicken and veggies

Motivation can be described as “why we do something”. A few years ago I was in a weight loss group. We didn’t talk about actually losing weight, though, because that’s not really motivating.  I mean, seriously, who gets excited over chicken breast and vegetables, right? Instead, we talked a LOT about finding our “why”. 

Such a small word. Such a big impact. For a while my “why” was my son’s wedding. Of course, when that was over, what was going to keep me motivated to continue eating well? Because I can be stubborn (#shockingsurprise!), I toughed it out for a long while until I found myself floundering, both exhausted and frustrated. Bearing teeth and pushing through is not satisfying even a little bit. I needed a new “why” to get back on track.

What I learned is that your “why” will change. What works for one person won’t work for another,  what worked a month ago may not work today, and what works today probably won’t work 3 months from now. We have to be ever vigilant about what excites us and what interests us.

So what do we do when we can’t find a “why”?

Why Has My Motivation Gone?

You’ll need to figure out why your motivation is gone. When demotivated, even that seems like a herculean effort. You could be sad or frustrated. If it’s something personal- rather than work-related, give it some time to resolve. Cocooning is a normal part of being sad or disappointed. It’s a protective measure. Take some time for self-care and wait it out. This kind of de-motivation is usually short-term. If you find yourself moving from sad to depressed (or even if you don’t), making an appointment with a therapist could be just the ticket.

Make sure you are physically ok. Talk to your physician and have proper bloodwork done to make sure all the right counts are in all the right places. Medical issues can have an impact on your concentration and disposition.

The Real World

Maybe you feel like you’re in a constant state of battle at work – with your colleagues, your users, and/or your boss. Battle fatigue is a real thing and it saps you of your motivation. In this kind of situation, you are going to have to “act as if” for a while. Doing something is better than doing nothing. 

If acting “as if” isn’t working for you remember: you’re in IT. There are lots of jobs out there for a skilled and accomplished IT Administrator. You are not locked into an untenable situation. Make connections with other IT professionals (check out our Meetups to meet others in your area), take a class to enhance your skills, and start working on your resume. You’re worth it!

Maybe you’re experiencing something in your personal life that’s causing you to use belief-limiting self-talk. I know, those stickie notes with “you are enough” seem kind of corny sometimes. But self-talk is important for motivation and satisfaction. The best time to prepare for a bad time is the present time – write up a few of your own inspirational and believable phrases and stick them up around your desk, your cabinets, your mirrors. Say them out loud, especially when you’re feeling unmotivated. You got this, friend!

Things Are Good… But I’m Still Stuck

Is your job satisfying but you’re just stuck? I feel ya, my readers. My job is incredibly satisfying yet I still get stuck sometimes. For instance, I have a goal for creating 3-5 new ideas for articles every sprint with the idea being I have 3-6 weeks of posts in the hopper, depending on how creative and chatty I feel in any given sprint. That way, when motivation is low or if I take vacation, I’m covered for the week. 

But I can’t lie to you, my readers – it gets hard to think up new and interesting ideas. It’s easier on weeks where I see a piece reach a lot of people. It is hard af when a post doesn’t get much traffic. That’s when Imposter Syndrome kicks in and my “why” runs and hides in a corner.  

That happened today – while I was writing this article! Oh, the irony! How did I fix it?

Great question; glad you asked. 

I went outside and watered my newly planted garden. I took that 20 minutes and, with the hose leaking all over me (I’m cold and soaked – I’m waiting on hose parts to come in), I watched the water make the dirt dark. I listened as the spray fell on the flowers and the leaves. I was mesmerized as the water ran in rivulets around the new plantings. It was quiet except for the water noise and it was very calming and meditative. And now I’m writing again. 

My point is that sometimes you just have to stop and take that break. Pushing through, staring blankly at a computer screen,  isn’t always the best route to success.

Action

List the work tasks that need doing and then start working on them. Start with the ones that require less concentration (being demotivated can cause your concentration to wane) or are super fast to complete. 

You might even have to promise yourself a reward for finishing a task or pair up something enjoyable with the task (like playing some soundscape while working on developing your task list). The reward idea doesn’t work for me, but I do know a good number of people who use that technique effectively. For me, seeing an item get crossed off the list is great for activating my motivation.

Similarly, give yourself permission to stop working on a more involved task after some period of time, say 5-10 minutes. Often, after working on something for a bit, we find enough motivation to continue with the task. Good feelings are just as contagious as bad ones!

Connection

Another trick that works is to connect up with others. In the Before Times we could gather around the water cooler (or whatever your office had that served that purpose) and build connections. In Plague Times that’s harder. It takes effort to stay connected whether it’s through Slack or FaceTime or Zoom or whatever. And while texting is good, video is better. So find a few someones at work and connect up – talking with others can spark ideas and ideas are motivating!

Competition

Let me say right up front that this is not a tool I use – by design. I am mad competitive about everything (surprising nobody who actually knows me) so using it as a motivator has the potential to energize me in, let’s say…overfocused ways. Basically, I’m not very much fun when I’m being competitive. But for others, a little friendly competition does wonders for getting creative juices flowing. 

As an example, you might have a brainstorming game with your team to see who can come up with the biggest list of non-chocolate dessert ideas. I specifically chose something not work related (unless you work in the food industry) to disconnect your brain from work focus so you practice free association. It’s like getting a great massage – except for your brain.

The Finish Line

Whether your demotivation is due to internal (e.g. “can’t find your why”) or external (“your job is stealing your motivation”), there are things you can do to give it a shove in the right direction. This is a common and frustrating thing that everybody goes through at some point in their career. Come on over to the JumpCloud Community and let’s discuss other ideas for how to bring back motivation.

Pam Lefkowitz

Pam is an IT Columnist at JumpCloud where she uses her experience as a consultant and MSP to write about IT admin life and tech. Outside of (remote) work hours, she spends her time with her dog, visiting her kids across the country, and being creative with fiber.

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