Are you making these two motivation mistakes?

It’s a brand new year and we all want to hit the ground running. And what do you need the most for that? Motivation, that’s what.


Resilient people are motivated people

Which is why motivation falls squarely within the remit of a resilience coach like me. And with both motivation and resilience, what many of us don’t see is that motivation is not something you have - it’s something you create. 

None of us is born motivated

If you have it, it’s because you’ve got the right daily habits and practices in place. And by ‘right,’ I mean right for you. Because what motivates you won’t motivate the next person. If you have never taken the time to work out what will motivate you then that’s your starting point. Initially, this is always going to mean looking at the limiting beliefs and fears you have that are stopping action from happening. Because a lack of motivation usually comes down to fear.

Equally key is to stop making the two biggest motivation mistakes.

Mistake 1: Being hard on yourself

Push, strive, struggle, force, discipline, discipline, discipline - these words represent the route that many of us try to take to motivation. Trying to make it happen by whipping ourselves into shape with harsh words and self-criticism. Not only is this likely to make you miserable but it actually doesn’t work. Here’s why:

  • Self-criticism activates the threat defence part of your nervous system because you are effectively under attack (from yourself). It’s like being shoved forward. Yes, you will move but not with any intention or efficiency - and not with momentum that can be continued. So, you can achieve very short-term motivation with self-criticism but not enough to reach big goals or sustain you through genuinely tough moments.
  • If you’re being hard on yourself then this probably involves shaming yourself, often by comparing yourself negatively to someone else (or to ‘other people’). The most natural response to shame is to freeze. And freezing is the opposite of the forward motion you need for motivation. 
  • Using this approach overlooks the main reason why many of us don’t take action: fear. We’re afraid we can’t do it, we are afraid of failure (or success) or we’re just afraid because the outcome is uncertain. Imagine a fearful child clinging to your leg. If you shout at them what do you think will happen? It’s likely they will become even more afraid or freeze in shame. And that’s what happens to you too when you apply harshness to a situation in which you’re already afraid. You’ll increase your anxiety or freeze completely. Self-compassion is proven to be a much more effective response to situations that require motivation because it stops this from happening and allows you to continue to make decisions and take action calmly.

Mistake 2: Seeing any situation as having only one solution

This one is trickier because you may not actually realise you’re doing this. Let me explain:

Situation example: Sticking to a New Year's resolution to get fit.

Obvious approach: Ambitious gym schedule, determined to force yourself, “hard work gets results,” just get through it, and suddenly acquire discipline (from where?). This is what we see on social media, this is what our social conditioning tells us. The narrative is “this is going to be hard and you won’t enjoy it but that’s what you need to do to get what you want.”

The result is often a few painful, miserable weeks and then giving up and a general sense of failure and being incapable of change. It’s damaging. And it’s not your only option - it’s just the only one you may have considered up to now. When you start to look at all the options that exist for reaching one particular goal, you make motivation easier. This is often why having a coach is so useful - because we can help you find different, less unpleasant, more effective paths to the same (or a better) result.

In the context of getting fitter, for example, you could:

  • Pick an activity you actually enjoy. We don’t quit what we enjoy and who says that progress has to be painful? A study conducted by a group of scientists from the University of Brighton found that a 30-minute session of contemporary dance burns a whopping 534 calories, whereas 30 minutes of running burns just 528 - which would you rather do?
  • Start working with a coach to get to the root of why your mindset makes this kind of motivation hard for you. This is a smart use of resources and energy because when you've done this work you will know how to motivate yourself effectively - and remove the obstacles to this. As opposed to hurling yourself into action with the same sabotaging mindset in place and feeling exhausted and depressed by the results.
  • Set yourself up for success - how can you make this easier? Statistically, we succeed at things that we make easy for ourselves. I’m not saying getting fit will be easy. But there are easier routes and harder routes to take to that same goal. For example, if you have a menstrual cycle, wait to begin until the best possible point (usually the midpoint of your cycle, rather than when you’re bleeding). Make sure you understand nutrition and recovery to fuel your workouts so you can sustain momentum and don’t burn out. Prioritise sleep at the same time as this is the most effective way to ensure you recover.
  • Think about your “why” - is there something else behind the resolution, for example, negative self-image or low self-esteem? For most of us, getting fitter or slimmer won’t change something like low self-esteem. It’s much more effective to work on where you are emotionally depleted first - otherwise it’s like putting a band-aid on a broken limb. Once you’ve done that emotional healing you’ll also find it much easier to create changes to your reality as a result.

What this all comes down to is ensuring that what’s in your head - your mindset - is set up to support your goals for this year. A resilient mindset will not only mean that you stick to the promises you make to yourself - and make your goals happen - but that you also finally master motivation on a permanent basis. So that every time there is a new goal, dream or commitment, you know exactly what to do to stay on track - and trust yourself to do it.

I am currently taking on new clients for Feb - book a discovery call and I’ll explain everything we can do to achieve a permanent motivation shift in just six sessions.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Winchester, Hampshire, SO23
Written by Alex Pett
Winchester, Hampshire, SO23

Alex is an ICF trained and NLP cert coach focused on helping people to deepen their resources to adapt and bounce back - and go on to thrive. She works with resilience to help clients build confidence, motivation, recover from burnout, set boundaries, find joy and move beyond limiting beliefs. Clients achieve tangible change in 6-9 sessions.

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