Three In-Depth Steps and Strategies to Regain Motivation in Your Career
By: Judy Gielniak
Motivation, or lack of it, can have a profound impact on feelings about work and even on work performance. Most of us have experienced the excitement and rush when feeling truly motivated in an activity. And, most of us have also felt the boredom, frustration, fear, and at times a sense of despair when we’re languishing in work that isn’t sufficiently motivating.
To understand how to overcome absence of motivation, it’s important to understand its causes. At one level, the causes are as varied and unique as we are as individuals. At the same time, there are certain common themes that emerge that are relatable to most of us.
For example, issues surrounding working through a global pandemic has been demotivating for most everyone on the planet to some extent. Fear has been the cause for many. Loss of job security is obviously an extreme factor of diminished motivation.
On the less severe side, some lose motivation due to a loss of passion for their work perhaps because they have been doing the same thing for so long. Others may struggle with motivation due to challenging relationships in the office. While some may have a hard time motivating themselves to complete assignments because they just don’t enjoy the work.
Making matters worse, loss of motivation often leads to procrastination. We know what we want to do, or should do, or need to do, but we choose not to do it, which provides an immediate, yet temporary, relief from our struggle. Later, we often feel guilty, worried, or anxious for not completing it. It’s a defeating cycle.
If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. In its recent report on the State of the Global Workplace, Gallup found that, although it has risen some in recent years, still only about 30% of U.S. workers are engaged in their work.
The good news is that you are in the driver’s seat. Reengaging and finding ways to strengthen your zest for work is entirely within your control. So, what are some things you can do? There are many short-term, quick strategies to reenergize yourself in your work, but for sustainable results, you will need to dig deeper.
[Related: The Pandemic Might Be a Gift]
Step #1: Determine why.
The first step is to take a look at why you’re feeling unmotivated. Is it situational? Is it driven by factors internal to you, or is there something external causing your motivation to dip? For instance, your internal motivation can take a dive if your work feels too familiar or boring. Or, on the external side, if you receive a lower-than-usual annual bonus, you may experience lower-than-usual motivation as well.
Sometimes the cause is not that obvious. You may know exactly why you are feeling unmotivated, or you may not be quite sure. Either way, it’s important to take some time to reflect and write out what you’ve been experiencing and explore the underlying reason. One way to get to the root cause is by asking and answering “why?” five times.
Let’s take Alex’s experience as an example. Alex is a 35-year-old man who was struggling with a severe lack of motivation in his work as a sales director. Here are his five questions and answers.
Question: “Why am I feeling unmotivated?”
Answer: “Because I’m bored.”
Question: “Why am I bored?”
Answer: “I no longer feel challenged.”
Question: “Why don’t I feel challenged?”
Answer: “I know my job inside and out.”
Question: “Why do I know my job inside and out?”
Answer: “Because it’s all I’ve done for ten years.”
Question: “Why is it all I’ve done for ten years?”
Answer: “Because I’m good at it and I typically like routine.”
Through this exercise, Alex was able to see that his inclination for routine was a primary factor in his motivational slump. He realized that, as much as he found routine to be comforting, it was actually interfering with the happiness he wanted to get from his career.
With this information, he was able to look at options for how to shift out of his customary patterns in ways that were agreeable to him in order to renew excitement in his work. Alex found that he was able to delegate some of his work in exchange for taking on new assignments that called on his strengths and offered opportunities for growth.
Not everyone will discover the source of their lack of engagement this quickly. But, even if you don’t get to the deepest root cause right away, exploring your reasons for a dip in motivation will provide at least some clarity for actions you can take to reclaim it.
Step #2: Strategize.
At this point, you hopefully have a few ideas in mind for what you can do to help revive your motivation. But, before deciding on a course of action, take some time with the following reflective exercises for a stronger likelihood of increasing your motivation at a deeper level.
1) Get to know your drivers in life.
Take some to think about and answer the following questions:
- What are the things you currently feel enthusiastic about?
- What brings you joy generally?
- What do you value in your career?
- What do you most enjoy doing at work?
- How can you use the things that you feel passionate about in life to ignite more passion in your work?
- What career goals can you set around what drives you in work and life?
2) Infuse meaning in what you do.
How does the work you do have a positive impact on others? This is a powerful question to answer for yourself, because recognizing the ways in which your work serves others can instill more meaning in your career overall and in your day-to-day work.
Meaning, that is, being involved in something greater than oneself, has been shown to drive increased engagement and motivation in work. A study conducted in 2016 found that hospital janitors who (rightly) held that their jobs had a positive impact on helping patients were far happier in their work as compared to their counterparts who saw their work purely as providing cleaning services.
Who benefits from your work directly or indirectly, and how is what you do helping them? Can you get to know these individuals in any way? What are other ways you can strengthen your connection to the people you serve in your work?
3) Challenge yourself to view your circumstances from a new perspective.
This can be a hard one, but cultivating a positive mindset is one of the most impactful things any of us can do to more successfully and happily navigate work and life. Often, it’s the negative messages in our minds — what we tell ourselves about challenges — that lead to lack of motivation and a myriad of other negative emotions.
Recognizing and intercepting those messages is the first step to then looking at them differently in order to prevent them from derailing our motivation. This is not about glossing over difficult situations, but rather about choosing how to best, and more accurately, interpret them in order to respond in ways that result in better outcomes in our lives.
The next time you feel stressed or challenged, take some time in a quiet space to clear your mind. Then, get curious about your situation. Without blame or judgment, what are the relevant factors that might be contributing to the situation?
Additionally, ask yourself:
- What is the learning opportunity for you?
- What is the gift this is providing you?
- What strengths and skills are you developing in this situation?
- What opportunity does this situation create for you?
- How would you view this situation at the end of your life in terms of what is important about it and what isn’t?
Granted, it is difficult to shift from feeling upset to finding gifts in a challenging situation, but it does get easier with practice. In his book, Positive Intelligence, Shirzad Charmaine provides a research-based system for handling life’s challenges with a more positive mindset, and less stress. The focus is on learning the concepts and applying them in order to build the new neural pathways necessary for new habits and sustained change.
Step #3: Create a plan.
As a final step, form a plan for what actions you would like to take based on what you’ve learned about yourself and your circumstances.
Taking Alex’s situation as an example, he initially learned more about why he didn’t seek out new challenges in his career: his motivation for strong work performance and his general desire for familiarity. Focusing on a core value of economically supporting his growing family, he was able to suspend his desire for familiarity in the short-term by getting motivated and setting goals for growth opportunities in order to move up in his field.
To get started with your plan, what is one thing that you have learned about yourself that provides the springboard to taking action to enhance motivation in your career this week?
For questions about motivation, any of the strategies listed here, or for more information on the research-based, app-guided course on Positive Intelligence, email Judy at email@example.com.
Judy Gielniak is a career coach and consultant helping professionals and executives accomplish career goals that increase success and happiness in their work. Learn more at Accomplished Life Coaching & Consulting or be in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.