Jonathan’s mom pulled me off to the side. I glanced over at Jonathan, who was reluctantly taking his shoes off before walking out onto the mats for class. I knew in an instant what this was about.
“Mr. Cameron, Jonathan’s not interested in coming to class anymore. It’s a fight every time it’s time to get him to the gym,” she continued, “he drags his gear to the door, whines on the drive here, and he says he doesn’t want to train anymore.”
This conversation will sound familiar to every schoolteacher, personal trainer and office manager. Someone commits to a goal or a new habit only to drop it later. Is there a secret to keeping you, your students or your employees motivated?
Short answer: Yes, and I don’t think it’s a secret.
Reasons for losing motivation
Before talking about remedies, the exact problem must first be identified. In my experience as a martial arts coach, there are five main reasons you might lose motivation.
1. You don’t feel like you’re making progress
Nothing screams futility like the feeling of not moving forward. What’s the point in trying? First, you’re confused. Then you’re frustrated. And then you stop or leave. This may be the number one reason why people lose motivation and quit.
Examples might include
- A student that fails a test multiple times
- A worker who feels like they’re stuck in their position
- A client who doesn’t see visible changes to their physique
Thankfully, the ways to fix this are pretty simple.
2. You’re bored
This happens a lot for long-term goals. However, boredom is also common for smaller objectives—especially if it’s hard to see how it fits into the big picture. Our culture makes accomplishing long-term tasks more difficult because we expect more to happen in a shorter period of time.
Our culture is obsessed with doing things faster and more efficiently. For instance, I typed in “How to learn Spanish” in Google, and these were some of the top results:
- Learn Spanish in 10 minutes – ALL The Basics You Need (SpanishPod101)
- Learn Spanish – The Fast, Easy & Fun Way (Babbel)
- How to Learn Spanish Fast—And Succeed! (Preply)
I did the same thing for “How to get abs,” and this is what appeared:
- How to Get Abs Fast: the 3-Step Guide to Building a Six Pack (Insider)
- GET ABS IN 2 WEEKS CHALLENGE (CultFitOfficial)
- How to get a six-pack in four weeks (Men’s Health)
It almost doesn’t matter what skill you search for; someone is going to sell you on the idea that you can do it fast. Meanwhile, according to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, becoming an expert in any field requires at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
But who wants to put in that kind of time?
3. You think doing something else will be more exciting
The grass is greener on the other side, right? There is some overlap between this and the last reason, but there’s more to this than meets the eye. Underneath this is a form of anxiety: we’re running out of time.
In the middle of accomplishing some goal, the question of whether we’re making the best use of our time comes up. What if we could be spending our efforts on something more rewarding? While sometimes this may genuinely be the case, it’s best to stay devoted to the task at hand until you have outside confirmation.
Generally speaking, avoid making life decisions
- After having a drink on an empty stomach
- At 2 am, when you can’t sleep
You’re overconfident with the first one and driven by fear in the second.
4. You want instant gratification
Getting stuff done is fun. Most of us get a dopamine kick after completing a project. But if we’re taking the 10,000 hours number by Gladwell seriously, you’re going to get that kick only some of the time.
Practicing delayed gratification is easier said than done if you’ve never experienced it. When people fall for this trap, they get distracted and don’t feel like they’re making progress, which takes us back to the primary reason why people lose motivation to begin with: no progress.
5. You’re a quitter
This is a tough pill to swallow. But I believe some people need to hear it to wake up. I remember fishing with my dad and one of his friends as a kid. After an hour or so, with little luck, I started putting my pole away.
“Yeah. Nothings biting.”
“We just got to this new spot?”
“You got a lot of quit in you, don’t you?”
I finished putting my pole away, fuming the entire time. But you know what? At that time in my life, I did quit a lot. Those words hurt, but they forced me to be honest with myself, which helped me change myself. I remembered those very words when I was studying in college and thinking about quitting. I didn’t.
Do you have a lot of quit in you?
The struggle is real
What do most people struggle to stay motivated with anyway? A simple Google search reveals a large majority of people find it hard to keep up with long-term goals like school and physical health. Shocker, right?
I typed in “how to stay motivated” and let Google offer suggestions before pressing the search button. Here’s how Google finished the sentence:
“How to stay motivated...”
- To workout
- To lose weight
- At work
- In school
- In college
- To study
- To eat healthy
- Working from home
- With adhd
Alright, now are you ready for the secret to staying motivated to workout at work and college while eating healthy and having ADHD every day?
The secret to staying motivated
That’s it. Really. The rest is just managing your emotional state. Proverbs 29:18 states: Where there is no vision, the people perish. The secret to keeping yourself, your students and your employees motivated is to focus on the vision.
Imagine yourself walking on the stage at graduation as your family watches. Picture looking at yourself in the mirror with that summer bod. Visualize working at your dream job. Literally.
Emotional states can be managed by
- Getting outside accountability
- Setting expectations about routines and monotony
Accountability informs your perspective about the progress you’re making. Setting expectations keeps you feeling in control when boredom strikes.
There’s no catch. Except that if you do this, you might stay motivated enough to accomplish your dreams and need another vision. But at that point, you’ll need a life philosophy. The only parameter there would be to make it about something much, much bigger than yourself.