Sometimes, you reach a point at work where your motivation is completely depleted. But circumstances dictate that you can't quit. So how do you keep going? There's always a way.
Like most people, I've faced multiple instances where there was nothing keeping me at a job, but bills and responsibilities meant quitting wasn't an option either. In such cases, it's difficult to show up, let alone do your work to your best ability. But a few strategies have helped.
Stop Blaming Yourself, But Take Responsibility
Motivation is intrinsic. While external factors affect it, your reaction to those factors is what ultimately leaves you demotivated. But there's a difference between taking responsibility for this and blaming yourself for this — and far too often, we do the latter.
I've had extended periods of scolding myself for not pushing harder and doing better. But it's a short-lived success story. I got the current job done and then fell back into being disenchanted. If your job sucks, it might be your fault; but take responsibility for that and fix it rather than berating and shaming yourself.
- I need to fix myself.
- I need to punish myself in some way.
- I need to regret what I did.
Taking responsibility simply requires me to see my part in what's going on. Then I just ask myself: Do I want to change something? If so, what are some options? What action do I need to take to change things? This keeps me in a looking-forward position — focused on the future. And that draws me ahead in the direction I want to go.
Hilts nails it with the three common thoughts associated with self-blame. If that's what you're thinking, then you have to get out of that unhealthy place. Take responsibility by identifying your mistakes and learning from them. It's harder and takes more time, but it's long-lasting.
Ditch The Ideal Scenario And Appreciate What You Have
There is some truth in the idea that the best job is one you'd do for free. But this ideal scenario has been talked up too much, to a point where the solution is black-and-white: "If you don't love it, quit." I prefer the sagely advice of old rockers Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young:
If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with.
One of the best things you'll do for your work life is to relieve yourself of that pressure to find the perfect job. Squash those expectations and the high standards you are holding it to. The minute you do it, you suddenly realise that what you have right now is pretty good after all. Take comparison out of the picture and see it for what it is, it's a refreshing perspective.
There are plenty of people who don't love their job, but are happy to do for a fulfilling life outside work. The "love your job" lobby is so strong that I feel the need to stress this as plainly as possible: It's perfectly all right not to love your job. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Find And Solve Your Demotivation
When you're demotivated, you communicate haphazardly about things that bother you. That can cause more problems than it solves. I developed a three-step communication strategy that helped me overcome my demotivation. Vent, then assess, and then talk to the right people.
Venting your anger has been found to make you feel worse in the long term. But the old common sense adage of venting having a short-term cathartic effect is true. The trick is to find someone you can unload your frustrations on, but then you have to move on to another person — someone you trust has a rational mind — to assess those feelings.
In assessing your problems, you need to find someone who will make sure you don't get away with bullshit. Apart from that person, you also have to be mindful yourself and check what you're saying. Psychology Today recommends setting a time limit:
"Can I talk to you for five minutes? And I really mean five!" Next time you find yourself venting, pay attention to how many times you repeat the same information. Probably a lot. When we're worked up we repeat ourselves for emphasis. Setting limits will force us to keep it brief, sort out our thoughts, and then focus on to a solution.
These first two steps are meant to declutter your mind because you want to go into the third one with clarity of thought. The third step is when you talk to your boss. Work problems require communication with your manager, even if that manager is the problem. The first two steps ensure you aren't a blubbering buffoon when you ask for your boss's time. Once you start talking, explain your problems, propose solutions, and see what they have to say. But most importantly, apologise. When you're demotivated, you are not doing your best work and your boss has probably noticed, so apologise if you think it's necessary. It helps if you know how to empathise so you can be sincere about your apology.
Start Small With The Rule Of Three
You can't snap your fingers and feel motivated again. It takes time to do all of the above processes. There's a good chance you have vacation days due to you, so use them. If you don't have the luxury to take a break from work, use J. D. Meier's productivity method, the rule of three.
Meier, author of Getting Results The Agile Way, advises listing three outcomes you want to achieve for each day, every day. You can extend this to weeks, months or years. But remember to list outcomes, not activities:
Don't confuse activities with results. You're driving for three results (or outcomes). This helps you ground your activity against something meaningful for you. It also helps you focus on the end, not the means. One of the best ways to get results is to stay flexible in your approach, while keeping your eye on the prize.
Essentially, an outcome is the result of a bunch of activities. So "have a great lunch with the team" is an outcome, but for that, you need to perform a bunch of activities like picking a place and a time convenient for everyone, making sure it's a happy environment, etc.
I used the Rule of 3, but never wrote these down. For me, a mental list of three outcomes was good enough — and maybe it actually helped more because every day, I knew the three things I wanted to achieve more than anything else. Meier claims three is the magic number because it's small enough for you to focus and achieve, while big enough for you to feel a sense of satisfaction.
It's hard to keep going when you're feeling demotivated, but hopefully, these tips should help you push on. Don't confuse a lack of motivation with burnout, which is a real problem. The short answer is that if you're happy after work hours and find joy in other things, you are likely demotivated; but if you are generally negative towards everything, that's a sign of being burned out.