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Motivation is Like Love: Coping When Your Passion Fades

We’ve all experienced it: that surge of powerful motivation at the start of a project.

  • It’s January 1st, and you’ve started your new fitness regime.
  • You’ve just started a novel, and you’re pounding out a thousand words a day.
  • The launch of your new blog was a week ago, and you’re telling everyone you know about it.

Yet somehow, after a few weeks, that motivation high has gone. One in five gym members go to the gym once a month or less, and several consumer surveys indicate that 80% of new gym members drop out within 8 weeks. Among bloggers, Perseus News reported that of the 4.12 million blogs they surveyed, 66% had not been updated in two months, and 1.09 million were abandoned after only their first post!  Their initial motivation was there, but it didn’t last.

The same happens to you, when you hit a slump, a dip, a low point: the project you were previously so excited about feels like a burden. But if you push through that slump, you’ll find a steady, lasting drive that can carry you onwards until you achieve the goal you’ve set.

From the time we embark on a new project until we are deeply entrenched in following through with it long term, we go through a few different changes and emotional highs and lows: fluctuations that aren’t so different than what we experience elsewhere in our lives.

The “Madly In Love” Phase Of Motivation

“When I start with a new exercise program, or any new goal really, I am rarin’ to go. I am full of excitement, and my enthusiasm knows no boundaries.”
– Leo Babauta, The Ultimate Guide to Motivation – How to Achieve Any Goal

Let me pause here, and ask you to think about falling in love. When you’re in love, you:

  • Forget to eat or sleep because you’re thinking about your loved one.
  • Spend every moment you can in their company.
  • Tell all your friends how wonderful they are – or alternatively, you keep it to yourself because you’re afraid of spoiling your love by sharing it with the world.
  • Walk around with a goofy smile on your face whenever you think about them.

Doesn’t that sound rather similar to what happens with a new project? When you come up with that wonderful idea for a new business venture or goal, you:

  • Forget to eat or sleep because you’re thinking about your project.
  • Spend every moment you can coming up with schemes and plans, and working on your project.
  • Tell all all your friends about your amazing new venture – or alternatively, you keep it to yourself because you’re afraid that talking about your ideas will somehow spoil them.
  • Walk around with a goofy smile on your face whenever you’re thinking about how cool your project is.

Love and motivation don’t remain at that high peak for long, but this initial surge of enthusiasm is a great time to enjoy throwing yourself wholeheartedly into a project. While you’re in this stage:

  • Draw or write a full, rich description of your ultimate goal – what are you ultimately hoping to achieve? (Writing down your goals leads to success.)
  • Write a letter to yourself in a month’s time. In the letter, put words of encouragement, and record how excited and keen you’re feeling at the moment. Seal the letter in an envelope, mark it with your name and the date, and put it somewhere safe. Sadly, you’ll be needing it soon…

The “Panic Dip” Phase Of Motivation

“There have been plenty of high peaks in our marriage when loving each other was natural and easy. There have also been some deep valleys when we thought we just couldn’t get it together.”
–  Alex Blackwell, 23 Heartfelt Reasons I Will Always Be Faithful To My Wife

No-one stays passionately, madly in love for the entire duration of a relationship. Maybe it lasts for a few weeks or months, but then reality sets in:

  • Your partner has annoying habits.
  • You have different interests, and enjoy some alone time.
  • The relationship means changes and extra demands that you didn’t expect.

If it’s the first time you’ve fallen in love, you might panic. You might decide that this girl or guy just isn’t “the one.” But as anyone who’s been in love, and stayed in love, can tell you – it’s normal for that incandescent fire to turn into a more bearable, steady flame.

Similarly, the burst of motivation when you first start a project doesn’t last for long, either. Maybe it blazes like that first fire of love to begin, but you may realize that:
  • Aspects of your venture are irritating, annoying or tedious.
  • You want to carry on with other hobbies, and sometimes you just want to kick back and relax.
  • The project has caused changes and extra demands on your life.

Like love, motivation has natural ups and downs – and it requires hard work. There are times when feeling enthusiastic about your project is “natural and easy”, and times when you want to give up.

So, when that initial surge of motivation vanishes, don’t abandon your project. Accept the peaks and troughs, and start looking for that quiet, steady flame of motivation. Some things which have helped me are:

  • Looking back on diary entries from the very early days of the project, when I was filled with enthusiasm and boundless optimism.
  • Writing down a list of things that motivate me to carry on with the project.
  • Talking to others who are working towards similar goals, and asking for their encouragement and support.

The “Long-Term Commitment” Phase Of Motivation

“What is the best way to motivate yourself for your daily work? Obviously, enjoying your work and having a clear vision are very important, but I don’t believe that they are the most important things for keeping going during the daily grint. On the contrary, I believe that what gives us the most energy is the feeling of being totally on top of our work.”
-Do It Tomorrow by Mark Forster, emphasis mine.

Committing Internally

When you’re in a relationship, part of your responsibility is to help yourself to stay in love with the other person. That doesn’t mean being wildly romantic, pretending that your every thought revolves around them, or refusing to let yourself ever express any reservations about an aspect of their personality or behaviour. But it does mean:

  • Giving them not just your time but your serious attention.
  • Thinking about the future of your relationship, not just the day-to-day.
  • Confronting and working through problems, rather than ignoring them.

It’s the same with your any other serious project. You need to help yourself to stay motivated about it. This means doing the same things as you would in a relationship: devoting time and attention to your project, and being willing to accept that there will be some tricky patches along the way.

Committing Externally

When a couple decides to commit themselves for life, they often get married. This is a commitment to one another, made in front of friends and family. When difficulties arise, that commitment, both public and personal, can provide extra motivation to work through them.

“None of us likes to look bad in front of others. We will go the extra mile to do something we’ve said publicly. … you can do it with friends and family and co-workers, and you can do it on your blog if you have one. And hold yourself accountable — don’t just commit once, but commit to giving progress updates to everyone every week or so.”
– Leo Babauta, The Ultimate Guide to Motivation – How to Achieve Any Goal

Making It Through the Dip

“There are two great times of happiness – when you are haunted by a dream, and when you realize it. Between the two there’s a lot of uncertainty, a strong urge to let it all drop. But you have to follow your dreams to the end.

There are abandoned bicycles in every garage because their owners’ backsides got too sore the first time they rode them. They didn’t understand that pain is a necessary part of learning. I almost gave up a thousand times before reaching those moments of happiness when I forgot that I was cold.

You can accomplish this through painting or music, provided that you concede that, before you can play a Bach sonata, you must first learn to play scales. It is only through perseverance that each of us can find himself. It is up to each of us to find his own Pole.”
– Dr. Jean-Louise Etienne, the man who walked alone to the North Pole

This is a hugely powerful quote, reminding us that there will be difficult, tedious, even painful moments on the route to any goal. As with love being strengthened by marriage, you will find that your motivation is strengthened by making a firm commitment. This means:

  • Writing down a promise to yourself. For example, “I will commit to working on this project for at least six months, regardless of whether I am seeing any results.”
  • Ideally, making your commitment public. Post it on your blog or a web forum. Tell all your friends that you’re going to lose 10lbs before Christmas. Let everyone know that you’re writing a novel.
  • Focus on what you’ve achieved and learnt so far, and celebrate how far you’ve come. Look back at all the ground you’ve covered, before you turn your eyes towards what lies ahead: and look foward to the next stage of your journey.

If you’re having trouble following through on your goals, and wish you had a partner to talk it over with – consider getting together with a friend and trying out Noomii, where you and a friend can track your goals, schedule coaching sessions and review progress in multiple areas of you life that you choose.  You can see their 2 minute intro below:

Are You Dipping or Soaring?

[reddit-me]

If you’ve been worried because your initial surge of motivation has worn off – stop being concerned, and realize that going through this dip is a normal phase in any long term endeavor. Focus on finding that steady flame of lasting enthusiasm for your projects.

If you want to make, or remake, a public commitment, please feel free to add it in the comments. I’d also love to hear from anyone who’s ridden out motivational dips and dry spells to finally achieve their dreams – whether in a business, personal or social venture.

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P.S. This post is by a new writer, Ali Hale.  I’d like to welcome her to SidSavara.com. She’s fantastic and I”m sure you’ll enjoy her contributions going forward. I’ve been sick and out of commission lately, I’ll post again soon. – Sid

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By Sid Savara
Published April 07th 2014
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