Finding Motivation When Everything Feels Like an Uphill Battle
by Anna Brunmayr, CPC, ACC, ELI-MPJun 08, 2017 | 3 minutes read
Workers today are experiencing more stress, anxiety, and frustration with their careers than ever before.
Many feel unfulfilled by their day job, restlessly unproductive, and emotionally unattached to their employer and coworkers. Unfortunately, the imbalance they feel in the workplace spills into their personal lives. They routinely sleep less than they should, their eating habits are all over the place, and regular exercise is practically non-existent.
This isn’t the life people dream of when they close their eyes and imagine their best selves.
Work shouldn’t have to be a source of frustration.
The weight of office demands and the pressures you put on your own shoulders to “succeed” can be overwhelming. And, when you’re feeling burnt out, finding the motivation to complete just a small task on your To-Do list can be difficult. So how do you move beyond these crushing forces and toward a greater sense of fulfillment?
Step 1: Recognize the lions.
Our brains are programmed to look for and avoid threats. It’s why so many people are scared of the dark and terrified of heights. Way back in the caveman days, this was a really useful skill… hungry predators were lurking in the dark, waiting for their next meal. Now? Not so much. Compared to our early ancestors, we live in a relatively peaceful and safe space.
The problem is that our brains haven’t caught up to the times. They’re constantly scanning for danger, even when there aren’t any lions hiding in the fields.
When your boss says “Can you come into my office for a second?” our defense mechanisms start firing off warning bells: “He hated that report I turned in!” “Oh no, she’s going to fire me!” “Why, oh why did I put my foot in my mouth during that meeting?”
That sense of panic is completely natural. Our subconscious is always looking for danger, so, naturally, it will “find” it. By the time we get up from our desk to make the trek to the corner office, we’ve built up an entire scenario on a biased interpretation from our panic-stricken subconscious.
When this scenario plays out over and over and over again, it’s like rolling down a hill with a boulder behind you and a pack of lions waiting on the sidelines. One by one, the events build upon and perpetuate our stress and anxiety.
Step 2: Create space between you and the lions
The good news is that, now that you’re aware of how your brain works, you can train it to learn a new trick. The next time you find yourself jumping from Point A to Point Z (skipping all of the plausible reasons in between for being asked to come to your boss’s office), I invite you to take a step back.
Wave to the lion.
Thank it for keeping you safe.
Tell it that you’re OK right now.
Once you’ve acknowledged its presence in front of you, you can question if it’s truly a threat or if you’re jumping to conclusions. Disconnect yourself from the fear as best as you can, and remind yourself that there are other ways of looking at the situation.
Your boss could have loved that you spoke up in the last meeting and wants to discuss getting your idea implemented as soon as possible. She could be praising your report and offering constructive feedback to make it even better before it goes to the client. Or, he could simply be asking you to grab a cup of coffee for the sake of having coffee.
Create a habit of recognizing the lions and separating your perception from the reality. It will help you create the space you need to work toward a more balanced life—without as many stressful days and sleepless nights.
Step 3: Climb back up the hill.
When you shift your internal view of the world—or, your lions in this case—your outer world will gradually change with it. By giving your brain more and more reasons to see a balanced world, you’re training your subconscious to see a more balanced world on a daily basis. It can be a slow process to create a new habit, especially when you’re working against centuries of ingrained human behavior. The important thing to keep in mind is that, by making small shifts in your mindset, you can ultimately move your life into a more useful and productive direction.
I want to stress that it’s not all about the lions, either. Be sure to look for other meaningful moments throughout your day to add power to this process. If there are moments throughout your day that spark joy or peace, acknowledge them and find ways to invite more of them into your life. Take a moment to thank that coworker who always refills the coffee pot, or seek a sunny, secluded spot to enjoy your lunch.
When you pay attention to the things that make you feel happy and fulfilled and intentionally seek more of them, you will find them. With time and patience, the happiness and fulfillment will push that boulder back up the hill so you can rediscover your motivation.