Research Paper By Sybille De Klebnikoff
(Executive and Career Coaching,CHINA)
Motivation is what causes us to act. The question is what causes us to act?
To answer this question first we can take a look at what prevents us from acting.
What are the reasons why, when we plan on taking action, we cannot do the first step, the one that initiates our action. Strangely enough, deciding is not the hardest thing to do; but starting an action can take a long time, and sometimes never happen.
Knowing what prevents us from acting is the first stage to get to know oneself better. It helps explain why we procrastinate.
In coaching, we often have clients who need help to realize their projects. How can we support them when they delay their action, if we unveil a lack of self-motivation?
Johanna came to me with one frustration: she was getting tired of not being able to do something with her life. She had the feeling that whatever she wanted to do, she got stuck, as if a mysterious force was dragging her away from action, holding her back. She was at a point where she had lost confidence in her possibilities and didn’t know what to expect of her future. All she could think of was her failure. During the coaching process, she realized that she was afraid of taking risks because she felt she wouldn’t bear failing. As she was focusing on the risk of failure, it became so overwhelming that she was sort of paralyzed, exhausted.
As Thomas Edison said:
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
We all know that what we focus on grows. If we focus on the risk of failing, this feeling dominates our life and prevents us from moving forward.
Underlying beliefs also play a role in our lack of action. Our behaviors result from our beliefs. As long as we are not aware of them, we are under their influence, whether they are empowering or disempowering. If we deeply believe that we don’t deserve to succeed, all our projects will be sabotaged by this belief. We may have been so unsettled by a former unsuccessful event that this impression became part of us, even though we have forgotten about that experience. This hidden obstacle to our motivation becomes a handicap that needs to be addressed.
When a project implies a change in our routine, we can be resistant.
Karen wanted to be fit again. She couldn’t understand why she was not losing weight, despite the fact that she was exercising a lot. She was getting frustrated and began to think that there was nothing she could do about it. We talked about her eating and physical exercise habits. It was a surprise for her when she found out that she was snacking a lot all day long, without realizing it. It had become such an automatism that it was part of her routine. Changing this consumption habit would imply being aware of every single bite she would take. She wasn’t sure whether she’d have the energy to watch herself, even though she really wanted to lose weight. As somebody said:
If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got.
It means that routine will not take you anywhere.
Another reason for lacking motivation is when the goal we want to reach is either too vague or too ambitious. As Seneque says:
The wind blows in the right direction only for those who know where to go.
A goal can be discouraging and seem unreachable from the beginning when one doesn’t clearly see the path to reach it. One wonders how to start, what to do first. It is easy to lose faith when being overwhelmed by the complexity of a project.
Let’s say you’ve been complaining about your job for two years, saying that you want to do something else. You wonder why you still haven’t started to look for another job. This is a great goal yet it is such a vast enterprise to find what else you could do that you are stuck. You don’t know where to start, and how to manage your job search.
Vagueness is the enemy of action.
In coaching, we like to explore our clients’ values, by asking them: what do you care most deeply about? The reason why it is important to be aware of our values is that they guide our decisions. When we make a decision and fail going into action, it may be that our project is not exactly in line with our values. Discovering these values helps us know who we are and what guides us.
When Peter contacted me, he was in a dead end. He was working as an HR Manager in a small company that had to lay off ten employees in order to overcome the loss of an important contract. As part of his responsibilities, he had to tell these people the bad news. And this couldn’t wait. However, Peter was struggling with being this kind of messenger. When thinking at the consequences of unemployment for his staff, he was overwhelmed with guilt and couldn’t find the motivation to do this part of his job. It was not in line with his values.
We have discovered some of the reasons why one is not moving toward one’s goal. It can be a relief when finding out about them. Indeed, being stuck leads to a lack of self-esteem, and the lack of action introduces doubt is people’s mind.
Considering all the good reasons one has to lack motivation to go into action, what tools can coaches use to help their clients overcome these obstacles?
As said before, when the goal is not defined well enough, it is hard to know how to start. The first prerequisite of a goal is that it has to be SMART, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Specific. As said earlier, if a client wants to look for a new job, it is important as a coach to help them be clear about what they want exactly: what kind of job, where, in what kind of environment, full time or part time, in what time frame… Once the goal is very clear- it usually takes several sessions- the client has a full picture of their project. Then they can define the steps to reach it. It is less overwhelming, more motivating, to consider a single step, rather than a full project.
Jim Rohn said
If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.
Having projects, knowing where you want to go is necessary; defining step by step the way to make them true is required to go into action.
However, this may not be enough for our clients to be motivated, as some projects may imply changing behavior, taking risks, stepping out of their comfort zone. In this case, taking action requires courage.
All progress takes place outside the comfort zone
as Michael John Bobak said. How can we help our client address their fear of stepping outside their comfort zone?
George wanted to be more extravert, be able to connect with anyone and be at ease in a group environment. We identified a few action points to take, but he came back to the following session disappointed at his inaction. He was really willing to change but couldn’t overcome his fear of failure. We tried to work on a dream perspective. The idea was to talk about his objective as if it were a dream, to free him from the pressure to succeed. After this exercise he was relieved and felt like his fear was becoming lighter, it shifted his perspective. From then on he managed to apply some of the steps we mentioned during our sessions.
When dreaming about a goal, it makes it unreal and therefore the barriers fade away. It can be a trigger to take action.
Says Theodore N. Vail:
Real difficulties can be overcome; it is only the imaginary ones that are unconquerable.
Mindset is a key element to take into account when talking about motivation. Whether you think that everything is possible, or that you can never succeed, this mindset will have an impact on your action and the results you will get.
No need to say that a winning spirit, focusing on success will have more chances to result in an achievement. Mark
Twain says it in another famous quote:
They did not know it was impossible, so they did it.
Winning spirit is easily visible in sport. I am always very impressed when I see a tennis player who wins a game, after losing the first set, or the first two sets. This player is fighting until the end, against his opponent, convinced that he can win. He is not wasting time or energy to fight against himself or against his doubts. He is just doing his best. How to have a positive mindset? Well, acknowledging is a very useful tool when one needs to have positive feelings.
You can do anything, but not everything.
It means that focus is key to action.
Kate is a very busy person. When her friends talk about her, they describe her ability to live three days in one, meaning that she seems to be able to do in one day, what her friends would manage doing in three. Kate is struggling with this image of an efficient woman; she doesn’t agree with it. She feels that she starts many things, projects, she has a lot of ideas, but when it comes to finalizing them, she encounters resistance, self-resistance. Driven by her curiosity and energy, she would like to be able to do everything, yet she can’t. During the coaching sessions, she realized that she had to be more focused, making choices and thinking about priorities after considering the different options.
Surprisingly enough, having tons of projects doesn’t necessarily mean that one can be motivated and be able to go through with it. On the contrary, it can be overwhelming and therefore one can be paralyzed, disillusioned, action is not possible anymore.
We talked about the difficulty to change a routine. Even though one has the will power to achieve a goal, one can still be stuck and unable to go into action when a fundamental shift has to be done. This is where putting structures can help support the goals.
My friend Jane has been willing to be fit again for a year now. She does exercise a lot, but she keeps riding her motorcycle even for small distances. Once she became aware of this paradox, she started to ride her bike rather than her motorbike in order to support her goal. This new structure that she put in place seems to be very simple, and easy to implement. It is not always that simple, but once a new structure is found, no need to think anymore. A new routine replaces the old one. As coaches, we can help our clients find structures that support their goals.
We can see that are several ways to be motivated by a goal and start acting. Yet this is not enough. We also need to find a way to sustain our action, in order to achieve one’s goal. What can we do to maintain our motivation? As Zig Ziglar said: “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily“. What we understand is that, like a plant, our motivation needs our constant attention in order not to fade away.
We said previously that acknowledgement is a way to get motivated. Well it is also a way to feed our motivation. Indeed if we regularly encourage ourselves by acknowledging our progress, we will fill our reservoir of energy, and this should boost our motivation. We said previously that a goal had to be SMART, and to be divided into several intermediary goals or steps. Each time a step is achieved, one should pause and take time to consider what has been done, be thankful and happy for what they have and what their life is. Taking this short break allows to step back and reconsider the final goal according to some new elements that may have appeared. Is this goal still relevant? Do we have to reconsider it and adapt it to a new context? After reviewing the different possibilities, considering the different options, and validating the pertinence of the goal, going into action should be natural.
Of course, a project rarely goes from one end to the other without any surprise. What can we do when we encounter an obstacle that breaks our momentum or seems hard to overcome?
What can we do when we fail? The first reaction would be discouragement, or even being tempted to give up. However, as Friedrich Nietzsche said:
That which does not kill us makes us stronger.
It means that we can grow from our problems and discover some unknown resources. How can we follow Nietzsche’s wisdom and get over this ordeal? Whenever this happens, the idea is to pause and think about what happened, to get some learning. This process needs to positive and action oriented. No need to focus on feeling guilty or expressing regrets, as it eats our energy and motivation out. When having a client in this situation, the coach will be of a great help. He can do a brainstorming exercise to find what resources the client needs to overcome the obstacle, helping them think out of the box. He can also help the client find what worked in the past, and start over from there. This brings a feeling of relief to the client, as it doesn’t mean starting all over again.
Can one achieve an objective alone? Well yes in some cases. However most of the time one needs support. What for?
They need support to follow the process, to help overcome some difficulties, to share ideas, to be accountable for them.
When Jay decided to start looking for a new job, he didn’t know what he would be looking for. He had an engineer degree, but he had never worked as an engineer and wasn’t interested in these jobs. At the beginning of his coaching session, he told me that he didn’t know what his competencies were. He even thought that he didn’t have any competencies. Being educated as an engineer, he considered all soft competencies as worthless. After working on shifting his perspective, and gaining confidence, he finally found that he would be interested in a Project manager kind of job. He quickly realized that he needed support in his job search. He decided to ask his direct boss to mentor him, internally. And he could rely on me for his job search outside the company. He found that putting this structure in place was very empowering. He didn’t feel alone in his project and received the support he needed whenever he was in doubt and his motivation was low.
Last but not least, there has to be pleasure in reaching a goal, to sustain one’s motivation. As Dale Carnegie said:
People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.
This is how their reservoir can be full of energy to act and maintain their motivation.
When I met Luke, he had been a chief accountant in a software company for 4 years already. He remembered how much he enjoyed his job at the beginning, how he was motivated by his daily tasks, working in a good atmosphere. But for one year already his motivation had faded away, and it started to impact his work, and his self-esteem. He told me that in four years the company had grown up to tripling the number of employees. Meanwhile, a profit-oriented and efficiency spirit had replaced the startup lively atmosphere of the beginning. He had no more pleasure working in this environment where he felt like a number in a big organization. We identified what were the important elements for him to enjoy working in a company, and he started to look for another job. A few months later he joined a new company that met his needs and started to feel more motivated.
Motivation is a vast subject. We not only need to find motivation to act, but we also need to find a way to sustain our motivation. Each of us being different, being more or less optimistic, more or less action-oriented, all the tools presented here cannot apply to all of us indifferently. Our clients don’t have the same goals in life, or the same drivers. Some are driven by their passion, others by fulfillment, others by the idea of being part of a greater project, like changing the world. As coaches, our role is to adapt our approach to the specificities of our client, to help identify their deepest motivation. Once our clients find their path to initiate action, it can be interesting to explore with them what they know, what they don’t know, what they think they know, to go deeper in their self-awareness.
Brant Secunda and Mark Allen, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brant-secunda-and-mark-allen/motivation_b_4652944.html Chad Howse , http://addicted2success.com/motivation/the-top-10-things-successful-people-do-to-reach-their-dreams/
Lolly Daskal's: Thoughts Spoken From The Heart: Over 500 Thoughts that Bring Meaning to your life.
Marc Chernoff, http://www.marcandangel.com/2013/02/01/10-motivational-quotes-and-tips-for-hard-times/
Paul B. Brown, http://www.forbes.com/sites/actiontrumpseverything/2012/12/29/how-the-most-successful-people-motivate-themselves-and-stay-motivated/ Osman Hameed, www.codeofliving.com. Motivation : le déclic, Nathalie Ducrot Coaching questions, Tony Stoltsfus