Image via Wikipedia
January 7th, 2007 by John Wesley
How many times have you started a new activity (such as a personal project or exercise routine) with a burst of enthusiasm, only to see that initial momentum evaporate? This often leads to depression and causes us to give up prematurely. I’ve experienced this letdown dozens of times myself. But fortunately, with a bit of thought and reflection you can turn this negative emotion around.
The key to harnessing your emotions is understanding them. The natural pattern of human emotion is peaks and valleys. When we start a new project we’re filled with tremendous optimism. All we can think about is the expected benefits, and since we haven’t started yet, we aren’t aware of the difficulties involved. This natural high causes a surge of mental and physical activity. The peak is a great thing because the energy boost gets projects off the ground. If you’re a creative type like me, you know that this period is euphoric. You feel like nothing can stop you.
The downside of this surge of energy is that it inevitably ends. Exerting large amounts of energy wears you down, and after the initial optimism wears off we feel extremely tired. However high you started off, you fall down just as low. This causes a loss of confidence. The combination of fatigue, scant results, and an awareness of impending adversity makes us want to give up. From personal experience I’ve learned a few ways to hold strong against negativity.
Be Prepared for a Letdown
Emotions, by nature, lose their power when we understand them. Prove this to yourself. Next time you get angry, take a moment to reflect on the reason behind the emotion. When I step back and reflect, it’s easy to see that my anger is caused by insecurity/selfishness/jealousy etc. After I understand the cause my anger fades away.
The same technique applies to a loss of motivation. Instead of giving into negativity, step back and analyze. Look at the causes. Are you tired, burned out, disappointed by the results? Are these feelings justified, or are they a by product of a low point in the emotional spectrum?
To illustrate these ideas, I’ll use my most recent project as an example, the creation of this site. When I launched Pick the Brain it took an enormous amount of effort. I was completely new to blogging, web design, and traffic building so there was a steep learning curve. Writing new posts, setting up the site, and trying to build traffic took up nearly all my free time. After about three weeks I was completely burned out. I got depressed and started to question if the site was worth the effort. I wasn’t seeing any returns and I started to find enormous faults in my writing and the purpose of the site. There were moments when I was resigned to failure.
One reason I was able to overcome this loss of motivation is that I prepared myself for a letdown. Beforehand, I researched blogging and learned that it generally takes 9-12 months before a site begins to see significant traffic. Knowing that my lack of success was perfectly normal helped me get over it. The same is true for other endeavors. If you know losing 20 pounds in a month is unrealistic, you’ll be able to accept losing only 5 more easily.
I also knew my own emotions and was prepared for the initial emotional peak to pass. When I was first inspired to launch a website, my expectations were through the roof. Dreams of AdSense revenue danced in my head and I pictured throngs of loyal readers as if they already existed. But because I understand my emotional pattern, I realized this optimism would give way to depression. In the back of my mind, I foresaw the impending motivational battle, and when it came I was ready.
Reevaluate Your Strategy and Motivation
The passing of the emotional peak is a blessing in disguise because it allows us to reevaluate our plans from a fresh perspective. At first we are blinded by our own optimism. When we lose our motivation we can see gaping holes our in plan. We can either get down on ourselves and give up, or we can use this negative emotion to discover our faults and correct them. After I pulled myself out of the motivational cellar, I went back to all the negatives thoughts I’d had and applied them to improving the site. Having a pessimistic attitude opened my eyes. It made me realistic about my abilities and expectations. Emotional valleys bring us back to reality. Without them we’d be raving lunatics with unlimited self-confidence.
Use a loss of motivation as an opportunity to reconsider what your motivation really is. One reason I lost motivation is that I became too concerned with the financial aspect of blogging and lost sight of the real reason I started: sharing my passion for self improvement and the pursuit of happiness. When I realigned my motivation with my passion, the lack of results didn’t matter. My motivation returned because I realized connecting with people through my writing is an end in itself. Even if this site never makes I dime, sharing my ideas and experiences to help other people is worth the effort.
In truth, sometimes giving up is the right decision. If you started doing something for the wrong reasons you’ll likely lose your motivation. This is a good thing. It allows us to see what really motivates us. In these cases, the best choice is to move on to a new endeavor. Don’t fight self doubt, use it for your benefit.
Dealing with emotional highs and lows is an experience common to all people. We generally accept our emotions as beyond our control. They are powerful and mysterious and appear quite irrational. But if we contemplate our emotions, if we explore the inner workings of our minds, we find that like all things, emotions obey the law of cause and effect. Armed with this knowledge, we can continue to allow our emotions to dominate our lives, or we can use them to our benefit.
Don’t be surprised by a loss of motivation and don’t be disappointed by it. Understand it as natural effect of the human mind, and utilize this knowledge of self to make your emotions work for you.