In Part 3 of this series about mastering your motivation, we took a deep dive into the first of the basic psychological needs, autonomy, and how it can serve as an antidote to chaos and confusion as you pursue your important goals.
In Part 4 of this series, we will reflect upon the people who are supporting your autonomy, how this looks ideally, and what it means for your overall motivation.
Getting Support from Others
Many of us have one or a few people with whom we’re comfortable confiding about our goals. While it may not be easy to admit a sense of defeat when we misstep, what we garner from sharing our experience is far more generative than the fear or disappointment we may feel. Interestingly, many clients I’ve worked with struggle to ask for help, feeling as if they should already know the answers or be able to navigate the very situations they’ve stumbled through for years. Those who are part of a collective—a community in which they can ask questions, acquire advice, and share their emotions—fare much better. They navigate the uncertainty that comes with learning something new with a greater sense of confidence and patience. It is not that they don’t get upset and feel disheartened. They just have others with similar goals to get support from and to remind them that they are not alone. This is called connecting with our common humanity. If we’re learning, we can expect that we’ll stumble. When we’re approaching the edges of our knowledge, our skill, our capacities, we are going to trip and fall. There is nothing wrong with you—you’re in the arena!
One of my clients frequently expresses frustration about the shifts in her “mojo” when she doesn’t follow through with what she’s deemed important to her. She will write and tell me that she can’t do what’s important to her if she’s not feeling good and blasts herself for not having a steady stream of positive energy on which to ride into the next challenge. Of course, we all would like to feel good all the time, but expecting this sets us up for failure. If I waited to feel good to do what I need to do, be it cleaning up the kitchen after making dinner, going to the bathroom, scooping the cat box, writing this blog, emailing a friend, or getting on my bike, I’d not have the life I desire. We get tired, our bodies feel the physical pain associated with various injuries, we’re often navigating a relationship conflict of some sort, our jobs can take their toll, and we let ourselves and others down. My client needs to hear the many stories of mine, as well as the other clients I work with, to understand that if we’re pursuing something important, we’re going to falter. It’s what happens. The goal is not to try to structure it so that we don’t falter; humans falter! The intention is to help ourselves out of the hole when we do. Or ideally, not dig the hole so deep in the first place because we’re expecting perfection!
The Best Support
The best support for your motivation comes in the form of empathy, encouragement, openness, and normalization. When your people share personal stories and strategies, suggest new ways of thinking, and offer practical explanations we can begin to take what has occurred less personally and garner a wider, broader, deeper perspective. It’s so common for us to blame ourselves for a lack of willpower and motivation, but the variables at play in most of what occurs in our lives are vast. We rarely consider them. When we can expand our view and recognize that we are not 100% (or even a fraction) in control, our emotional intensity around a perceived failure, is given space to dissipate. There may still be pain, but it has more room to breathe. I love the analogy of drinking a TBSP of salt in a cup of water versus a TBSP of salt in a gallon. Give the wound space to dissolve.
When I’ve managed online forums designed specifically to connect people who are working toward important goals, I’ve felt firsthand the increase in gratitude and confidence and self-compassion that can come from the understanding that we are not alone.
I can’t count how often I’ve read something similar to this statement: “I was starting to think I should just give up. I’m so glad I opened this thread and read this, thank you.”
Now, remember how important autonomy is for sustaining a strong sense of motivation? To be considered supportive of autonomy, ideally, the backing we receive from important others will encourage insight and reflection as opposed to being directive. What I have seen be most effective among support groups are offerings of ideas for approaching each situation from a comprehensive angle. Many members start their responses with personal examples of difficulty and how they manage to stay aligned and committed to their goals.
In one of the forums I monitored, a woman expressed to the group that my body hates me! Another member who had dieted for years, her bodyweight yo-yoing up, then down, then up again, explained how she’d learned how to not view her body as an object but as an instrument. She did not give blanket, black and white instructions. She expressed understanding of individual differences and empathized with how hard it can be to trust the bodies we live in because we live in a culture that tells us that our bodies are wrong and always telling us that we need to fix them. She opened the door to new possibilities and curiosity.
Support Can Lead to Re-solutioning & Re-commitment to Your Goals
Personal stories are incredibly influential for progressing to a grounding sense of autonomy. I often see members shift from intense emotional arousal to open processing of the experience, then to re-solutioning and re-commitment. I express the words in this way, with the “re-“ because it’s a repetitive process that we go through when me pause after a mistake, or a disappointing situation. Often, we don’t resolve to do what we’ve always done or have been doing, we reflect on what occurred, how, when, where, and the contributing factors so we can understand how we might do it differently next time. That’s learning. Often, we can get so focused on the result, we lose sight of the forest for the trees. And often, we need to reflect on whether the result we’re convinced ourselves is necessary, really is what will help us in an authentic manner.
Here's what the process looked like for one of my clients after a disappointment.
Intense emotional arousal: “Gaa! I need to figure out how to break this pattern which is repeating more and more frequently lately.”
Open processing: “…so while I’m still digesting the information provided, and still trying to formulate words out of all the thoughts and feelings I have right now, I wanted to take a minute to thank you…maybe now when I do have the time to wrap my head around things I’ll be able to come at it from a different angle.”
Re-solve and re-commitment: “Tomorrow will be another day, not a perfect day, but one where I do the best I can for me, so that I can feel as good as I can and live as long as I can to be a pain in my son’s tush for as long as I can, and go dancing and hiking and sightseeing with my awesome husband for as long as I can. Because in the end, those are my goals. Not a perfect body, or a magic number on the scale.”
See how she expressed ownership of her goals and her choices? This is representative of satisfied autonomy.
In Part 5 of this series, I’ll provide a list of the specific practices that support autonomy. I’ll ask you to consider whether those around you are implementing them and if you’re advocating for and allying with yourself in the same ways!
In the meantime, if you're struggling with motivation as you pursue an important change in your life, reach out to me: email@example.com