Finding motivation in Difficult Times
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
Structure, Purpose and Motivation (What, Why, How)
Structure: what we do
Purpose: why we do it
Motivation: how we do it
In the coaching business, helping students to develop structure, purpose and motivation is a key part of what we do.
For example, a student may come to me with a goal, but they are not sure what they need to do: by breaking it down and providing a road map to their goal, with daily routines and habits, I can provide structure. The ability to stick to this is largely dependant on purpose: without understanding why they want to achieve that goal, they will likely fail. By encouraging the students to dig into knowing themselves, they can understand better what they need and want (and perhaps even choose a better goal)!
However, perhaps the most important, and elusive quality that needs to be developed is motivation. « How we do one thing is how we do everything » (Wil Brown). The way we approach training, work, life, rest, relationships, are all connected. Essentially, this is how we approach our life, so it defines who we are. As a coach, I think helping to nurture positive, confident, curious and self-motivated people is the most important part of the job, and something I’m always striving to understand better.
So if you’re struggling with motivation, what can you do?
First, check that your physical needs are being met.
Breathing: are you breathing calmly and slowly in and out through the nose?
Water: are you well hydrated, and do you have easy access to clean water?
Food: are you choosing to nourish yourself with healthy food that you enjoy?
Safety: do you have somewhere safe to live?
Sleep: do you get at least 7 hours sleep a night? Do you sleep in a dark room, with technology switched off overnight, etc.? Is your sleep good quality?
Social: this might not seem like a physical need at first glance, but the need for social activity and touch is wired into our DNA, we are social animals. You don’t need to be the life of the party, but do you have a few people who you can count on?
If these essential needs aren’t being met, any other motivation will be undermined. Tackle these FIRST.
Next, check your physical, psychological barriers.
What story are you telling yourself. What language do you use in your mind when you think of yourself. The way we perceive ourselves is highly subjective, and it can be very unproductive. In fact, most of the things we believe in and place value on are fairly random and/or unimportant in the long term and some of them can be downright harmful. Take the time to reflect on your thoughts and habits by journaling, meditating or simply practicing self awareness throughout your day. We’ll talk more about reflection in a future post.
If your narrative is against you, you are likely to feel low and defeatist, and it will be difficult to overcome the inevitable obstacles in your way. This is the next thing to address.
When these first two points are met, your motivation should already improve a lot. So the next issue to tackle is the longevity of your motivation ie. How long do you stay motivated?
Here are a few things that can help you sustain motivation.
Choose a practice that is coherent with your purpose.
What do you want to achieve? If your motivation is going to last, you need to know WHY you want something. Ideally, you should search for an internal purpose rather than an external one, as these tend to be easier to stick to. Doing something to please someone, or to avoid displeasing someone, rarely works for long.
For me, as a movement coach, the great thing about movement culture is that it can help you to work on the bigger picture. Do you want to work on being more confident? Choose a practice that triggers fear, and slowly work on building courage and confidence in the face of it. Examples of this might be parcours, gymnastics, climbing, etc. You want to get better at dealing with failure or improve your ability to be consistent? Choose a practice that involves high levels of skill and regular practice in which you will fail again and again and again. You could learn handstands or acrobatics. You want to be calmer and more relaxed? Try yin style practices like tai chi, yoga, somatic practices. You want to be a better communicator? Learn horse-riding, contact improvisation or playfight. You want to feel more in control? Study martial arts or practice strength training such as Gymnastic Rings or Olympic Lifting. Whatever your purpose, choose an activity that reflects that and that you are interested in. For every purpose, there are many different avenues you could explore.
Build a structure that suits YOUR lifestyle not someone else’s.
Avoid being too strict about what you get done, but don’t be too loose with it. Working with a professional coach (whether that’s a movement coach, a business coach or a life coach) who knows how to build structure is great, because it can take the thinking out of your already busy schedule for you and leaves you more time and energy to focus on the work itself, whatever it is that you want to do.
For movement, I like the idea of having a set daily movement window: eg. from 8-9am every day you practice movement. The content of these sessions can change, depending on what you need that day or what your coach asks you to do (ideally these should match!) which means you are both flexible and strict. No matter what happens, this is time you dedicate to your body. If you get injured you can change the plan to work differently (you can almost always do something!) and if you’ve had a really bad sleep, then gentle stretching and more of a yin practice can make you feel wonderful.
Pay attention to the quality you put into what you do.
« How you do one thing is how you do everything » (Wil Brown).
Try to do each small thing with intent and awareness and curiosity. Treat each step of the process of the journey as a research project.
The final thing to acknowledge here is that everything comes and goes, and that nothing is permanent. There will be good days and bad days, days when you’re rearing to go and days when you’d rather stay curled up in bed. There will be days when everything you’ve dreamed of seems to come easily to you, and days when everything lies broken at your feet. And of course most of the time, you will be somewhere between the two. Try to enjoy each day as it is, and learn from the bad days as much as the good ones.
Your structure, purpose and motivation is there to serve you, not the other way around.