How To Find Motivation When You Feel Like You're Failing

Illustrated by Jasmin Valcourt.
By Griffin Hill 

Defeat is not a word that rolls well off the tongue. It’s a chewy sentiment; it takes mulling over, digesting, and eventually, the nerve to just spit it out. You feel done.

At one point or another, we’ve all been there, whether it be in our career, relationships, or future goals. You’ve hit one too many road blocks, and the idea of “pushing forward” isn’t just challenging, it seems ludicrous.

“I was so excited about this job when it first began, but now I dread going into the office.”

“The relationship started with so much passion when we first fell in love, but now we can’t seem to get through a conversation without one of us tuning out.”

I just need to read a new business book. That always makes me feel inspired and refreshed.” 

We’ve all heard the old adage, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” Over the years, it’s probably lost some of its inspirational factor, and understandably so. If you’ve hit the point of defeat, you have likely already “tried again.” And yet, the ambitious among us still find ourselves searching for motivation; we want the trick to getting back up quickly after we are knocked down.

There’s a correlation in these defeated sentiments; a link between a lack of emotion and a feeling of dissatisfaction. When we feel excited, passionate, and inspired, we associate those emotions with a strong sense of motivation. When they leave, we feel anxious to find them again. Motivation is defined by a force or influence that causes someone to do something. In essence, we are on the hunt for an external stimulus. We thrive when it’s present, and we falter when it’s not.

So, what’s the trick?

After living through many seasons of searching (and feelings of defeat) in my own life, I suggest that maybe, just maybe, motivation isn’t what you need.

In his memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl wrote: “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Too often, we let circumstances and emotions dictate our willingness to act, when we should be focused on articulating the why behind our existence. Frankl also said, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’” We are often so fixated on finding an external guide — be it a how-to, an inspiring blog, or a three-step process — in the midst of failure, that we rarely return to our internal why

Related: How To Finally Make A Decision 
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Illustrated by Jasmin Valcourt.

Consider this instead:

Motivation Is Fleeting 
In the fitness industry, motivation is king to most people. You eat too much during the holidays or hear a success story on The Biggest Loser and feel motivated to get back in shape. So, January rolls around, and you hit the gym every day. Group fitness classes are your go-to, and the elliptical becomes your second home. Then, a few weeks pass, and you aren’t seeing your six-pack. The excitement of engaging in a new challenge begins to wear off, life gets hectic, and suddenly the snooze button is set later and later, until the gym becomes a distant memory. A motivated person sets New Year’s resolutions, but a purposeful person forms lasting habits.

Motivation Drives Movement 
Often, we seek motivation because we are uncomfortable with stillness. Motivation gives us the drive to jump off the couch, take a leap, and face our fears. Yet, in the midst of defeat, we are often required by our circumstance to be still. This is when we need to be able to call on our purpose, to remember the bigger picture, and to refocus our perspective. Yes, our purpose can motivate us, but it can also give us a place to rest in when times are tough. Motivation is not always the appropriate response to failure because it is often an impulse reaction, and what we really need is time to decompress.

Motivation Is Situational
Our lives are comprised of diverse situations that require a wide range of responses. Motivation is situational and helps drive us towards a specific goal. Purpose, however, is universal. It is a solid foundation that we can return to in the midst of any hardship or failure. When we spend our time searching for motivation, we fixate on a specific problem that we feel the need to solve. When we rest in our purpose, we realize that one moment or failure never defines our existence. Motivation is localized, but purpose is a lifestyle.

Once, during a golf tournament, my father was given a piece of advice by another competitor. “All of life,” the man said, “comes down to a few key moments. Most of what you are experiencing is not one of them.”

When we let defeat overwhelm us and our emotions direct us, we are giving motivation the steering wheel in our lives. Feelings will fade and failure is inevitable, but purpose is the constant, the few key moments, that we need to cling to.

In the midst of defeat, are you hunting for your next source of inspiration or resting in the truth that you are more than a collection of your mistakes?

Next: Pushing Past Your Comfort Zone
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