How Do You “Un-slump” When Your Motivation Goes Away ?

“Of course motivation is not permanent. But then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.” ~Zig Ziglar

We talk a lot about motivation. Getting motivated, staying motivated. What is it? Where do we get it? Why do we lose it? Is it actually possible to motivate someone else? How is it we can get so motivated at times that we become almost unstoppable? And why does it play peek-a-boo with us and seem to disappear completely at times? (Don’t you hate it when that happens?)

Maybe we need to reframe our thinking and reconsider what we’ve always believed about the way motivation works. Socrates wisely taught that “all knowledge begins with a definition of terms” so let’s start there.

Motivation noun /mōdəˈvāSH(ə)n/

  1. The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.
  2. The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

Let’s face it, motivation is a fickle emotion. It comes and goes willy-nilly, and at times it dries up altogether. When it leaves us, we procrastinate, become lazy and undisciplined. We lose our mojo and often end up feeling bleak, sluggish and depressed.

We depend so much on motivation to move us that we become completely dependent on it to provide the push. Sometimes motivation doesn’t show up so we just wait. Big mistake! We can end up wasting a lot of time waiting for motivation to magically reappear and get us fired up again. When it doesn’t, we’re bummed, get discouraged and become even less motivated. It’s a tough place to be and it’s tough to climb out.

The hard truth is that motivation can’t be applied from the outside like some kind of ointment or patch and it really can’t be given to us by someone else. We can certainly be inspired by someone’s words or their story, but genuine, lasting motivation is always an inside job. And, we can’t always trust our feelings to generate a desire or willingness to do more or be more because our feelings and emotions sometimes lie to us. This may be completely contrary to what you’ve been told but our “feelings” are a product of that primitive “lizard brain” of ours that works so hard to maintain the status quo. That part of our brain just isn’t wired to know any better, it thinks it’s keeping us safe from failure, disappointment or embarrassment.

There are lots of underlying causes that can make our internal motivation falter. Take an honest look at your current situation and your overall health. Are you in the midst of a life storm and you’re simply overwhelmed? Is it all you can do just to keep your head above water? We all experience times when it takes everything we can muster just to get through a rough patch. Allow yourself time to heal and recover and while you wait, please quit telling yourself you’re just lazy.

Are you feeding your body with healthy food, drinking enough water and critically important, getting enough sleep? If you aren’t taking care of your legitimate physical needs it’s almost impossible to push yourself to higher levels of performance. Burnout is an epidemic and sometimes a person really must ask himself if the relentless push is really worth it. We’ve got to make a genuine effort to achieve a reasonable balance and maintain realistic expectations for what is possible. It is my opinion that we often hold ourselves to impossible “magazine” standards. Strive for excellence but please understand that perfection is a cruel illusion.

So what’s the magic formula? There are just two basic ingredients in the “secret sauce” that fuels our internal motivation. One is to deeply understand what matters most to us so we have clarity about our worthy values. The other is the way we answer the countless questions for every moment, those small decisions we must make again and again through the course of our daily life. Starting with those two elements, we establish goals, form habits and create actionable steps that can move us with intention toward  living a life that is aligned with our personal philosophy. In the end, Aristotle was right; our habits trump almost everything else and ultimately determine who we are and what we become.

Dr. Suess, another very wise philosopher who genuinely understood human emotion, said it this way; “When you’re in a slump you’re not in for much fun. Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.” I love the completely unique and poetic way he had of expressing how we feel about life, even before we know it ourself!

We’d like to know what has worked for you to get out of a slump or overcome a loss of motivation. What tips or tricks did you use to get back in the game? Was it getting some rest or reading an inspiring biography? Were you helped by taking some time to journal your thoughts or spend time in prayer? Or did simply allowing the passage of time change your outlook?  Next time, we’ll explore some of the things you share with us and tell you what today’s researchers, scientists, pastors and counselors suggest doing when you need to get unslumped! See you next week!


  • Gail

    Looking forward to your blog – each one is full of gems. For me, if I’m in a slump — it is either that I really honestly don’t want it enough (might change later) or I am taking on too much at once (think mini steps).

    • Betty Streff

      You are so honest! I think most people discover that’s *exactly* what’s going on when they are in a slump (if they would admit it)!

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