How do you sustain motivation in the long term?
Today, I asked ChatGPT about how to sustain motivation for the long term and it gave me a predictable set of ideas, including setting goals, breaking down projects and visualising success. It struck me that these sorts of tips forget about the nuances for creative people or business owners.
Here are three common variables I’ve spotted with my clients.
- You’ve been successful early on but you’re no longer fashionable
You may have been hailed as the brilliant newcomer in your industry and you were celebrated. But over the years, culture and fashions change and budgets go elsewhere. How do you keep going when you’re no longer part of the zeitgeist?
- You have a niche but you’ve been typecast and now you’re bored
You love your work but you’re bored and don’t feel challenged. You long to do something different but, with the safety of money coming in, it’s hard to take a risk.
- You overwork and you’re exhausted
This trait is also common. You’re the sort of person who’s so committed to your work that you can forget to eat or exercise. You may not even realise it but you’ve burnt out.
Do you recognise yourself in any of these tendencies?
I’ve experienced them all. I’d like to explore all three of them and give you my insights on how to manage motivation.
Successful but no longer fashionable
You come in with great ideas and start off with a bang. You get notoriety for being new or different. You gain awards, the press love you and everyone wants a piece of the pie. For a while, you ride the waves of adulation and you feel successful.
But then, one day, you realise there are several other people who have ridden on the back of your wave. Websites and Instagram accounts have popped up with people who’ve imitated your style or modernised it. You’re no longer special and someone with better marketing skills has taken over the stage. You’re left wondering what happened.
What can you do?
First, recognise that this is probably happening in your mind rather than in reality. It’s normal for the media and audiences to be drawn to new experiences, but you’re probably still popular with people who resonated with you in the first place. Fashions change and this happens all the time. Audiences are not judging you – they’re just going with what happens in any zeitgeist.
So – this could be an ideal opportunity.
The danger with early success is that it can thwart our creativity. We may try to please our audiences rather than please ourselves. So, this could be the perfect time to get curious again and reconnect back to what fascinates you now.
Take time out to mix up your ideas or do something for its own sake. Start creating without an agenda for it to be successful or popular. Do things for the sake of it.
Love doing what you do for its own sake and get your work out there from the heart.
You have a niche or a fanbase but you’ve been typecast and you’re bored
You may be a highly successful creative with a fanbase. You may be recognised. But in reality, you’re bored. You’re doing the same sort of work repeatedly.
This can be a painful position to be in.
Imprisoned by the need to keep churning out the work you know sells, secretly you may crave the days when nobody noticed you – the freedom of being anonymous. But it can be a trap.
What can you do?
This is nuanced. The most important thing is to be honest with yourself. What’s your key priority at this time in your life? Perhaps you want to have holidays or pay for your children’s education, so being a bit bored for a few years means you can prioritise what matters more than the hustle of starting over.
However, if you’re bored because you’re afraid of failure, then it’s probably time to take stock and reflect on what really lights you up.
Focus on being brave, over being the best. Bravery may mean saying no to work that’s comfortable, but your soul may be grateful.
You overwork and you’re exhausted
You are highly motivated and have a habit of working for such long hours that you can forget to eat, exercise or take breaks. This is a noble trait and can certainly lead to results but, over time, it can hide something deeply unhealthy.
One day, you wake up and no longer want to work. You are tired, irritable and the more you push, the less you want to work.
I faced this moment 18 months ago. My business had been going well, I had a steady stream of clients and a community that I’d built up.
I knew I was supposed to be consistent and continue to market myself, but, my motivation began to wane. I remember getting an enquiry and not feeling the usual excitement about working with a new client.
The reality was that I’d reached burnout. It wasn’t obvious to me as I was still functioning, but the signs were in my lack of motivation.
What can you do?
Recognise the signs. If you’re naturally highly motivated, then you may try to push more.
If this doesn’t work, then you probably need space. I encourage you to reconnect back to doing things that bring you joy.
Back to my story…
I gave myself permission to stop marketing myself.
I felt guilty that I wasn’t being a ‘good girl’ by offering regular insights to an audience that I deeply cared about. However, I also knew that I needed fresh input. I needed to replenish my tank and get reinspired. I took myself off to live by the sea and enjoyed a much more relaxed year of fun and pleasure.
Giving myself time out to simply follow my interests and passions was revitalising. I did a course in somatic coaching, went out dancing three or four times a week and got my fitness back. I gave myself full permission not to do anything – and it was a liberating experience.
So, in summary, I believe long-term motivation needs the following.
- Creativity needs space
In order to stay motivated in the long term, it’s important to take time out from projects and do new things. Even if it’s just a couple of weeks, taking time off is so crucial to help you create space and have time to reconnect with yourself. Doing things purely for the joy is so important for the heart to soar. When everything feels like it’s work, then it’s definitely time to take a break.
- Stay fascinated with what inspires you now
Pleasing others is never a good motivator. If we want to stay motivated in the long term, we need to find inspiration from our own source. Being honest with ourselves is key. Follow what you find fascinating. Share with the world what’s inspiring you now. Ignore what everyone else is up to.
I’d love to know your thoughts.