The Four Horsemen of Motivation Death (and How to Defeat them)

Conquer your mind before trying to conquer the world.

Life is a carousel of ideas, some are enticing and sound like the best thing to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon, whilst others might be relegated to a stressful Monday that was already ruined beyond repair. But what really sets a good idea apart from a bad idea is how far you make it before you quit, or finish. That is all down to your motivation.

We’ve all been there, halfway into a project with your hands three knuckles deep in a drawer desperately looking for something you can’t find, and then the next day you decide you need a break — after all, you have been working very hard and it’ll be easier to search tomorrow! But the day comes and goes and you extend your downtime another day, saying it won’t hurt because you’re so far ahead that you’ll easily be able to catch up. Except you don’t, and probably never will.

The reason this sounds so familiar is that everyone does it; we all have our very own graveyard of dead projects and wasted time, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, but definitely something we should change. But how? By facing off against the biggest and baddest horsemen to ever tide our streets.

The Horseman of Impatience

Anything that is worth doing, is worth doing well. And anything that is done well, takes time.

Ominously motivation-absent clock
Photo by Thomas Bormans on Unsplash

We all have to recognise that good work, the type that makes you stand back and take a moment to appreciate it, takes a hell of a lot of time and even more effort. You cannot wake up with a desire to learn the piano and then return the bed the same day as a savant, perfectly fluent in Chopin’s greatest hits — instead, it takes practice. And yet, all too often, a new idea will grab the reigns of your mind and set you to work like never before, resulting in you spending whole days refining your ideas and making them a reality.

You will start to set unreasonable goals and even harsher timescales to finish them all at the same time. And by the end, you will have turned the wonderful, sometimes transformative, idea you had today, into a deep pit of despair tomorrow. Days will pass with unmet deadlines and you will feel like a failure, unable to realise your goals, not realising they were impossible. Fatigue will slowly set in, and after some soul-searching, you will resign the idea to the grave, another victim to the horsemen.

Instead, when you created one goal, you should have created five. Or maybe even ten. Being able to consistently accomplish minor goals in a laid back way will give you frequent bursts of motivation and positive feelings that we all need to carry on. Also, by praising yourself for reaching your goals, you will be even more likely to continue past any hurdles and fly into the completion phase of any project. Knowing that you are making progress is essential in keeping your motivation levels above normal, but it is just the first step.

The Horseman of Perfectionism

The greatest burden that a person can carry, is the feeling that they are inferior, or that what they produce lacks a tiny detail that would make it complete. This exercise of assuming that something is flawed can only lead to soul-sucking defeat. Perfection does not, and will never, exist in our world — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, just don’t obsess.

Office supplies
Photo by Javier Quesada on Unsplash

If you do, you will forever feel the fatigue that is born from the pursuit of the flawless and never escape it.

“The desire for perfection often leads to the awakening of the Procrasdemon. Allowing yourself to make mistakes is the single most effective way to get rid of it.” — Neeraj Agnihotri

For some, overcoming this can be a lifelong journey and I can only point you in the right direction. And that is not to worry about the little things, instead focus on meaningful changes, and measurable differences that you can see and feel. These will be the difference between wild success, and utter failure, not the colour of the packaging, and certainly not the font-face.

By saving your energy from being wasted on the unimportant, you will be free to innovate like never before, and if those small problems do bear teeth, then they have become a problem worth facing, and you will do so with the strength of ten.

The Self-Deprecating Horseman

No one sets out to put themselves down, it just happens. You could be browsing Reddit, taking some well-deserved rest from a project that is cruising along, and then out of nowhere, you see something that entirely upturns your views. A passing glance at someone else’s ideas has cast a dark shadow over your own ideas and you suddenly feel that it isn’t worth continuing. Your motivation begins to die.

humorous image of a cactus being measured
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

But there are 7 billion people in the world, and if you try and beat each and every one of them, you should prepare to be disappointed. Extremely disappointed. Comparing your achievements to other people is a pointless exercise, your life is your own and to judge it based on another will always bring disappointment as every life has its own challenges.

Instead, use these moments of reflection to help you identify exactly what you think is better about a competing idea; use that analytical part of your brain that notices the differences between the two products and put it to work on making the perfect blend of both of them. This will keep prevent you from spending your precious, and limited, energy in the wrong place.

Spending your energy in the right place will propel you leaps and bounds ahead of where you would have been if you were still thinking about someone else’s life and the things you can’t change.

The Horseman of Neglect

Motivation is a fickle mistress, the boon of everyone lucky enough to garner her affection, but should you neglect her, then feel her wrath.

You have to constantly nurture your motivational feelings, even if it means doing something completely different for a while. Because if you don’t, just like a houseplant deprived of water, it will die and you will have to spend months nurturing a new one.

plants dying
Photo by Hikmet Çınar on Unsplash

Luckily, it is easy to keep your mind watered and thriving with motivation . You can do any number of things depending on your goals. If you want to stay dedicated to one thing, and one thing alone —create vision boards. An excellent way to distil your ideas into their purest form, it also has the benefit of being a visual reminder for everything you want to do. Remember, humans are visual creatures.

Alternatively, you could take your mind off your goals entirely, instead choosing to focus on personal pursuits like fitness and healthy living; both of these are incredible ways to supplement a well-rounded life and their benefits will bleed into the rest of your life.

Key Points

  • Set small, achievable goals that you can consistently hit to keep the dopamine flowing and the motivation churning.
  • If you do not nurture your motivation, then be prepared to lose it. And it is not easy to get it back.
  • Perfection is a construct, created by those who overthink. Breaking free of this will give you freedom like you have never felt before.

It is only by fighting back against the demons of our minds that we will ever triumph.

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