7. What to do when SMART goals go bad and your motivation is tanking

If you’re suffering from a lack of motivation about your challenge, then you might be making this mistake.

Here’s rising Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios at the Shanghai Masters. He’s made up his mind that he’s not going to win and so he’s stopped trying. It’s a very strange thing to watch. Not surprisingly, he was booed and heckled by the crowd. He thinks that if he’s not going to win, there’s no point trying. He should end it as soon as possible, and save himself for the next game. But it’s maddening to watch, because it doesn’t take two seconds to come up with some really good reasons for why he should play as hard as he can, even if he thought he was going to lose.

So his thinking is clearly dysfunctional, right? You wouldn’t be like that, would you? Would you?

So when it comes to looking at your in-tray or your filing, or your garage, do you play like Nick Kyrgios or Roger Federer?

Well in the last blog I introduced the idea that most challenges are either ‘ramps’ or ‘steps’. When more effort leads to more benefit (like going on a diet or getting fitter, or cleaning the garage) then it’s a ramp. When you get the benefit all at once, or not at all, like diffusing a bomb, it’s a step.

Now the problem is we treat all of our goals like step goals. We treat them like they’re all or nothing. If we don’t reach the finish line, we might as well have not even started. Sometimes, even most of the time, telling yourself that is motivating. But if you ever start to think that you won’t make the target in the timeframe, then your motivation plummets, and you’ll probably bail early.

So what to do? Here’s my advice.

If you do start to feel your motivation dropping away, then check your assumption that your challenge is only worthwhile if you meet some arbitrary target. Do you really get nothing from persisting? Or is it the more you do, the better off you are?

The same is true for Nick Kyrgios. The more points he wins, the closer the match, the more he secures the admiration of his fans, improves his game, pleases the sponsors, and boosts his tournament fee.

The same is true for your in-tray and your garage. You don’t have to make it look as clean as an operating theatre. If you just deal with one piece of paper, put away one thing, you’ll be better off. What’s so hard about that? You don’t have to succeed at this goal. Any effort will produce some benefits.

So that’s ‘ramp’ challenges. But what if your challenge really is a step? So there’s a big consequence if you don’t reach your target. Well, that’s what we’ll be looking at in the next blog.


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