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Breaking Through the Motivation Barrier

Understanding Motivation and How to Make it Work for You

What is motivation? I talk about motivation a lot in my practice, to the point where I use the words “motivate” and “motivation” without thinking about what they really mean. I would define motivation as what we need to get what we want out of life. But what does that really mean? Could motivation be that simple? I had to ask myself this question because my approach to motivation wasn’t working for me. I found myself stagnant in my personal and professional growth, despite having, what I thought was, motivation to accomplish my goals. Does this sound familiar?

To break through my motivation barrier, I turned to the experts and here’s what I’ve found.

Motivation, Defined.

The term motivation refers to factors that activate, direct, and sustain goal-directed behavior... Motives are the "whys" of behavior - the needs or wants that drive behavior and explain what we do. We don't actually observe a motive; rather, we infer that one exists based on the behavior we observe.

-Jeffrey Nevid

Too often people say their goal is to become more motivated. The problem with this way of thinking is that motivation is not a goal but rather the vehicle by which the goal is attained. Simply put, motivation is what influences behavior, thus our ability to achieve our goals. So, to these individuals whose goal is to be more motivated, I ask: Motivated for what? Motivated why? If you don’t have a clear idea of what you want and, more importantly, why you want it, then it will be hard for you to stay motivated.

Drivers of Motivation

The secret to success is learning how to use pain and pleasure, instead of having pain and pleasure use you. -Tony Robbins

In the world of psychology there is a theory of motivation called the Drive Theory. The Drive Theory believes that motivation is linked to biological drives and satiating our needs. There are various drives such as eating and sleeping; for goal achievement the most influential drivers are pleasure and pain avoidance. Pleasure relates to the good feelings that come from doing something enjoyable or achieving/receiving a positive outcome. Pain avoidance relates to steps we take to circumvent or reduce painful or negative experiences.

Too often when we think of ways to motivate ourselves we focus on the positives, the silver lining, in efforts to avoid or help us persist through pain. The problem occurs when the pain outweighs the pleasure. When this happens our biological response, motivation, becomes about figuring out how to avoid pain, which often means we take steps in the opposite direction of our goal achievement. In the book Rethinking Positive Thinking, author Gabriele Oettingen, a professor of psychology at NYU, states that by only focusing on the positive outcome the body relaxes to a dangerous point where one is unable to proactively defend oneself when encountering a threat to goal attainment.

To use motivation more effectively, we must visualize not only the success of attaining our goals but also the threats that jeopardize our goals.

Effectively Use Motivation for Goal Achievement

Planning is bringing the future into the present so you can do something about it now. -Alan Lakein

During my motivation breakthrough, I realized that although I knew what I wanted to achieve, I didn’t have a plan to do so. If motivation was the vehicle to get me to my goal, I was hitting the road with no map to guide me. Lucky for me, I found Professor Ottingen’s WOOP approach to goal achievement before I got too lost on my journey. It helped me break through my motivation barrier and I want to share it with you. WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacles, and Plan.

WISH: Allow yourself to dream up what you ultimately want and gain a

clear understanding for why. Remember: dreaming is not fantasy. Determine how your dreams can be turned into actionable goals with tangible outcomes--and then make them happen.

OUTCOME: These are the best possible results you hope to achieve. It can be the way you want to feel, the proof to let you know you achieved your goal, or small successes you plan to achieve along your journey. This step is all about realizing your potential.

OBSTACLES: These are the real threats you face in reaching your goal. When considering these threats ask yourself three things: what are the ways in which I hinder my success; what are the barriers that are out of my control; and what works and what doesn’t for achieving my goal.

PLAN: Planning consists of creation and evaluation. Plan creation should address both the outcomes and obstacles, as well as set clear intentions of the when, where and how for goal success. Plan evaluation should be approached with a growth mindset. This means the success of your plan is contingent upon achieving the goal and the effort you produce along the journey. If you have a setback, it’s OK. Evaluate the setback and, if needed, add it as a threat so you can adjust the plan to account for it. What is most important is that you use everything, success and failure, to facilitate


Putting it into Practice

Visualization is daydreaming with a purpose.

-Bo Bennett

To help myself put WOOP into practice, I decided to create a vision board. I absolutely love art for its ability to put my thoughts into something tangible for me to see and touch. Creating a vision board allowed me to properly outline each of the principles, using both words and pictures to give my dreams and goals purpose. Now, I have a map to guide me on my journey to success.

I’m motivated to take my counseling business to the next level and continue to help others who are struggling to find happiness in their everyday lives. I’m motivated to see my Color Me Happy project bring people together to learn, laugh and create. I’m motivated to be more present with my family and friends; to be the best wife, mom, sister and friend I can be. I’ve acknowledged my goals and can see them laid out for me, and it motivates me every day to keep working towards achieving them.

What are you motivated about? How are you going to get there? Create your own vision board and let me know how using WOOP has helped you with your goals.

Until next time,



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