Score with a Halftime Goal

We’re already well into July. Time for a mid-year check. How are those New Year’s resolutions coming along?

If you’re like me, you cringe at that question, since those resolutions petered out…somewhere around the end of January.

Why is it we all struggle with this common problem of losing motivation? Especially half way through a long process or project.

Gung-Ho to No-Go

Here’s the usual pattern. At first we’re excited by a new creative pursuit, a personal development goal, or a work project. This is the year I’m going to write that book…lose those 20 pounds…sign that big contract. We delve into the project with as much enthusiasm as a fist-pumping eager beaver. Yes, we’re finally going to do this!

It starts out well. But as days pass into weeks and then months, the pursuit seems less interesting than at first. Motivation fizzles out like a launched firework that didn’t explode.

Then of course, some well-meaning person ends up asking how your grandiose goals are going. Forcing a sheepish grin, you mutter some excuse why your zeal has turned to zilch. You’re caught in that tension of still wanting to do it…yet not really wanting to.

Why We Lose Motivation

It turns out that familiar “stuck-in-the-middle” feeling is actually a proven phenomenon in the psychophysics of goal pursuit. According to researchers at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, people tend to lose motivation somewhere in between the beginning and the end. This is because “motivation is a function of perceived marginal value of progress.” That means your level of motivation is affected by your reference point of progress. If you’re measuring from the beginning with a to-date mindset, then motivation starts high and decreases. If you’re measuring from the end with a to-go mindset, then motivation starts low and increases. Research shows that people tend to start with a to-date mentality and then shift to a to-go mentality as they near their goal. This results in a U-shaped pattern, with motivation being lowest in the middle.

De-Motivating Factors

Besides the psychophysics explanation, there are also plenty of other reasons we lose motivation, which author Remez Sasson also attests to. How many of these seem familiar?

  • Lack of resources
  • Loss of confidence in one’s abilities
  • Being unsure how to proceed
  • Paralyzed by perfectionism
  • Fear of failure or of what others might say
  • Laziness and procrastination
  • The feeling that there are other more important things to do
  • Being too stressed or nervous
  • Absence of enough stimuli or incentives

We all get stuck now and then, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up.

Demotivated to Re-motivated

Here are 5 ways to get back into action.

  1. Take small steps
    Big changes happen one small step at a time. Reduce overwhelm by breaking a larger goal into more manageable ones. See my creativity talk on small steps.
  2. Visualize progress
    Once you’ve identified smaller goals, create some way to visually track the progress. For example, hang a chart on your office wall and mark it up along the way.
  3. Celebrate milestones
    With each small goal you accomplish toward the larger one, reward yourself for the progress you’ve already made. Have fun celebrating in creative ways.
  4. Get accountability
    Ask your family and friends to support you in attaining your goals. Find other people in your interest group and network with them for encouragement and fresh ideas.
  5. Focus on impact
    Imagine the positive results once you’ve finished well. Keeping the significant benefits in mind will help you persevere through the middle slump.

Getting Un-stuck in the Middle

motivation graphs 2If you’re feeling stuck in the middle of your long-term goal pursuit, then try making the midway point its own mini-goal. Taking a halftime break will help you turn the typical slump into a celebration time of how much you’ve already accomplished. It will give you the boost of motivation to keep going strong till the end.

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