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Momentum, not Motivation

How Building up Steam Can Overcome Executive Dysfunction

By S. A. CrawfordPublished about a year ago 9 min read
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Image: Tanino via Pexels

"Motivation"

"Drive"

"Ambition"

These are the driving factors of the world, or so magazines and self-help books would have you believe... so, what if you're someone who struggles to find motivation and drive, or you find that your main ambition is simply to make it through the day? What room is there in the cut-throat world for those with mental, emotional, or physical issues that make finding motivation a stressful and often unfruitful venture?

I used to think that there was no place, no successful place, for people like me, but the truth is that the world does not need only one kind of person. Nor just one kind of success. Motivation works for some people, but if you're anything like me, that motivation hits in the early hours and flees when the sun rises.

Momentum is where it's at, in my humble opinion, and it's why I've been able to self-publish three adult romance stories, keep my business afloat, and take a digital marketing course in the last few years.

Momentum Vs. Motivation: What's the Difference?

To put it simply, motivation is the seed, the sudden flash of inspiration or an idea that drives uch to take action and make changes. Most of us feel it, but a lot of us struggle with taking that action and making those changes.

Momentum is a force or feeling that keeps us in action, which makes action sustainable. Think of it like sledging down a snowy hill, for example, motivation gives you the idea, gets you to open the door, makes you sit on the sledge, and take off. It's your weight and the momentum that the sledge builds that keeps you moving, however.

What this means for writing, for work, for exercise or any other life endeavour is that it's the small actions you take to start with that let you build up the momentum to take on bigger tasks.

Why Momentum Could be the Next Big Life Hack

If this all sounds like a kinder way to say "just get up and do it", please don't despair; that's not the point I'm making. Stress, mental health issues, and plain exhaustion can leave anyone in a rut.

The reason that focusing on building momentum is more achievable (in my opinion) than running on motivation is that it starts with what you can do. For many people, the belief that we are incapable of doing what needs to be done, or the feeling that it's hopeless to try is what really brings us to a halt.

I've been there before, and I'm sure I will be again, focussing on building momentum is the personal equivalent of trying to get a car out of the mud. You can't just spin your wheels until the engine overheats. Instead, you take steps to remove obstacles and help your car gain traction. So why not extend yourself the same courtesy?

If you want to get out of your emotional and mental rut, take some time to remove the things that are weighing you down. When we start treating ourselves with kindness, consideration, and understanding, it becomes easier and easier to make the progress we need to.

Examples of Momentum Over Motivation

I'm sure this all sounds like vague, nice-but-useless waffle right now, so here are some examples of building momentum rather than relying on motivation.

1) Debbie is depressed, she feels bad about the way she looks, she wants to lose weight to manage PCOS and regain some self-confidence. Unfortunately, she's exhausted all the time, she eats junk food to comfort herself, and she's struggling to sleep well at night.

If Debbie relies on motivation she will get up in a frenzy one day, clean her whole house, throw out junk food, buy nothing but healthy alternatives, and undertake a few days, maybe even a week, of highly strenuous exercise with a restricted diet. She'll lose weight, at first, then plateau because she's sore and exhausted. When she inevitably fails to uphold the incredibly large changes she has made to her lifestyle, she'll feel worse about herself, comfort eat, gain weight back, and give up because she has lost faith in herself.

Most of us have been Debbie or know a Debbie who has done this.

If Debbie instead tries to build momentum she might start by having a shower and tidying her home, then she could have some water and make herself a healthier meal. Or she might call her doctor to tell them how she has been feeling and ask for advice. Once she's done that, she might find out that she has co-occurring medical issues like hypothyroidism (which is common amongst those with PCOS and can lead to feelings of exhaustion, and rapid weight gain, and often leaves people feeling depressed).

Even if she doesn't, she might feel better knowing that there are no hidden issues. Once she's built some confidence, Debbie will notice that she's comfort eating less because she has started to feel less stressed and sad. This, in turn, will contribute to weight loss if she starts to take walks in the morning. Before you know it, Debbie could be 28 lbs lighter, her skin could be improving, and the small changes she made to her lifestyle will be sustainable because she made changes in stages rather than all at once.

If this sounds unbelievable, I have to tell you that this is exactly what happened to me; six months ago I weighed 260lbs. After three years of trying to lose weight, I broke down and went to the doctor. It turned out that I was not only suffering from depression, but that I had an underactive thyroid and PCOS, both of which can cause feelings of exhaustion, and difficulty in losing weight. In my case, this made pre-existing anxiety and depression issues worse.

I built the momentum I needed to make changes, took care of myself with help from my friends and doctor, and while life isn't all sunshine and roses it's better than it has been for years.

How to Build and Maintain Momentum in Your Life

Advice like "be kind, take care of yourself, make small sustainable changes" seems remarkably simple on paper, but can be incredibly hard to actually follow in real life. There's no way of knowing what will work for you, but these five tips helped me. Hopefully, they can help you too:

1. Start with an Honest Assessment

Being honest with myself about my ability to actually do what needed to be done was the start of my own process. I couldn't be consistent with diet and exercise because I was miserable, suicidal even, exhausted, and in pain more often than not. Admitting that I was in need of help was what got the ball rolling.

Whether you're finding it hard to lose weight, write a book, or progress in your career, you need to be honest about where you stand and what barriers you are actually facing. Before you can build momentum, you have to give yourself the best chance of moving from the spot you have been stuck in.

Write down your goal, and then write down all of the obstacles you see between you and it. Are you depressed? Do you lack confidence? Or do you lack the knowledge, skills, or resources to get you where you want to be?

Once you have that list, make another filled with possible actions you could take to overcome these barriers and build momentum. For example, a lack of confidence in your writing skill could be addressed by reading writing advice books, asking friends for feedback, and using writing prompts to break out of your comfort zone.

2. Necessity Should Outweigh Desire

The chance of maintaining a serious change in your life long enough to get results will be seriously hobbled if your basic needs aren't met. The hardest part of losing weight for me was accepting that I had to fix my relationship with food first. For the first few months, my weight fluctuated because I was trying to find the balance between privation and indulgence.

Removing guilt from eating is an ongoing process, but focussing on not comfort or stress eating meant accepting that I wasn't going to lose weight fast. Instead of giving up everything I enjoyed, I ate what I wanted in moderation, and when the weight started to come off slowly it was like a lightbulb moment; being healthy and happy is possible. You don't need to never eat cake to be a healthy weight, you just need to not eat it on a daily basis and be careful with your choices.

If you apply this to another topic, for example writing, building momentum doesn't mean forcing yourself to write every day as your life falls down. It can mean taking the time to care for your physical and mental health, to read, and to socialize before you tentatively start to write every second day.

3. Prepare for Failure, Have a Plan to Bounce Back

No one gets it all right the first time around; failing to meet one of your expectations or goals doesn't have to stop you dead. Accept that you will fail and plan for how you will react to this. If you miss a day of writing, or you fall off the wagon and binge on junk food, start by being kind to yourself.

There are plenty of studies showing that shame doesn't work - but kindness and encouragement do. Try to be proud of your failures because the truth is that what you now class as failure used to be normal behaviour. The fact that this is an anomaly is progress in and of itself.

4. Don't go Against Your Nature

We can change how we act, but very rarely can we make real changes to who we are. If you're a foodie, for example, trying to stop indulging in the kind of food that you love will only make you unhappy; instead, seek balance. Try to find healthy foods that give you the same enjoyment and allow yourself to indulge from time to time.

Likewise, if you are by nature the kind of person who writes in bursts, forcing yourself to grind out a certain number of pages a day might sap your love of the craft. Instead, give yourself a weekly or monthly goal that allows you to have a flexible schedule day-to-day. Your 'new you' moment doesn't have to stop looking like You. In fact, I'd argue that it shouldn't.

5. Build on Small Changes for Big Results

Overhauling your whole life in one fell swoop rarely ends well; those who make meaningful changes and build lasting momentum tend to take their time. To use the most common example of losing weight, there are those who focus on how to lose weight fast and generally they do just that. They lose weight fast and burn out before gaining back the weight they lost, or in fact, more than they lost.

Studies show that yo-yo dieting is most common amongst people who have been obese for long periods of time. While there are undoubtedly some people who manage to stick to extreme changes, therefore, there's a significant number for whom cycles of extreme change and failure are detrimental. Likewise, periods of restrictive dieting lead to plateauing as a result of lowered resting metabolic rate.

Small changes to dietary makeup and exercise habits, however, are far more likely to result in healthy, sustained weight loss. This process can help no matter what your goals are. So, for example, if you want to write a book, start by allocating fifteen to thirty minutes to write every few days, and if you find that works for you add to it.

More importantly, if you identify that certain changes aren't working for you, be flexible with yourself. Allow yourself to re-evaluate and work with your natural inclinations, energy levels, and rhythms.

Other Health & Wellness Articles:

- What is Burnout?

- Why We Need to Stop Romanticising Burnout

- How Sleeping Naked Could Change Your Life

- Drop the Hustle (Why Rest is Productiv)

- Does Drinking Collagen Work?

- It's Time to Stop Talking About Mental Illness (and Start Acting)

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About the Creator

S. A. Crawford

Writer, reader, life-long student - being brave and finally taking the plunge by publishing some articles and fiction pieces.

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