Overcoming the motivation plateau
October 13, 2014 4:20 AM   Subscribe

I've noticed this routine in so many acts of life, whether it be a new job, relationship, exercise routine, etc. At first there is excitement, new ideas, strong motivation. Then normality sets in and everything just seems to plateau out. Less excitement, boredom, loss of motivation. You keep going through the motions, doing the minimum, or perhaps you just quit. What can/do you do in this situation? How can you get your motivation and enthusiasm back for those less-than-new parts of your life?
posted by aarondesk to Human Relations (9 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Everything in life cycles. Accept this. Once newness wears off, you get to refine your ability to do new thing. Perhaps you look for new applications for your skills in the organization or you take on new projects.

I embrace the boredom and I spend more time here.

There's a reason "May you live in interesting times," is a curse.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:37 AM on October 13, 2014

It's a mix of learning to not take on things you later realize are bad ideas, and learning to do steady work. It takes practice and experience.

Regarding the ideas, though, I suggest trying to accomplish some small, complete piece while you're still excited. Then, that will be the new baseline for your next idea. You can make progress in this way even if you struggle to work on elective projects while tired of them.
posted by michaelh at 10:24 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's okay to lose motivation for 95% of new things, as long as there are a few things that you're excited about.

It took me years of trying different forms of exercise before I finally found something that I don't tire of. Before that, I tried every type of sport, gym class, training for races, etc, etc. I disliked all of it. Finally I figured out what works for me and now I've been doing it for 8 years and still love it.

I got bored of many internships and job projects. But once in a while, a job comes along that genuinely captivates my interest. Then I make sure to go pursue that job, no matter whether it requires moving, being out of my comfort zone, facing criticism from others, etc.
posted by vienna at 11:27 AM on October 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does this happen with everything and every relationship?

Can't tell if you are describing feeling at ease (less unsure, less stress and adrenaline) or if you are one of those people who has an unrealistic idea about how things will be and you crash every time you hit reality.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:08 PM on October 13, 2014

How to get motivation back is such a good question. Boy do I know what you mean. There is one thing I have noticed. Which is that there is often a transition period. For example, I have to do semi-regular bookkeeping, and it is tedious but sometimes I like it. I have to do it whether I want to or not. If time passes without doing it and I need to pick it up, I usually have no enthusiasm for it. The first day back on the job is no fun, just a grind, a chore to concentrate. But sometimes the next day is easier. And sometimes by the third day my enthusiasm has returned. My theory is that something happens when I sleep; as if my subconscious reprograms itself. Takes a couple days.
posted by conrad53 at 7:02 PM on October 13, 2014

Perhaps I should have been clearer in my original question. I'm not going through any major crisis or galvanizing event in my life. My question is just a more general question based on what I've observed in myself and others. Newness seems to have some sort of motivating power, while oldness often has the opposite, or at least neutral, effect.

I suppose there are people who experience newness everyday or have some ability to get excited about old and new, but I believe they are the exception, rather than the rule. Most people have a lot of old with some new mixed in. The easy (but perhaps trite) answer is to stop doing old things. This sounds great on paper, but not a reality for many (nor does it make sense).

Maybe a better way to put it - how do you make old seem new?
posted by aarondesk at 6:52 AM on October 14, 2014

i hear ya. i feel the same way sometimes. i think some of it has to do with growing up in a culture of over-stimulation. on the surface, we are connecting constantly, a lot of quick satisfactions, but hardly enough deep fulfillment, which takes time and long term investment. with the surge in social media, we are bombarded with all the amazing things that we're not doing. so yeah, you know, grass-is-greener syndrome and all that.

i don't know if there's a way to "solve" the need for newness, but perhaps an acceptance of it will help. knowing that social media is not a reflection of reality, realizing that boredom will come, knowing that the relationship honeymoon phase will pass...but also, for lack of better word, having "faith" that the emotional connection of a 20 year long relationship is more rewarding than any first kiss. think in terms of long term, the bigger picture.

i asked a similar question a while back and maybe some of the answers can give you some ideas.
posted by monologish at 9:23 AM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ah, dopamine. Dopamine makes things seem to flow. Novelty sparks dopamine and it supports motivation.

Adding to what has been said already you might try to reframe the old into something new. This is the same gym but I will use a different machine. How many compliments can I give my partner/friend in one day.

Or even taking a different route, listening to a different band. As the new turns into routine you can spark the same part of your brain by finding new ways to play with the pieces. The dopamine can flow better this way, which will create a higher baseline of motivation and interest. Read more about ways to trigger dopamine if this sounds useful.
posted by hungry hippo at 1:33 PM on October 14, 2014

Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher is about always wanting to do new things, and basically tactics to deal with that.
E.g. having common hobbies on rotation, or at seasonal times of year. Or just accepting that you like picking up new hobbies, and it's ok to just put it down when you get bored with it (but with that on mind, maybe don't spend too much on gear, etc).

If you don't have novelty/interest anymore, then turning something into a routine/habit/schedule, is basically how you most efficiently need the least willpower/motivation to get something done.
posted by Elysum at 5:31 AM on October 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

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