Ever noticed how most trains these days have an engine at the front and another at the back? So instead of having to turn the train round when the train reaches it’s destination, the driver just walks to the other end and drives back the way they came.

This works really efficiently, the extra engine is justified by time saved and more efficient use of the tracks.

But what would happen if there were another rogue driver in the engine at the back, trying to take the train in the opposite direction? The driver at the front could be intent on setting off promptly and making the journey in good time, while the one at the back is standing on the brakes worrying about how fast the train might be about to travel, and what hazards there might be on the open tracks.

Sounds ludicrous, but this is exactly what happens with many of us when we are struggling to be motivated towards our goals. In our ‘engine’ at the front we have clear and straightforward objectives that we know are good for us, and which we want to achieve. In our ‘engine’ at the back we hold our fears about what could go wrong, or how scary our goal is. When the front engine is stronger, we forge ahead in spite of our fears, and this is when we feel motivated. When the engine at the rear is stronger we feel unfocused, fearful and demotivated.

So what can we do when our engine at the back is winning? How people motivate themselves is very personal and unique to them, but there are some common themes. When we are motivated and focused on the outcome, we can easily clear other tasks out of the way to find the time to do it, confident that we will make it work somehow. We may even make lots of pictures in our head of it all being done, or see people being happy with us and we can really enjoy what that will feel like. Imagine in this scenario our driver up front is in charge and the one at the back with their feet up, having a snooze.

When people are de-motivated, they tend to create internal movies of it all going disastrously wrong, or others being unhappy with them in order to feel really bad. Any problem or obstacle we imagine, we convince ourselves has no solution.

So if you find your demotivated engine is winning, what can you do? Well brute force is not going to work, neither engine can win this unilaterally. In the case of real drivers you would hold a meeting and make sure that both understood what the other was trying to achieve, then you would negotiate a common purpose between them so they could work together again.

Similarly if you have real concerns about a goal or project, then no amount of bullying or, “just do it,” encouragement is going to work. You have to take the concerns that are holding you back seriously and address them.

To address your concerns means you have to be honest about what they are. However, you may be fretting about something outside your awareness. A good way to draw any hidden objections out is to ask these four questions about whatever it is you are trying to achieve:

  • What will I gain if I achieve this?
  • What will I lose if I achieve this?
  • What will I gain if I don’t achieve this?
  • What will I lose if I don’t achieve this?

This is a way of looking at your goal from four different angles, some of which you may not have considered. Your answers may surprise you. At the very least they will help you gain some new perspectives.

It’s important to recognise that the driver at the back who puts the brakes on, is also trying to achieve something important for you. It may be about keeping you safe, unexposed, or making sure you are looking after yourself. If you can pause and think about what this reluctance to act is trying to achieve, you can find other ways of taking care of this concern that supports your current goal. Of course sometimes this may mean you have to change your goal, as you may find the concern is a legitimate one.

Often we are so focused on avoiding our worries that we have never, ever aired them, and when we do, we discover that they are not as big a deal as we imagined. I’ve seen people work out what the problem is, say it out loud, then immediately say in a surprised voice, “that’s nonsense, that really is just not a problem.”

I’ve also known people fearful of becoming successful because it could cause their family and friends to see them differently. Yet when they talked to their friends and family, were able to agree some rules, like speaking up if unhappy, or agreeing not to take work in specific places. Having these conversations gave all concerned some reassurance, which helped put those worries to rest.

So if you find yourself feeling demotivated about something that you really want to achieve, imagine your internal opposing train drivers keeping you stuck, then use these strategies to negotiate an agreement between them so you have both your engine drivers heading in the same direction. Then you can enjoy working towards your goals full steam ahead!

For more help with getting and staying motivated along with other freelance challenges such as remaining confidence and developing resilience, you can sign to the free e-course Overcoming Freelance Challenges.


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