What if I Lose Interest?
Photo courtesy of Aubrey.

What if I Lose Interest?

Written by Neil Hughes

Topics: Multipotentialite Patterns

I was going to write about the difficulty of sticking to a task and seeing it through to the end, but I got bored, so here is a picture of a slightly squashed lemon instead:

lemon

Luckily, this picture of a lemon has reminded me of something: it’s difficult to retain focus and motivation.

Perhaps this is a problem for multipotentialites in particular, because we are at risk of not only being distracted from one writing project to another, but being distracted so hard we land in a different field altogether.

“Have you ever started a blog, only to accidentally end up designing a cathedral limited to building techniques available in the 17th century? #multipotentialiteproblems”

(Me neither, but you get my point.)

What can we do when the initial rush of interest inevitably fades?

What’s actually happening?

Before we can consider this question, we have to understand what’s actually happening when our enthusiasm dips. There are many possible underlying reasons for the loss of interest, and our approach will be different depending on which it is.

For example, ups and downs are a natural part of life. With any task or project there are bound to be phases of joy, excitement, boredom, frustration, and determination; in any sufficiently large project*, most human emotions will show up at some point.

* or task, career, course, etc…

If we don’t take time to notice that this particular emotional swing is simply part of the natural enthusiasm cycle, we might make a rash decision and scrap the whole thing needlessly.

In other words, just because I’m bored on one specific afternoon doesn’t mean I ought to quit my job. But if I never find interest in my job, perhaps I ought to consider some alternatives.

I think there are three broad “loss of interest” categories.

1) Natural emotional low

“I’m not feeling this today, but I was yesterday, and I might feel it tomorrow.” 

We don’t want to overreact to these. Ups and downs come and go. It’s worth monitoring. If this happens frequently, maybe we’re misidentifying what’s going on. In these situations, we might delve into our willpower reserves and work regardless. The feeling of progress can be rewarding enough that we overcome the lack of motivation – and even if we don’t feel it, at least we’ve moved forward. Alternatively, we might just need a short break, and find that the ease and excitement returns a day or so later.

2) Problems with this particular project

“Just because I don’t want to write this particular book right now doesn’t mean I don’t want to be a writer.”

It’s important to tease apart these levels. Maybe we don’t need a major change, but a medium-size tweak to the project will bring our enthusiasm back.

3) Genuine loss of passion

“I honestly have no interest in this whole thing anymore.”

In this case, we have to make some tricky calls depending on the circumstances. What do we stand to gain by continuing? What are the alternatives? Is it worth toughing it out to the end? For example, if we’re close to finishing a course, it might be worth getting the qualification… even if we have no interest in taking it further afterwards.

Or maybe we’ve reached our natural end point: we got what we came for, and it’s time to move on.

Regardless of what’s going on, it’s okay

Losing interest can escalate into a life crisis: “I’m not cut out to be a doctor/dancer/writer/multipotentialite/whatever.” Instead of panicking, try to work out whether what you’re feeling is a (#2) loss of interest or (#3) loss of interest.

For one person, an itch to study medicine might only be scratched by becoming a doctor, in which case, lack of interest is more likely to be a particular problem we haven’t solved (#2), than a total lack of passion (#3).

For another person, however, a loss of enthusiasm could mean the end of the medical road. Or it might just mean they need a break.

I find myself saying this a lot, but here we go again: There Are No Rules.

Most of us have absorbed beliefs like “I must finish what I start,” “if I really cared about something, I would never feel negatively about it,” or “if I feel bored I must quit.”

Sometimes we have even absorbed contradictory beliefs, which generates a lot of anxiety. Imagine simultaneously trying to apply the beliefs QUIT AND FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS and also QUITTERS ARE BAD PEOPLE.

But none of these rules are real. If we want to quit, we can quit; if we want to tough it out, we can tough it out; if we want to wait for our passion to come back (or seek to refuel it), we can do that too.

We’re not wrong for wanting any of these things. None of it makes us a bad person or a failure. We simply have to judge what’s best for us, right now. (And sometimes that may mean continuing with something we don’t enjoy, for a long-term gain. It’s all part of the calculation.)

Once we understand what’s going on, we can take action

Sometimes, understanding our loss of interest immediately suggests a solution. For example, if we genuinely have zero passion for something, perhaps we should work towards moving onto something else. But if it’s just the normal ebb and flow of excitement, we can carry on knowing that the joy will come back soon enough.

And then there’s the grey area where we could do with refueling our passion.

There’s no one way to do this, but here are a few ideas that may help to top up fading passions:

  • Remember why we started in the first place. Can we reconnect with our initial motivation?
  • Remember the end goal: what will be the result of finishing?
  • Remind ourselves of a time we enjoyed doing the work itself. Can we reconnect with that feeling of flow?
  • Tell someone else about what motivates us. (Even if it doesn’t right now, it might by the end of the conversation!)
  • Review what we’ve already achieved and consider how far we’ve come
  • Actually do some work, regardless of how we feel. Making progress can be inspiring in itself.

Your Turn

Have you ever lost interest in a project, course, or career? What was the reason, and what did you do about it? 

neil_authorbioNeil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety. Along with writing more books, he puts his time into standup comedy, computer programming, public speaking and other things from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question “so, what do you do?” and is worried that the honest answer is probably “procrastinate.” He would like it if you found him at www.walkingoncustard.com and on Twitter as @enhughesiasm.

35 Comments

  1. Catherine Chisnall says:

    Such a good post, Neil. I am always doing this- either starting a project and losing interest, or not daring to start something in case I lose interest. Its hard to know what to do.
    Another problem is lack of belief in myself- that I actually CAN’T finish a project because I’m not good enough. But that’s another topic I suppose.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Yeah, not even daring to start in the first place is the worst – I think it’s much more dangerous than allowing ourselves to just try and lose interest. As ever, it’s good to know I’m not alone :) Thanks Catherin!

      • Neil Hughes says:

        Ah, typo! “Catherine”, of course :)

        • Catherine Chisnall says:

          I feel like my life is in one of two states- rushing into something or waiting, waiting for something to happen o_O

          • Neil Hughes says:

            Now that you say that, that really resonates with me too! I wonder what the alternative is… contentment with where we are now?!

  2. Carol says:

    Wow, you summed up my whole creative life.,
    It may be awhile, sometimes days, months or years or never, but if the art wants to be done
    It will

    • Neil Hughes says:

      It’s weird how often we repeat patterns, isn’t it? As you say, there’s a mystery to getting there eventually.

  3. Roman says:

    What a good post! It’s a short summary about one of the greatest emotional problems!
    Most likely, everybody struggles with losing interest or enthusiasm from time to time. You are absolutely right that it might even turn into a life crisis, especially when you are bored, you have to change it, but these changes contradict to your habitual patterns of behaviour.
    Perhaps, lack of confidence, my current responsibilities, the fear for leaving the comfort zone, inner limitations .. all these things together often make me embrace my boredom ) and do what I have to do.
    Future results of the activity are able to motivate, it’s true. But they can’t erradicate boredom, it comes back ). I look up to people who can easily cope with this feeling.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Agreed! I sometimes crave being bored when I’m really busy, but as soon as I get bored I cannot tolerate it for even a few minutes. I think that’s something I should work on in future :)

  4. Rachel says:

    Thanks for article, Neil! My tack has always been to quit a job or change my major when I get bored and have a hankering for something new. I’m a philomath with so many interests, and I love pursuing each of them – until I don’t! The problem with this method of living is I never graduated from college, and I don’t have a “career”. (I was four classes shy of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Visual and Performing Arts when I left school entirely; I couldn’t stand the thought of not having English AND Photography AND Philosophy AND Psychology AND Business degrees, too – lol!) If I would have stuck with something – ANYTHING – I’d be farther along in life, and more secure financially, at age almost-33. I’m SO glad I found the Puttytribe – and joined yesterday! Emilie Wapnick’s TED Talk spoke my very language. I now have the motivation – and much needed group support – to find a way to combine my multiple potentials to really make something of myself. And your article, coupled with my own experience, helps me see that perhaps I ought to stop quitting things based on how I’m feeling at the time (which is something that my family of specialists – who don’t understand us multipotentialites – has been trying to instill upon me for over a decade). I’m determined to find a way to be successful here, with the help of the Puttytribe. See you all soon!

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Interesting. I definitely sympathise – sounds like we share that same itch to move on after a while.

      I think there’s something to be said for sticking things out, but finding the right time to move on is inherently tricky. Every life and every circumstance is unique!

      Look forward to chatting in the Puttytribe :)

  5. Blake says:

    Good post and one that I can relate to. My passion is learning something new and truly learning it but not being trapped long term by it in a career. My nightmare is to be stuck in a very focused area of work where the work tends to be redundant each day.

    I retired at age 57 after a great career in environmental consulting. I was the most satisfied in my career when our firm had many different types of projects going on and I was involved in all of them as a partner of the firm and manager. I managed the big picture and got to learn about the nuances of each of the projects but was not required to handle the very detailed items.

    Sales of our broad base of services was also a satisfying endeavor for me and addressed my multipot personality. This did not trap me into a detail related area and allowed me to learn about the services while I promoted them.

    Those are just some thoughts on possible career paths that worked for me.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Yes! I’ve always said that any given job is fine as long as it allows for breadth and development. I’m glad you managed to build a career for yourself that suited your personality – shows the rest of us that it’s possible :) Thanks for sharing!

  6. Jens says:

    Thank you, Neil, for this very timely reminder.
    Teasing out the different levels of interest loss is something I probably should work on.

    But that’s hard when you actually don’t know what you want. Any tips on how to figure that out? (Here or in a different post?)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Definitely a big question! (In fact, it’s currently high on my “to write about” list… so there will be a post at some point.)

      I struggle with this too. When you want “everything”, it kind of feels like you want nothing.

      A trick I sometimes use is going one level higher. “What do I want to want?” Sometimes this helps reveal my values, as I think something like “I wish I was the kind of person who wanted to climb mountains” – well, if that’s true, then I AM the kind of person who wants to climb mountains!

      (I don’t, actually. At least, not again.)

      Will think some more on it, but maybe that trick will help get you started?

  7. Keith Kehrer says:

    I always start out a project excited and as things get more detail oriented and harder, I get bogged down.

    I am a great starter but either have to find people to help me finish things or just buckle down and get them done.

    It’s a challenge though.

    Keith

    • Neil Hughes says:

      Ah yes, the new project energy is definitely an angle I could have considered too. I think what you’ve just said probably resonates with a lot of multipods.

      I consider myself quite lucky that 90% of the satisfaction for me is in completion so I’m kind of forced to continue once I’ve started. (An alternative way of looking at this is that people who enjoy the journey are more likely to continue because it’s less unsatisfying for them!)

      I guess it’s all about knowing yourself well. As you say, getting others to help you – or just doing it! – are great strategies. :)

      • Keith Kehrer says:

        Yeah,

        I have been around myself for a long time. I struggle with details and focus. It’s usually better when there are outside forces or deadlines though sometimes it’s just self motivation.

        KK

  8. Charlotte says:

    This article arrived in my inbox with such good timing! I am halfway through my medical degree and feeling a distinct lack of enthusiasm. But you’re so right that sometimes its not always the entire field that you’ve lost interest in, sometimes its just the project/ specialty you’re currently in. I think that is definitely the case for me as I’m about to finish a particularly rubbish placement but the one before was awesome.
    Thank you for the reminder that sometimes its just a bad day/ experience and don’t drop the whole lot if you know you love it really.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      :) Yay, I’m glad the timing was right! Funny that it was the same example I randomly picked when I was writing too.

      I had to struggle through the final year of my masters, but I’m glad I did, as looking back it WAS just a temporary thing. And having a bad placement is definitely motivation sapping – hope your next one is excellent!

  9. Pedro Leocorny says:

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts with us, Neil.
    I caught myself in this situation not once, but many times during this year, facing a (#3) genuine loss of passion. It’s good to know that you’re not alone in this tiny boat in the middle of this huge ocean of anxiety.

  10. Michael H says:

    Great Read.

    I find myself losing interest when the learning progress has been so fast until the bottleneck point. Finding what motivates me to begin the project since the beginning helps me to regain that passion.

  11. Yes, this can be a problem for me, too. I try to connect what I’m doing with something else that interests me, to find a new angle to what I’m doing.

    And sometimes a loss of passion or interest indicates some time on the ‘down’ side of the wave…. which can be boring or depressing, but also can be a place to be still and perhaps germinate a few ideas.

    Failing that…. I flip a coin to decide if I should continue (all else being equal, that is, like no point giving up one’s job if there’s nothing to replace it). Usually as it flies in the air I find myself suddenly rooting for one outcome. Once that’s clear, things get easier!

  12. Liisa says:

    Thanks Neil, very interesting!

    I find myself thinking after reading your post, maybe I’m not a “typical” multipod (if that exists) because I cannot recall ever getting bored with any of my interests or activities.

    Could it be that as I’m never passionate about them (in the sense consumed and devoured by enthousiasm) but go about it more calmly, I sort of never drop and quit anything? I just put on hold those activities that I cannot pursue when something more interesting comes along, but I know that one day I’ll come back to them and continue where I left them. Or not. But the knowledge and the capacity and the fundamental desire to do so are there. I feel like I’m living in the middle of dozens of cookie jars filled with activities and topics that I love and that I can just pick one up when I feel like it or let it hibernate sometimes for years. But even those that have hibernated for the past 25 years are still there, still very dear and interesting, and maybe I’ll get back to them at some point.

    Like horses. Between 10 and 15, I was constantly drawing horses and only horses. I only had the chance to mount a horse once in my life, but I learned everything about their anatomy and I went through as many photo books I could get my hands on, and just kept drawing them for years. During my A-levels other stuff took my time, and since those days I’ve come back to drawing horses only for a brief period. But I still love everything about horses, I have bought new photo books and I still think one day I will probably draw them again – or maybe learn to ride! For now, it is a great pleasure to see the photos and the actual animals sometimes in the fields, and that is enough. I tend to think that my love for horses has taken another form for the time being.

    The same thing has happened with so many other interests of mine, like wine and food for example. I no longer take wine tasting courses or talk about this and that wonderful restaurant/meal/recipe/whatever in detail and for hours. But I still enjoy a good bottle of wine, I still check the labels on the bottles, I still like an occasional feast at home or in a restaurant. But now it is mostly organic and/or vegetarian, with a touch of midfullness and a conscious choice of what-when-where-with whom-why.

    So maybe being a multipod in my case is that the objects of my love (=activities and interests) evolve with me, they change and mutate into something new and different, but in a way they are all still there, to be picked up and appreciated when and if I feel like it.

    Also, I don’t have projects or clear goals, only interests and activities with a vague idea of what I would like my life to be like 10 years from now. Even the two activities that are currently taking the majority of my attention and energy – because I want to earn money with them – are not projects in my mind, that is far too result- and performance-oriented for my taste. So maybe it will take five years, maybe ten, and maybe I’ll never get there. If I don’t, it means that I have evolved and these activities have evolved with me and maybe I’ve found something more interesting or profitable to do.

    I’m not anymore in a situation where I have to study for years for a degree and I don’t believe that I would undertake that kind of activity anymore. I never finished my university degree in linguistics and I don’t think I will go and finish it. But I’m still extremely interested in languages and the sciences linked with language and speech. One of my current jobs, competitive intelligence analysis, surprisingly has a lot to do with language analysis. So there, for this job I do not need the degree and it is maybe even more fulfilling (considering my profile) than a full time research job at a university might have been.

    What I would like to say, even if everyone probably knows this, is that nothing is ever lost or wasted, even if we lose interest. With time, surprising things can result from things we did or learned in the past in combination with all the new stuff, if we keep our minds open and receptive. So no guilt, no regrets, it’s all ok.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      This is such a great comment, I hope everyone reads it!

      I think there’s lots of different ways we express our multipotentiality, and I’m delighted to hear that you’ve found such a healthy way to hold onto many loves and to not get bored or frustrated with them.

      I’m curious – when you feel like it’s time for a change, it’s not because you are any less interested (or bored or frustrated) with your current situation, it’s purely out of desire for the new thing? How does it express itself for you?

      Thank you so much for sharing. It’s really inspiring – I’m definitely going to think about this answer next time I feel my passion for a project or situation waning.

    • Catherine Chisnall says:

      That sounds like you are a Cyclical Scanner according to Barbara Sher’s categories- its interesting to see the different types :)

  13. Nadia Ashley says:

    This post couldn’t have come at the most perfect time.
    I’ve been debating with myself if i’m on a up and down emotional swing with my career. After reading this, it has given me so much more clarity. I genuinely have lost the passion I once had for my career. I’m definitely eager to take another path and learn more.

    Thanks for your post Neil!

  14. Chuck says:

    Great post! I can def relate. I’ll say this, the one thing that I’ve done so far is, if I’m interested in something I seek mentors, and I build a team around me. Sometimes, when you’re alone in your dreams and aspirations, you can lose interest because it feels too heavy to carry. I’ve learned that I can’t do it alone, and there are like minded people out there just like me, ready and willing to assist. Team work makes the dream work, and I fully believe that.

  15. Kaitlin Marquardt says:

    Thanks for the article Neil!

    I suppose this resonates most with me leaving my PhD with a Masters, which definitely fell under number 2. I loved my research but I was having difficulty with my advisor for many reasons but finally left when she tried to shift my research farther from being medical/immunological research. I was definitely burnt out. I still miss it sometimes though. Sometimes I wish I would have switched to a different lab/advisor instead of leaving but it would have been like starting over anyways. And I’ve learned so much in industry developing software for physicians at a startup.

    Medical was my goal since I was 16 and I still think I might go. But ever since quitting my PhD, I remembered just how many interests I have and it’s hard to commit to just one thing to the exclusion of others. But all of my big commitments have revolved around understanding health and happiness in myself and others. And I think medical school could be the next big piece of that.

    I think it’s easy to look back at a moment and glorify the interest you had for that passion at that time.

    I think it’s also easy with a multipod nature to want to avoid commitments in order to be open to new things, and perhaps avoid the loss of interest we’ve experienced in the past. I think this is where I’m at now.

    I’m also curious about morals and values in regards to our interests. I have a sense, which could be wrong, that many multipods have strongly held principles regardless of our variety of interests. For example, I loved science but my interests in disabilities, intersectionality, global health issues/disparities and open source/crowd movements made me feel at odds with academia. The research, the subject and many of my fellow scientists were incredible. But the actual system I was working within was deeply flawed, closed off, elitist and biased, from publications to grants to the heavy English bias… it’s hard to want to contribute the amount of passion I have to that world.

    I think the role of the system/structure and the people we interact with have a huge impact on particular projects/careers/etc. It feeds into that #1 and is pretty hard to separate from feelings about the actual passion. For example, I’ve been made to feel “other” many times as a female developer. But that doesn’t mean I’m not passionate about coding.

    Those were some of my initial thoughts about this, very interesting article. Thanks again! :)

    • Neil Hughes says:

      This is super interesting, especially with how it may overlap with the need for systemic change – as you say, there are lots of ways to feel “other” in a work environment, from being an under-represented gender in that career, to being from another country, etc… and these things don’t happen in isolation from our general emotional ups/downs OR from our common multipod desire for variety.

      Teasing apart all the different levels of what’s going on is hard work.

      (As for avoiding commitments to be open to new things, I wrote about that previously here, which you may be interested in: http://puttylike.com/is-this-the-biggest-multipotentialite-fear/ )

      Thanks for your comments, Kaitlin, really appreciate your thoughts :)

  16. Liz says:

    Wow! Neil, where do I begin? Back in November (after 3 years of teaching every grade level, yearbook AND high school English) at a very small private school, I decided to quit education for good. I had been “in the zone” and “inspired” and then all of a sudden, I wasn’t. By this time I was TWO classes away from obtaining a teaching certificate (private schools let you teach without certification). I decided to plow through — how could I quit when I was so close to the end? So TODAY, I am fulfilling the last day of student teaching. Today I was offered a teaching position. I have an interview in a few weeks. But I have now been working as an HR assistant and I seem to be enjoying that immensely. So, driving home today I thought of my conundrum: to teach or not to teach. I read your article and it’s as if you have read my thoughts — today, of all days! Your post reads like a checklist for all the emotions I am currently feeling. Meanwhile, all I want is to be content. But it seems to me that the problem I have is the vast amount of choices that are available to me. I want to narrow it down (I really do) but my curiosity tends to cripple me more than it enables opportunity. If there is a course out there, I tend to sign right up! This is the reason, I haven’t committed to any particular PhD program. I am however, quite grateful for this place of serenity and acceptance; one step at a time. Thanks to all of you for sharing! I will be sure to continue reading.

    • Catherine Chisnall says:

      I know exactly what you mean Liz. I worked in special needs education for 10 years, I loved it! Then suddenly, other things became more important (plus lack of colleague support) and I lost interest. I can’t imagine ever going back to working in education now. Its like a switch has clicked off.

    • Neil Hughes says:

      :) I love when things resonate with somebody – I hope exploring your thoughts and feelings helps you to figure out the next step!

      Feel free to keep sharing here – this community is great at challenging people to figure out what they really want.

  17. sourabh singh says:

    Yes I can apply this for my competitive exams because I really not Intrested in some of the subjects but have to concentrate forcibly so as to learn the topics I like most.

  18. Uma says:

    Hi Neil

    That is an awesome lemon indeed :-))

    I have been constantly facing this… I have varied interests, I always dream of it, I have taken big risks to do stuff I had always wanted to, but you know what, I seem to be jus hanging around without creating much… be it kalamkari paintings, gardening or travel; its all in my bucket list and very slowly progressing over the years; I used to think its happening due to my busy schedule, but when I quit everything too, I didnt really accomplish big… very strange, I wonder if there’s any logic or sheer laziness

    I have never stopped, its always there in my to-dos but no big outcomes.

    thanks for sharing this issue…

    Uma

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