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