I’m Just Not Motivated: 6 Categories of Motivation

I have to be honest with you.  I really struggle with motivation, so much so I think it will be a struggle for a very long time.  I don’t know if it’s the mild depression inside of me or my laziness (or both), but I often find myself not wanting to do anything.  I sometimes feel like going places and doing things.  I sometimes feel like being productive and getting things done.  But I struggle.  I know I’m not alone because one of the top 10 blogs I’ve written is “I’m Just Not Motivated” Part 1 and Part 2.  We can even call this Part 3.

As I’ve reflected on my motivations, my heart desires, and what motivates me, I’ve discovered 6 Categories of Motivation that exists in the heart.  Why only 6?  I don’t know, there are probably more, but these are the ones that seem to reign in my heart, and I think may be present in your heart as well.  These categories are important because they show us a little of why we do what we do.  I’ve found when we place tasks into certain categories, this help us become more motivated to do these tasks and stay on track.

Let’s take a closer look at these categories of motivation…

6 Categories of Motivation:

(1) Want To: We do what we do because we either want to or don’t want to do it.  The “Want to” stems from the heart’s desires, wants or feelings.  As you read in the statements above, when I “feel like” doing something is often when I do something.  If there is no urgency, there is no need to do it (see #5).  This is where I and many others get stuck.  The “Want To” can be can be equally positive as it can be negative.  Why do I show love to my wife?  Because I want to show her love.  I love her (positive).  Why don’t I show love to my wife? I don’t feel like it at times.  I feel like doing what I want to do (negative).

Procrastinators don’t want to or don’t feel like doing work.  There is no need or urgency to do things now.  So, we obey our feelings until we can no longer wait and either have to (#6) or need to (#5) do the task.  Procrastination creates the urgency to get things done.  It is shifting a task to a different category.

(2) Willing To: We do what we do because we’re willing to do things.  The task is not necessarily in the want to category, but these two can work together simultaneously. If a person is willing to do something, the task is not a desire, per se, but perhaps due to the relationship, they are willing to do something for the other person.  They may be willing to do a requested task out of love or respect for the person, or perhaps out of fear of conflict.  But since they are willing to do it, there is a purposeful act of the will and typically does not have any resentments brewing beneath the surface.

One common example occurs in marriage when one partner desires love and affection from their spouse.  Let’s say that a wife wants her husband to want her and pursue her affectionately, but affection may not come as natural to him.  Yet, if he is willing to show her such affection, than that is an act of love.  She would be wise to accept his willingness to show love, and not let her need to be wanted control her emotions.

(3) Ought To: The “Ought To’s” in life are about doing what is right (as opposed to what is wrong).  If we have a decision to make and one of the decisions is morally right, we would say that we ought to do it.  Let’s be honest, we don’t always want to do what is right. We don’t always want to help someone in need.  It’s not convenient and we may sacrifice time, money or resources we don’t want to give away.  We are inherently self-centered.  But there are times we make decisions because it is the right thing to do.  We move past our self-centered feelings and decide to do a task which we ought to do.  Maybe the ought to involves helping someone, but maybe it is simply going to church, completing a chore, or obeying a traffic rule.  If we choose not to do what we ought to do, we might say we feel “bad,” but typically we won’t feel too bad.

(4) Should Do: A close cousin to the ought to’s is the should do’s.  The should do’s are like the ought to’s in that it is typically the right thing to do, but it has an expectation attached to it.  I should do something because it is expected by me or someone else.  If I don’t do it, there is typically a consequence associated with it, whether it is from another person or from oneself.  Typically this comes in the form of guilt or punishment.  One not only feels bad for doing what they should have done, but they feel guilty about not doing it.  This guilt is felt because another person may be “shaming them” for failing to meet their expectation, or it is guilt from oneself where shame is felt as a form of punishment and unmet expectation of self.

(5) Need To:  We do what we do out of necessity.  There is a need to do it.  I find that this is one of the most productive motivators of people.  We are typically motivated to eat and drink because there is a need to eat and drink.  We are motivated to sleep because we need sleep.  We are motivated out of necessity.  While Maslow has his hierarchy of needs, many people have moved their wants into the category of needs.  My teen sons are motivated to work so that they can earn money to purchase a new phone (which seems like a need in today’s society).  They are motivated to come home by curfew because they know the consequence is to lose driving privileges (a need for a teen).  Dinner needs to be served. The house needs to be cleaned before the guests arrive.  When we see things as needs, we find motivation to get things done.  Though we may become stressed if there are too many tasks in the need to category.

(6) Have To: We do what we do because we have to do it.  When we have to do something, choice is removed.  We have to do it.  When we don’t have a choice, or believe we don’t have a choice, we will most likely do it.  The have to’s and the need to’s are similar in that the urgency to do something is fairly high.  However, when we have to do something, there is an “or else” component that overshadows the tasks.  I have to clean the house or else people will think I’m a slob.  I have to study or else I’ll fail.  I have to get this project done or else I’ll get fired.  After a short time, one can become enslaved to the have to’s of life.  If we have to do things over and over again, there will be a lack of joy, satisfaction, and peace.  Having to do things, or feeling like you have to do things for others, is an issue in many marriages.  If you have to keep a clean house, get dinner on time, or do something out of fear, you will likely lose your identity and feel enslaved to another’s moods.

On the positive side, however, the sense of urgency when things are in the have to category is enough motivation for tasks to be completed.

For some individuals who struggle with motivation, it would be good to move the task to another category in your mind.  If you move a want to task to a need to or a have to task, the sense of urgency changes and you take away your choice.  Creating a sense of urgency is one of the most important methods to motivating oneself into action.  If there is no urgency, there will always be the choice not to do something…and we won’t do it.  We’ll be overcome by distraction or other things we like to do.

I believe that those who are most successful in fighting addictions or sinful habits, or lifestyle changes and diets, and those who are closest to the Lord, have created a sense of urgency in their hearts and minds.  It’s not a choice to live in sin anymore.  It’s not a choice to be a lukewarm Christian, but to seek after Him with all one’s heart.  It’s not a choice anymore to be enslaved by addictions.  By taking away the choices to serve self, they instead are choosing God, better health, or family and relationships.  They choosing to love others by taking care of oneself.

Whatever your struggle is with motivation, make the task urgent. Creating a sense of urgency by removing the bad choices, followed by setting up rewards, consequences and accountability for yourself will more than likely move you in a positive direction.  

My prayers for you (and myself) will be that we make our relationship with Him more urgent.