“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Author, The Brothers Karamazov)
“You’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you’re never as bad as they say when you lose.”
Lou Holtz (Former Head Football Coach, Notre Dame)
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.”
Zig Ziglar (Author, Born To Win)
I’m going to die here.
That’s what I felt like.
There was no escape.
I had been in graduate school for five years and was completely stuck.
My advisor refused to let me graduate.
My only option was to keep coming into the lab to work 18 hours days with no idea why I was doing what I was doing.
What was the point?
I wanted to quit but I couldn’t.
I couldn’t just throw away five years of work.
So I stayed.
I dragged myself out of bed every day and dreamt of being somewhere else every night.
I was too miserable to move forward, yet too invested to turn around.
Once I lost my sense of growth, everything started spiraling downwards.
I started getting sick all of the time.
My relationships suffered.
Nothing seemed to matter.
It wasn’t until I actively defined new, measurable goals for myself that things turned around.
By creating a new reason why, a new purpose, I re-energized my life.
Suddenly, I had a target to hit.
Now, I could measure my progress towards this target and feel a sense of growth as a result.
A few short months after creating these new goals, everything in my life changed.
I graduated, got a great job, and started traveling the world and setting up my own businesses.
Why was measuring my progress so motivating?
Feeling Helpless Is Caused By Not Having Your Needs Met
People experience pain when they are not fulfilling their prime needs.
Your prime needs are the desires that drive you to take action in your life, the things you want beyond your physical needs.
All behavior is simply an attempt to meet your prime needs.
A report by the Harvard Business Review shows that we are all driven by specific needs and these needs can be used to motivate both yourself and others.
So, what are your prime needs?
It turns out, in the universe of human needs there are three that sit at the top of the pyramid: Growth, Connection, and Autonomy.
If you’re feeling helpless or experiencing any other kind of pain in life, it’s because you’re not meeting one or more of these prime needs.
Your pain may also be the result of your needs being off balance or in competition with one another.
For example, the need for Connection and the need for Autonomy often conflict.
When your Connection cup is overflowing—in romantic relationships, for instance—you may feel like you’re suffocating or losing your identity.
When your Autonomy cup is overflowing, you may feel isolated and lonely. This is where homesickness comes from while traveling.
The only way to resolve the pain is to identify which needs are not being met and work to correct the deficiency.
Once the painful experience is resolved, you can use it as motivation to never experience that pain again.
Growth is the master of your prime needs.
True happiness is experiencing growth in every area of your life simultaneously, including growth in your levels of Connection and Autonomy.
The problem is when you stop experiencing growth, it can be extremely hard to get motivated to start growing again.
7 Ways To Take Action When Feeling Helpless
Knowing your needs is not enough to get motivated.
You also have to know how to tap into your needs.
The first step is recognizing that feeling helpless or lazy is simply a sign that you’re not having your needs met.
You’ve stopped feeling a sense of growth, or a sense of control over your environment, or a sense of connection to others.
The only way to stop feeling stuck is to start meeting your needs.
This can be done in a variety of ways, including accepting something for free, putting yourself in an unwinnable situation, or by creating a measurable goal.
You need to get your fire back.
You need to stop focusing on how you’re feeling and start focusing on taking action to meet your needs.
Here are 7 things you can do to get motivated to meet your needs when you’re feeling helpless and stuck in life…
1. Surround yourself with triggers.
What you’re surround by affects your thoughts and behavior.
If something is out of your sight and other senses, it’s out of your mind.
But if it’s in sight or being sensed in any way, it’s in your mind, whether you’re consciously aware of it or not.
In the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, author Jonah Berger provides data showing that NASA’s Mars Pathfinder project increased sales of Mars candy bars simply by acting as a trigger.
People heard about NASA’s mission to Mars on news outlets over and over again and responded by buying Mars bars.
There are numerous ways to trigger yourself to action.
You can set up automated emails, text messages, or calendar updates reminding you to stay focused or take a particular action.
You can put up motivational quotes in your bedroom, or on your bathroom mirror or fridge.
Or, you can create an entire vision board of your goals.
2. Plan an exciting event.
Always have something to look forward to.
Studies in the book, The Happiness Advantage, show that simply setting a date for an enjoyable event raises endorphin levels in your brain by 27%.
The best part is this enjoyable event does not have to be big.
It can be a date to watch a movie, have coffee with a friend, or go for a walk somewhere new.
The book also showed that feelings of happiness and positive motivation will increase every time you’re reminded of this event.
Another study published in Review of Finance showed the excitement motivates people to take action more than any other emotion.
In the study, participants were divided into 4 different groups. Each group watched short videos that were either 1) exciting and upbeat—car chase scenes; 2) emotionally neutral—segments from a historical documentary; 3) fearful—scenes from a horror movie; or 4) sad—scenes from a depressing drama.
After watching the videos, each group played a computer game that allowed them to trade real-life items with each other.
The study found that people who watched the exciting videos took significantly more action than those who watched the other videos.
3. Meditate on rejection.
Rejection is a motivational tool.
Too many people make a mistake, fail, or get left out in life and then sulk about it.
The problem with this is that pausing to sulk or lick your wounds makes it more likely that you won’t try again.
The longer you allow yourself to feel helpless, the harder it is to stop feeling helpless.
A better strategy is to use the fact that you were rejected to get motivated and try again right away.
You’re biologically wired to do this.
A Stanford University study found that being prevented from achieving a goal increases your desire to obtain it.
The more you’re rejected, the more motivational energy you’ll have.
The key is to not hide from these feelings of rejection, but to use them to your advantage by turning your pain into productive action.
4. Accept a handout.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch and accepting handouts is almost always a bad idea.
That is—unless you harness your feelings of owing someone something.
These feelings are the result of the rule of reciprocation.
In 1974, a sociologist named Phillip Kunz conducted an experiment where he sent out 600 Christmas cards to total strangers.
Each card was handwritten and contained a picture of his family.
He ended up receiving over 200 handwritten replies from these strangers, some of which were 4-pages long.
The strangers felt like they owed Phillip something, even though they had never met him, and so they reciprocated the action in a positive way.
You can use the rule of reciprocation to drive you to action.
By accepting or even asking for a gift or handout from someone, you’ll lock yourself into the rule of reciprocation.
Now, you’ll either have to take action to give back or experience the pain of feeling like a mooch.
A simple example of this would be asking for someone’s help in promoting a personal project like writing a book or starting a business.
You’re having trouble getting motivated to get your project off of the ground, so you ask for help.
The person or people you ask agree to help you and start to offer aid.
Now, you’re stuck.
Now, you have to take action too.
Not only do you have to eventually return the favor (which means you have to get into a more successful position to be able to return the favor), you also have to work hard to make your project successful so you don’t look bad to the people you asked for help.
Only a complete loser would ask for help and not work hard to help themselves.
5. Appreciate yourself.
Everyone needs to feel appreciated.
The need for appreciation is one of the ways we fulfill our prime need of connection.
The problem is that most people only allow other people or external items to fulfill this need.
Studies out of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University showed that the less a person’s work is appreciated, the more money they will want for doing it.
In one study, participants were given a piece of paper filled with random letters and were asked to find pairs of identical letters.
Each round, participants were offered less money than the previous round.
People in the first group wrote their names on their sheets and handed them to the experimenter, who acknowledged their work before putting it in a pile.
People in the other groups had their work ignored or shredded immediately upon completion.
Those whose work was ignored or shredded needed twice as much money to keep doing the task than those whose work was acknowledged.
If you need money, praise, or any kind of external validation to get motivated, you’ll never stay motivated for long.
The only way to get motivated and stay motivated is to validate yourself.
You need to appreciate your strengths and your work on a daily basis.
Only then will you stop feeling helpless every time one little thing goes wrong.
6. Make your life harder.
The harder something is to have, the more you will want to take action to have it.
In the book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, author Dan Ariely describes a series of experiments where people were instructed to create specific origami shapes.
Some people were given instructions on how to make the shapes, others were not.
Those who were NOT given instructions were willing to pay more for their finished products, even though, on average, they were uglier.
These people also reported feeling prouder of their finished products.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that achieving easy goals will somehow help you build momentum towards bigger goals.
It won’t. Instead, it will drain you.
Chasing small-minded goals is exhausting because the prize at the end is insignificant.
As a result, as soon as an obstacle arises, you’ll give up.
Why battle an average-sized obstacle for a small-sized goal.
It’s not worth it.
Chasing giant goals, on the other hand, will infuse you with energy and keep you motivated even in the face of big obstacles.
7. Measure your growth.
Growth is the most important human need.
Without a sense of growth, your mental and physical energy levels will shut down.
The only way to protect your mental energy and stay motivated is to constantly feel a sense of growth.
And the only way to constantly feel a sense of growth is to consistently measure your progress.
For example, in a study published in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, participants were asked to build Lego characters.
All participants were paid decreasing amounts of money for each subsequent character they built.
One group’s creations were stored while the other group’s characters were disassembled as soon as they were built.
As a result, the group who could see their progress made an average of eleven Lego characters each.
Participants in the group whose characters were immediately broken apart made only seven before they quit.
Without a sense of growth, motivation dies.
The more you measure, the more you energize.
The key is to measure only the things that will ultimately affect your outcome.
Getting motivated and taking action after making a mistake can feel like an uphill battle. Life’s little failures have a way of piling up and making you feel helpless. When this happens, the worst thing you can do is start complaining about your problems or licking your wounds. Instead, you should channel your feelings of rejection into positive action. You should surround yourself with positive triggers and start measuring new growth right away. Keep yourself motivated by appreciating yourself, asking for help, and chasing big goals, not small goals.
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