This past week, I've gotten to thinking about enthusiasm and what can be done when it seemingly disappears.
It’s a theme I began noticing in Summer 2017, when I started writing in earnest about some of folks’ more common struggles to actually do the things they were saying they wanted to do in and with their lives. This particular struggle around waning enthusiasm emerged as a top contender.
More than a handful of readers and clients have reached out to me since then, all wondering where their eagerness runs off to so soon after embarking on a new project.
“How do I keep going after the newness and excitement has worn off?”
Lately, folks are wondering where their motivation has gone after just four weeks into the new year. They think something's broken; they did it wrong; why are they flagging in their go-get-'em-ness so early on in 2019?
They feel an absence of enthusiasm and it sends them into a panic.
What if their low enthusiasm means something—about the success of their goals, their overall tenacity, their ability to commit to something and see it through to the end? What if it means they’re flakey or flighty or generally impossible to please for longer than a week at a time?
Enthusiasm can be a hard thing to maintain, especially when it's January 29th and your planner doesn't seem so shiny and encouraging anymore and your habit tracker is already missing a bunch of check marks and the one thing you were certain you'd accomplish by now has been back-burnered and this month just doesn't feel like the start of a new anything.
Enthusiasm can be a hard thing to maintain because it's a feeling, and feelings are notoriously hard to maintain.
They're changing all the time. Much like thoughts.
I'll let you in on a secret: Feeling enthusiastic is the result of a thought; not feeling enthusiastic is also the result of a thought.
The status of your enthusiasm has nothing—NOTHING—to do with what's happening or not happening around you. Not objectively, at least.
It has everything to do with whatever thought you've attached to and keep thinking, again and again.
So, what can be done when your enthusiasm has left the building?
You have one job, and it’s to cultivate the following gentle awareness:
Those thoughts that are swirling in your head? The ones that are creating the feeling that January is doomed, ergo your 2019 is doomed, and so on and so forth?
Let them pass through your mind.
Do not try to replace them with positive thoughts, do not try to reason with them, do not pass go and collect two hundred dollars.
Trust me when I say, you're going to have to resist the urge to DO SOMETHING about your thoughts, because that's the autopilot response when we don't like what's happening inside our heads. Let your swirling thoughts settle, like the snow in a shaken-up snow globe.
“BUT HOW DO I EVEN DO THAT, HELEN?” you're asking. (Do I know you, or do I know you? 😉) Here’s how: You don't engage with your thoughts. You refuse to follow them down their rabbit holes. And the best way to do this is to put yourself into motion (e.g. put your shoes on and go for a walk, empty and reload the dishwasher, take a ten-minute shower and then rub lotion all over your body, water your plants, make a batch of granola). Putting yourself into motion will look and feel a whole lot like DOING SOMETHING—however, you’ll notice that the particular SOMETHING here has nothing at all to do with messing with the thoughts in your head.
Once your thoughts have settled and your brain is no longer a hostile place to hang out in, then—and only then—can we reasonably begin to answer the question, “How do I keep going after the newness and excitement has worn off?”
The short answer: You take the very next step.
You don’t need to be enthusiastic or even particularly motivated to keep going at the thing you started. You just have to be willing to take the very next step toward it.
Without a drop of enthusiasm, it might not feel great—but we all do plenty of things we don’t adore every single day of our lives (I’m looking at you, flossing)—and that absence of enthusiasm doesn’t stop us.
So, why is this thing different?
(Hint: It isn’t. You’re just caught up in a thought that you’re supposed to feel a certain—positive—way about your project or new year ambition. Let that go. Seriously. Scroll back up to my directive to let those thoughts pass through your mind and work their way out organically. Don’t engage with them. Put yourself into motion. Let your snowy mind settle, etc.)
This approach works for any and all troublesome thoughts, but stay tuned for future blog posts where we’ll plug in various other specific examples to give you a full-color understanding of how to apply the technique.
As always, share your story with me below. I love hearing from you.