The Motivation/Burnout Cycle


If you have ever set goals and then given up on them, then you are already familiar with the vicious Motivation/Burnout Cycle.  It seems nearly universal that people decide to make changes in their life or their work, try really hard, even achieve great results, and then out of the blue become overwhelmed and quit.  New Year’s Resolutions often end in a brilliant crash and burn just because of that, trying too hard.

Understanding this cycle gives us the tools to defeat it, or at least not feel as bad if we have been defeated.

Motivation: You know what you want, you have figured out what needs to be done to get it.

Action:  You put your plan in action, you are determined to succeed.

Progress: Your work is paying off, you can see results.

Trial: Something interferes or makes working toward your goal hard.

Absence:  You decide either consciously or unconsciously to take a break.

Burnout: You can’t dig up the motivation to return, the thought of resuming all that work is daunting.
To escape the burnout period in the cycle you have to work up new motivation, using new goals and methods.  Returning to a method that has “failed” in your experience seems like a waste of time and has negative feelings associated with it.

How to Break the Cycle

Take baby steps.  Often the biggest reason for failure is that you have bitten off more than you can chew.  By taking smaller steps you can ease into a new project or lifestyle without upsetting the balance of your life.  If you want to, say,  write a novel, but you haven’t sat at a computer for years, you might want to set a daily goal of an easily attained word count or number of minutes.  You can always increase them later when a good habit has been formed.

Enlist help. If you are the only one cheering yourself on you’ll run out of momentum.  By having someone to hold yourself accountable to, you are more than twice as likely to succeed.  For writing there are countless critique groups both live and online.

Reward yourself. Identify milestones along the way that once reached you can reward yourself.  For my fellow writers, this can be the completion of a chapter, a certain number of words written, or working everyday for a predetermined number of days.

Throughout the course of any project there will be ups and downs.  There will be times that quitting is a huge temptation.  Know that this is normal.  By understanding that sometimes things will get rough you will be better able to adjust your goals to keep moving forward.  You may need to adjust your goals to be smaller for awhile until you feel ready again.  Whatever you do try not to stop.  Starting over again is far more difficult than slowing down.

Go for it!


About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, will be published November 2018 by Immortal Works Press. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
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2 Responses to The Motivation/Burnout Cycle

  1. ericjbaker says:

    I think my goals gave up on me.

    Seriously, this is an important subject for the lonely art of writing. It’s hard not to feel like a fraud or a fool sometimes.

    • tsuchigari says:

      Amen. I lost count of how many times I’ve restarted with a new set of goals. One of these days my characters are going to move on to a more productive writer and desert me entirely!

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