Why is Maintaining Motivation So Difficult?

In a recent article by the Quiet Leadership Institute, they take a look at the concept of “deliberate practice” from the book Peak: Secrets of the New Science of Expertise by K. Anders Ericsson, PhD, a leading psychologist in the area of expertise and Robert Pool, PhD, well known science and living writer.

The QLI defines deliberate practice as the “breakdown of expertise into a series of smaller, attainable practices.” And states that a deliberate practitioner creates and follows through on structured activities that focus on a small area to improve on within their expertise. This concept is somewhat like the mindfulness training that practitioners of Eastern philosophies use.

The QLI article quotes a section of Peak that focuses primarily on motivation. The excerpt tells readers a hard truth we can all recognize – that when we decide to learn something new, like playing the guitar or learning a new language the initial energy, motivation and interest we feel can lessen over time, sometimes very quickly, and we stop practicing as often.

Ericsson and Pool tell us that there are two primary mental road blocks. First, that when we think about expert practitioners in our fields we often assume they have “some rare gift of willpower or ‘grit’ or ‘stick-to-itiveness’ that the rest of us just lack.”

Ericsson and Pool assert this is a mistake for two reasons. First, there is very little evidence to support the idea that we have a quantifiable pool of willpower from which to draw.

However, Ericsson and Pool write that the bigger problem of will power is:
“the myth of natural talent … once you assume that something is innate, it automatically becomes something you can’t do anything about. This sort of circular thinking – “The fact that I couldn’t keep practicing indicates that I don’t have enough willpower, which explains why I couldn’t keep practicing” – is worse than useless; it is damaging in that it can convince people that they might as well not even try.”

The authors analogize improving performance to weight loss saying that those who are successful in losing weight over the long term are people who have “successfully redesigned their lives, building new habits that allow them to maintain the behaviors that keep them losing weight in spite of all of the temptations that threaten their success.”