How a Little Algebra Can Help Reboot Your Stalled Motivation

When I was a sophomore in high school, I tried out for the school musical. I had been cast in a non-speaking role in the fall play and thought that the musical was the next logical step in my theatrical explorations.


I loved to sing. In the car, in the shower, at home in our basement. A day hardly went by that I couldn’t be found belting out to some tune on the radio or one of my favorite CD’s (compact discs for you young folks).


If actors were cast based on heart and desire, then I was a sure thing. Unfortunately, beyond my performances in front of an audience of 1 (my Cocker Spaniel, Tiffany), I hadn’t actually sung in front of anyone before. I hadn’t taken a single music lesson or even sung in a choir. I was an orchestra kid and I could play a pretty decent William Tell Overture though.


After hours of practicing my solo piece, “Santa Clause is Coming to Town,” (I have no idea why that was how I chose to showcase my talent), I showed up for try-outs and froze. I went mute only managing to squeak out a few tentative notes here and there.


Looking back, I totally admire 16-yo-old Tracy for giving it a go. She was brave, determined, and motivated. Her motivation was so powerful that none of the obvious clues to her eventual failure were enough to dissuade her.


Motivation is a complex concept. In simple terms, “motivation” is the reason for behaving or acting in a certain way.


What factors push you to work towards a vision or goal even in the face of clear obstacles?


Author Piers Steel, PhD, who studies motivation, developed an equation to break it down into concrete factors:


Let's take a closer look:


Expectancy How likely you think it is that you will receive the payoff you want from doing something.


Value How highly you value the payoff of doing that something.


Impulsivity How distractible and impulsive you are while seeking to do something (cue shiny new object).


Delay How far away the deadline is for that thing that you want.



In simple terms, “motivation” is the reason for behaving or acting in a certain way.

Now think about something you are trying, but struggling, to accomplish. You just can’t quite seem to keep up the momentum to get there. How can these variables help you understand your stuckness?


Here’s an example straight out of my life story:


I struggle to keep up with regularly posting on my Instagram. Social media is not my favorite way of connecting with people. I’d much rather meet a friend for tea or lunch.


Expectancy This is an issue. I’m still not convinced that engaging on Instagram is going to help me create the community that I want to build.


Value I place a lot of value on having that community. So, this value is one of the factors that keeps me going.


Impulsivity Once I sit down to create my posts and engage with others on IG, I’m in the zone. Getting there can be a bit of a challenge.


Delay Another big issue. I don’t have a sense of how long it’s going to take me to build a community on IG. Not having a clear target date makes it tough to stay consistent. How long do I keep posting before I have the community that I’m hoping to connect with?


Now that I know how my IG struggles fit into the motivation equation, I can start addressing the factors that I struggle the most with to help boost my motivation.


Expectancy I can clarify how I want to engage with others on IG. What does a community on IG look like for me? I need to do a little research to better understand what community really looks like on IG. Once I’m clear on that, then I can see what progress I’ve already made and what else I can do.


Value This is an asset for me. I really value the possibility of having an engaged community on IG.


Impulsivity I can work on an action plan to designate specific times to work on IG posts. Looking back at the times that I’ve been the most focused and designing my plan around that will help me set myself up for success.


Delay There’s no good way to predict how long it will take for me to build a solid IG community. However, I can set some short-term expectations for myself and work towards those. Setting a target for the number of followers and post engagements over a certain period gives me a concrete goal to focus on.


Addressing each of these factors can help support a more motivated approach to using IG and increase the odds that I will get something done.


What areas of stalled motivation can you start to break down, strategize around and find new ways to improve your motivation?