There is an inherent cyclicality to motivation.
We experience peaks, wherein the very necessities of eating, drinking, sleeping, even breathing are obstacles in the way of spending time focused on the object of our motivation. If productivity is viewed as the distance traversed towards a goal, then when viewed up close, these periods are unbelievably productive times in our lives.
And then, we hit a wall. Suddenly, we don't want to get out of bed. We don't want to go in to work. We don't want to sit at our desks. And, we don't want to focus our energy on the hard tasks that move us forward, so instead we focus on the infinite little tasks that feel like productivity, but in fact move us no closer to our goals.
It's a cycle, an inevitable cycle. Every single person, no matter what they say or what others say about them experiences this cycle. Each cycle is of course different. Some benefit from prolonged periods of productivity followed by very short down-shifts into inactivity. Others very rarely experience peak productivity, instead dwelling for long periods in inactivity. Yet still, everyone lives out this cycle in one way or another.
Yet many of us make the mistake of assuming that a single snapshot within the cycle is a static picture of 'who we are' as a person. For example, 'highly motivated' individuals who view themselves as enormous producers, contextualize the worthfulness of their days by the amount they produce, and constantly seek to push their own limits. Their very identity comes from those long stretches of productivity; they define themselves by the person they are when they are producing. And they are happiest during those times because they are successfully being who they want to be.
The danger of this static definition is that it leaves us ill-equipped to handle the inevitable downshift in the cycle. When we wake that fateful morning and do not feel like producing, we immediately suffer an existential crisis, or a 'loss of self' that pushes us in search of 'what has gone wrong' with us. Are we no longer happy with our work? Why might that be? Is this loss of motivation the horrifying result of aging? Will it be a permanent thing we must adjust to? If it isn't internal, is it external? What changed to push us out of our rhythm? Is that the weather? That new cologne we're wearing? How can we recreate the circumstances that led to our peak productivity and happiness?
Imagine if a marathon runner hit mile 50, or even 100, and when her body started to scream in protest, she suffered the existential crisis: oh my god, what's wrong with me? I'm not enjoying this anymore...do I still even like running? Should I be an accountant instead? Though the answer is very likely still 'yes, I do love running', the other half of the answer is 'but I still need to take rest in order to run again tomorrow'. Yet the moment the doubt is introduced, it has the potential to throw her life off course as she searches for the reaffirmation of the activity she loves.
(note, I've focused on the highly motivated people because I held that self-definition, so it's what made me write about it. But, on the flip side, those people who seem to 'lack motivation', in work or in any other areas of their lives, might have accepted a definition of themselves formed before they discovered something they're passionate about. For them, a sudden desire to spend all their time on a single activity might feel so out of character that they naturally push away from it -- wouldn't that be sad?)
I've experienced this loss of self many times during the life of my company, and it is probably responsible for some of the major personal lows that I have experienced on this journey. I have suffered it regularly until very recently, when I was able to look back at my history, see the cycle, and recontextualize my lulls in productivity as natural parts of that cycle.
Now, when my mind/body/motivation complex goes through a natural downshift, I don't flail about existentially, suffering its long term implications. I listen to it, embrace it. I stop working. I do other things: spend time with friends, read, write, explore a new art, exercise, sleep in, whatever. I allow my mind/body to get the respite it needs. And one day, I wake up with the hunger again, and thrust myself back into the swing of things, renewed.
There's a slew of broader implications here. One: we are not static identities, and when we pigeonhole ourselves as one thing or another, it leads to an inevitable loss of self. Two: everything, everything exists in a cycle, and when we step back from this one moment and look for that cycle, it makes us powerfully more adept at dealing with the ups and downs of life ('this too shall pass', etc). Three: we become very powerful when we stop trying to force things and instead begin listening to and abiding by the signals that our mind/body is giving us. Four: the most important signal we must listen for is the internal narrative we're telling ourselves; we must listen for this, challenge it, and relentlessly seek out the narrative that brings us the most peace, joy, and fulfillment.