We all have things we want to be.

We want to be self-starting, ambitious, and always happy.

We want to be fitter, sexier, and stronger. We want to be richer and freed of obligations like work. We especially want to find love — or something more passionate and less committed.

We are great at dreaming, and that isn’t bad.

Sometimes, we even act on dreams. Do you remember that spike of adrenaline you get when you have a great idea, and you relentlessly absorb yourself in making it a reality?

That entire time, you have unrelenting focus and determination. The rest of the world feels like it doesn’t matter. You imagine that it can always feel like this, that this is true happiness.

Do you also remember how that spike only lasts a few days… or just few hours?

And like that, your motivation is gone. You don’t feel the same passion you did for your pet project.

You’ve just hit the dip.

The Dip, and When We Should Give Up

The Internet has made sharing information instantaneous. You can learn and experience anything with the click of a mouse.

A lot of that time is spent reading breaking scientific news and watching videos of cool things. A good example is the “People Are Amazing” videos, like this one:

It’s easy to get envious of seeing cool things happen. Watch enough, and you start to question your own life. What big things are you doing? Why can’t your life be as cool and explosive as theirs? How come you aren’t working towards your own dreams?

When we’re bombarded by amazing things, we think that’s reality. We feel that their whole lives feel like that adrenaline rush that they feel.  But think about the bikers in that video. How long did they train? How many times did they crush their bones on failed jumps? How long do they have to drive and plan for the camera to be in just the right place as they flip around. How much time have they spent learning the knowledge and wisdom to pull off deft maneuvers like an aerial flip?

Heck, how many have died doing those things?

They had to sacrifice a lot, and risk a lot, to get there.

When we see amazing things, we tend to be blind to the efforts it took to get there. We recognize the difficulty, but forget the trials.

Consistency is the only way to get good at things. You have to show up. It isn’t sexy, but it’s the truth. We are good at what we do repeatedly. And when we do something repeatedly, we will inevitably come across The Dip, the mood where you second-guess whether this is even what you want to do. It’s the point where your motivation and passion are gone. And you feel you need something to carry you to the end.

When those “amazing people” hit the dip, something keeps them going. Something beyond just “passion” or that burst of adrenaline. Those are icing on the cake.

What you’re about to learn is unconventional, but powerful. There are actually 2 directions that you can go with “The Dip” when it comes to you.

What To Do When You Hit the Dip

There are a few things you can do when you’re losing motivation, But first, you should know that this is unlike most motivational sites. I don’t believe you can do it all. I don’t think you can do anything you want. What I do believe is that you can manage your focus and priorities.

Here’s what you can do when you hit the dip:

1) Recognize you can’t do it all. Your attention, time, and resources are finite, unlike your dreams. Some dreams are simply left best as dreams. I wanted to be a famous swordsmaster when I was younger. And even still, I sometimes fantasize about it (blame Game of Thrones and anime for that).

But I don’t regret my focus away from that dream.

I am not dismissing your dreams. I could choose to travel the word learning swordsmanship. I could create meetup groups around me and meet like-minded people. I could do this to the abandon of all other pursuits. But that path requires sacrifice. Every second I spend learning and experiencing that life, I lose doing something else.

And there are other things I’d rather be doing. I’d rather master parkour. I’d rather write on this blog. I’d rather hang out with my friends and family.

 

So currently, I defocus that dream. For now, it stays a dream because I currently prioritize other things that make me more satisfied.

Time is a zero-sum game. You can’t do it all. Recognize that you can’t literally do everything that makes you tingle with excitement, and accept it. You cannot master 100 languages, be an internationally renowned singer, business magnate, and expert military tactician. So choose a few things to focus on, and re-evaluate your decisions continuously as time goes on.

2) Think about what are you willing to suffer for. Every great thing you work on will have big ups, but equally big downs. It’s an illusion that the big wins are all that exist when we pursue something. We tend to overlook all the lows.

Imagine being part of the team trying to cure cancer. You can imagine all the highs of actually curing cancer. You could be legendary in the eyes of Wikipedia.

But can you deal with the 50-60 hour work weeks? The lower pay and higher demand, relative to a cushier and less demanding job? Can you handle setbacks, like the government saying your statistically effective drug isn’t approved for human consumption, or that what you’re working on might not work?

In other words, are you willing to suffer for it?

Only something things are worth it. When I train my fitness, I’m willing to eat less to feel better. I’m willing to risk potential injury. I’m willing to miss some social events so I can consistently workout on schedule. I’ve accepted that there are some sacrifices I’ll have to make.

What could compel a startup employee to work for half the wage of a bigger, safer company? They are willing to make less, for the massive payoff later. They are willing to accept being “the startup employee” as part of their identity, more than they are willing to accept “Employee #10000” at the bigger company. They are willing to work endless hours, 7 days a week to build something from nothing because to them, creating something beautiful and new is better than pushing a status quo.

Accepting that you’ll have to suffer isn’t scary. It’s liberating. It liberates you from the mis-belief of people who just “get there” like magic. it frees you from the idea that you’ll love every damn second of the pursuit. It’s a badge of honor that you could grind it out, and you have something to show for it.

You are not “weak” for ditching a hobby that you aren’t willing to suffer for. You’re wise. You’re recognizing that you have agency in your happiness, and can choose to focus on what matters. You are no longer a victim of your indecisiveness.

3) Differentiate passionate from meaningful. Passion isn’t permanent. It’s a mood. You can feel really passionate about dirt biking because you just watched a great YouTube video of cool things that people just did, and you could imagine yourself riding a dirt bike and doing cool tricks.

Meaning is deeper than that. It’s something that resonates with you at a lower level. It’s something you’d do because you need to do it.

The hard part is telling the difference.

I can’t tell you what you are passionate about, versus what is meaningful to you. Most people write down their thoughts about it, and let the idea bake in their minds. Others simply try one thing out for a while, then jump to another. The method is up to you.

But give it thought and experiment. Imagine how much you’re willing to sacrifice to become something. Then, prioritize doing it.

4) Work towards through it deliberately. When you hit the dip, you start to second guess your decision.

Realize there’s 2 modes for people making goals. There’s the planning mode, where you reflect about what you want to do, and make a decision to do it. Then there’s the doing mode, where you work towards what you set out to do, regardless of inner doubt.

The planning mode is easy for people. The Internet has made finding and absorbing information easy. And it’s safe: we make no commitments other than the time to consume information.

The hard part is doing things. We want to understand our future with total certainty. We want to know this is exactly what we want now, and forevermore. When we’re taking action towards a goal, it’s best to focus fully on accomplishing the task. But life is rarely that clean.

Instead, you might question whether the task you’re working on is “right” for the goal. You brainstorm that you should be doing something else. Maybe you even second-guess if this goal is even what you want.

Instead of trying to understand with total certainty at every moment, separate your planning from your doing. Have time to reflect, and time to act.

When it’s  planning time, you research, think, and set goals. You reflect on whether this is something you want, and maybe pivot your goals.

When it’s doing time, you do exactly what you set out to do. Like a worker to a CEO, you don’t question it. Lose yourself in the process of doing. If you’ve made the goal of losing weight, don’t go to the gym thinking, “Wait, is this really what I want?” Go to the gym, and work out.

Worry about the reflection when it’s planning time again.

5) Embrace the dips when they come. Because now you KNOW they will come. You won’t be caught off-guard when your progress plateaus for a week. You won’t ask what’s wrong with yourself when you’re feeling like this might not be worth it.

And suddenly, you realize that your goal has become a part of you. You don’t seek big spikes of passion, and you don’t feel troughs of depression. You just do what you need to do.

For those of us who seek meaning in life, we can’t let ourselves get thrown about by culture or our own fearful thoughts. We take back agency and understand that big things only happen if we make them happen.

Your Choice Is What Matters

Happiness is a choice, but it isn’t as easy as flicking a switch. In an ocean of choices, it’s the decision of the course.

You can choose to navigate in a way that satisfies your life, or you can choose to let the waves push you around. But either way, you make a choice.

Choose to decide for yourself.