Kickstart the New Year—and Rediscover What Motivates You

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Another year has come and gone, and we can now look back on the previous year of successful projects, initiatives, and service. But what happens at the end of the holiday season (or a long vacation, for that matter) when we’re so ensconced in the comforts of leisure that the thought of returning to work is, well, less than appealing?

This is not an uncommon dynamic. When we enjoy a more relaxed pace, it can become addicting. But a return to the workplace is inevitable, and we need to find a way to get ourselves motivated for another busy year. Here are some suggestions:

Try Looking to Others

It’s often said that we stand on the shoulders of those that come before us. In challenging times, it is easy to look to these individuals who have excelled professionally, or who exhibit the values that we admire, as sources of inspiration. And these folks need not be far away, or enshrined on a bronze bust. This can be someone in the cubicle next door with whom you worked for years—the one who possesses the admirable qualities of patience and caring. Or, the one who, amidst a challenging work environment, will be the person of sound wisdom and patience.

Try Thinking Differently

Motivation and performance, regardless of position, is based on how we think, including how we make meaning, perceive the world around us, and make decisions. Becoming more aware of our mindsets releases us from our natural tendency to stay in our comfort zones. It allows us to see things in a different way even though everything around us is telling us that it would be the easiest to simply accept things as they have always been. In 1974, W. Timothy Gallwey underscored the importance of the mind in his book, The Inner Game of Tennis. Gallwey’s argument argued that 90 percent of performance is driven by the mind, and while processes, rules, and procedures matter, the way we think matters more. The good news is this applies to all of us!

Try Something New

As you return to the workplace, try getting involved in something you’ve never done before. Attend a meeting you’ve never attended. Start a brown bag book club. Consider contributing to orientation for new employees, or mentoring. Consider writing articles for professional magazines or give informational talks. This gives one a sense of satisfaction in contributing to the overall good of the profession. All of these have the added benefit of opening you to different perspectives on your work and the work of others.

Try Phoning a Friend

Who is the person you call in the car (hands-free please) on the way home after a tough day? When searching for a rekindled motivation, reach out to the people in your life who will be open and honest, recommend ways to improve, suggest different ideas, make you laugh, and comfort you when you are feeling down. The human spirit has remarkable desire to comfort. Don’t let the “I can look after myself” frame of mind keep you from the company of others who can help.


As the new year begins, we can all look back on the past 12 months with a great sense of pride. What’s more, we also can be excited about the possibilities ahead—and we should be. So reload the Starbucks card, organize your desk, and add a few plants to your office. Return with a renewed focus and energy. We have work to do!

About the Author

Patrick Malone is director of Key Executive Leadership Programs at American University in Washington, D.C. He is a frequent guest lecturer on leadership and organizational dynamics and has extensive experience working with government leaders. Patrick’s research, teaching, and scholarship include work in public sector leadership, executive problem solving, organizational analysis, ethics, and public administration and policy. He is a retired navy captain, having spent 22 years in a number of senior leadership and policy roles.

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