Motivation. What exactly is it? And do some people simply ‘have it’, and others don’t? How do we get it? And is it enough?
Phew, lots of questions!
Whilst we don’t have the answer for you as to exactly what motivation is, and why some people seem to have more of it than others, what we do have are some tips and ideas to help you when it appears to be lacking.
Unfortunately, there is no magic pill to make us motivated. But – and some would argue that this is even better – it is something we can work on, practice, and improve, to give ourselves the best chance possible at staying on track to pursue what really matters most to us.
So, the million dollar question – how do we find motivation?
#1 Have a deep reason
This should be uncomplicated. This mental image has to be uncomplicated, because when you’re hitting rock-bottom, you won’t have the capacity to sort through complex, abstract concepts. You need one image that cuts directly to your core, no matter how clouded you feel.
Having a deep reason is the fail-safe that keeps you going when you’ve got nothing else left in your tank.
If you aren’t sure of your deep reason, consider who is most important in your life. When you have your biggest successes or failures, who do you want to talk to about them? Imagine that person watching you in one of your most difficult moments. What do you want them to see? This might be your deep reason. Perhaps you’re thinking of your children – and you want them to see you as a confident, strong role model as they grow up. Perhaps it’s getting your health conditions under control so you’re safe to fly a plane and visit your relatives. This is the kind of deep reason we are talking about – not simply getting a pull up, or losing a few kilos – it’s the bigger picture.
#2 Separate your feelings from your identity
We often assume that our feelings should drive our behaviour. For example; if we feel tired or sad or discouraged, we should do tired, sad, and discouraged things. There is of a course purpose and meaning to expressing our feelings, but we can recognise and accept those feelings – in the same way that we reach for that umbrella when there is rain forecast.
Our moment-to-moment emotions don’t have to determine who we are, or what we choose to do. Simply knowing this can make it easier to carry on when we don’t feel like it.
#3 Make a habit of not giving up
Quite simply: the fewer times you give up, the more likely you will be to persevere in a similar situation in the future.
This is a phenomenon called self-herding. Self-herding is forming a new behavioural habit by subconsciously referring to what you did in the past under similar circumstances.
By not quitting in our low moments, we built a habit of finding a way to keep going whenever things become tough. Over time, the urge to quit will begin to fade, because you are repeatedly reinforcing the thought pattern that you’ve been there before, and it was ok. You’ve lived to tell the tale, and have brought yourself one step closer to your goals.
Our choices don’t just reveal our preferences: they shape them. Over time, you’ll reinforce the decision and action that truly support what you want, and it’ll shape your future impulses and preferences.
#4 Train yourself out of negative self-talk
Do you find that your self-talk can turn toxic? We have likely all been there: when a small thing can send us spiralling and suddenly everything is pointless, there’s no hope, and we’ve failed.
This is not simply a case of telling ourself to ‘self-talk better’. Instead, try to hone in on what parts of that process you can improve upon, to train ourselves out of this spiral. Think back on a past experience when your self-talk became self-sabotage. What was happening? What pattern of events or thoughts led you down that path?
Now, decide on a specific practice that you can adopt to divert you down the path you really want.
Let’s picture an example:
Maybe you set your alarm for 5:30am, planning to hit the 6am class, when you began mentally complaining and negotiating with yourself about getting out of bed. Your future practice: Instead of procrastinating and complaining about how tired you are, you replace that narrative. You tell yourself that it’s normal to feel tired when you’re waking up; it is to be expected. And… that this early morning is the path you chose, as a necessary step, toward doing the thing that you truly want to do.
Whatever it is, be specific about what you’ll practice.
And then – notice the results of your practice. Observe not only that you actually manage to get up early, but that you didn’t hold yourself back with negative self talk. Acknowledge this for the success that it is. This is progress. This is practice truly paying off.
#5 Trust the Process
If we can view life as a series of learnable skills, the idea of failure becomes obsolete. If we don’t hit our final ‘endgame’ goal on a given day, we haven’t failed – we are simply still on the path towards it, practicing.
Think back to the power of the word yet. Successful, resilient people don’t simply try harder every time, hoping to one day achieve their goal. Instead, they practice. The process becomes a skill that can be developed and practiced. This turns “I don’t have a pull up” to “I don’t have a pull up yet”. And for beginners? It’s exactly the same. The starting point doesn’t matter nearly as much as your willingness to improve, little by little.
So what you’re saying is…
Motivation, if anything, is an outcome. You can’t control motivation; it can’t be directly pursued. What you can control is the series of factors that underpin motivation. Just knowing this can help you stop waiting for the planets to align to get started. It will also help you realise that, even if it’s hard, taking action gets you closer to the goal that keeps you up at night.
Understand that doing the right thing in the moment is totally within your control.
With this approach, no matter what happens, you can move forward and make progress on any given day. And that progress, even if small, feels good and can be enough to keep you going… until the next day. And we do the same all over again. This is how you achieve great things.
Sure, it might be a long, slow, hard journey. But when we look back on our lives, what we remember most will be the things that were worth struggling for—and what it felt like to achieve what really mattered.
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