Discovering the Power of Motivation
Wikipedia describes motivation as:
a theoretical construct, used to explain behavior. It is the scientific word used to represent the reasons for our actions, our desires, our needs, etc.
Like an old steam locomotive that requires a train driver to toss coal into its boiler, motivation is the very fuel that spurs us to action. It's a bit elusive though. Motivation isn't itself any specific thing. Everything we do in every minute of every day is motivated by something. And that something can be anything.
For the most part, we're not concerned with motivation. We don't usually question what makes us want to eat Cheerios vs. Raisin Bran in the morning or what makes us want to be Batman vs. Superman for Halloween. But when it comes to things that affect our greater well-being we become extremely interested in motivation and how to affect it.
I'm constantly studying all things self-development. From surface things like work efficiency and productivity, which for me particularly means writing better and writing more in less time, to the deeper level of self-development, which is essentially what spirituality is. My research, experimentation, and overall fascination with all things self-development is really what originally drove me to start Buddhaimonia.
Over that time I've asked myself a lot of questions. With regards to motivation, there are two main questions I've asked myself: "what is motivation?", and, "is motivation important?" Discovering what motivation is was much easier than answering whether or not I felt it was important.
I did realize quickly though that motivation is always there in everything that we do. So it goes without saying that it's important. And so it was less answering whether or not it's important and more whether or not it's important to spend time focusing on it.
I've come to the realization that, while motivating yourself is at times useful (as I'll cover in the section on Everyday Motivation), in general once you discover what's most important to you and how to operate from a place of positive motivation you won't have to consciously motivate yourself much, if at all.
Positive motivation spurs you to action. It's natural and effortless. If you feel the need to motivate yourself it often means that your reasons aren't clear enough or that your motivation is misguided and coming from some negative motivational factor.
And so this guide will be part learning how to discover your ultimate "why" or motivation, part discovering the hidden forces which affect our motivation and learning how to shift yourself to a state of constant and renewable positive motivation, and part learning how to motivate yourself on a day to day basis. In the scope of life as a whole, all three are important in varying degrees.
How to Harness Motivation as a Force for Greater Well-Being
Is a powerful positive motivation pushing you forward? Or is a negative motivation holding you back from your full potential? Can you tell the difference? And if a negative force is motivating you, what can you do to change that?
To begin harnessing your motivation as a force for taking action and improving the quality of your life, you need to understand a few things. The first of those is that there's ultimately two kinds of motivation: positive motivation and negative motivation.
Positive motivation moves us towards greater well-being. The prime examples of positive motivation are compassion, love, and wisdom. Positive motivation moves us away from stress and destructive egocentric behaviors and brings us closer to so many things that bring us peace and happiness.
This is because positive motivation is in line with reality. What I mean by that is, if your motivation is greed and you've convinced yourself that you need lots of money in order to be happy, the fact that this idea isn't in line with the way that life is will be the very thing that tortures you.
You'll continue to amass riches only to find that the more money you have the worse you feel because the further you feel from peace and happiness. Not in a general sense, someone with money can be happy, but because you expected to find happiness by becoming rich.
On the other hand, motivating yourself through cultivating and expressing compassion for others will bring you peace and happiness because connecting with and helping others is one of the greatest sources of happiness that exists.
That's the way the world is. We're built to connect, work together with, and help one another. It's in our very DNA. And by doing so we experience a deep sense of joy.
But don't take my word for it. Think you're being motivated by some less-than-positive factors? Go out and do something for someone else. While and after you do it be mindful of how your mood changes.
This isn't some "it's not for everyone" kind of thing. When we connect, work together with, and help others we become happier.
That's just one example of positive motivation. The love you feel for your son, daughter, wife, or husband can also be a positive motivation. Love is the primary and most often seen positive motivation there is.
Whatever it is, we're always motivated by something. But when we're motivated by negative factors we need goals and ambition to drive us. Otherwise, our motivation eventually dies out.
With positive motivation we no longer need ambition to act. Our actions become effortless. What needs to get done gets done. No matter how difficult, we act with diligence and resolve as long as is necessary to get the job done and we obtain a great sense of peace and joy by acting from a place of positive motivation.
Negative motivation, such as greed or a thirst for power over others, distorts our view of reality. These motivations are rooted in egocentric ideas that don't match up with the way that life really is. And as a result, negative motivation moves us towards stress, anger, frustration, depression, and overall lesser well-being.
The path of negative motivation is like walking in a circle one mile so that you can slam your head on a brick wall. Over, and over, and over. Walk around. Slam your head. Walk around. Slam your head. You'll never get what you're looking for because your desire is misguided. And worse, you're causing yourself all kinds of pain.
You want what everyone else wants. You want the same thing the Buddha wanted when he set out on the spiritual journey that eventually led him to awakening. But you might not recognize its true form yet.
You might think the peace and happiness you want comes in the form of money, praise, or power over people. But that won't ever bring you peace or happiness. Just stress, anger, and frustration.
You need to look deeply into what motivates you. Take time to sit down and meditate on your ambitions and motivations. What do you want? Why do you want it? As always, your practice should guide you. Be mindful of what motivates you to action in your work and personal life.
This couldn't be more important. You could be motivated by a fear of someone, and as a byproduct, stay somewhere you don't want to stay, do something you don't want to do, or become someone you don't want to be.
You could find that you're motivated by money or to have power over people and that you've been running in circles for years. What's worse, most of us do these things for years without even noticing it.
We never take the time to sit back and really look at ourselves. To look deeply and mindfully is to shine a light of great healing on ourselves.
We should learn how to use this light every day so that we can open up the path to true peace and happiness for ourselves and for those around us.
The Source of Our Motivation and Overcoming the Destructive Nature of Our Self-Centered Mindset
The last, but still very important, point I'd like to cover in this section is the root of our motivation. We've covered positive and negative motivation, but you may or may not have noticed that the source of positive motivation is open and inclusive of all people while negative motivation is completely self-centered.
We're naturally self-centered. It's just human nature. Likely programmed into us over thousands of years ago, to be self-centered is the best way to protect our physical well-being. The paramount objective in life for humans since we've been around.
To be selfless is a state of greater evolution and higher consciousness. It's a partially awakened state beyond our naturally self-centered mindset. This self-centered mindset is the root of all negative motivation and the cause of much, if not all, of our suffering.
We want money, power, fame, praise, approval, and a laundry list of other things so that we can fan our ego. But the ego isn't on your side. It doesn't have your best interest in mind. It's an absolute robot intended on "protecting" the foundation of your mind, even at the cost of your own well-being.
By living with mindfulness we can develop the ability to identify these self-centered motives. And once we do, we have the choice to change them. Change them to what? The true serving and nourishing kinds of ambitions and motivations: compassion, love, understanding, joy, and wisdom.
Before any work is done towards learning how to harness motivation, you need to identify where your self-centered mindset (the ego) has placed its claws. But this isn't difficult to do. In order to begin making yourself more conscious to this, aside from practicing mindfulness, you can keep these questions with you and ask yourself them from time to time:
Is what I'm doing just for me?
Is what I'm doing potentially harmful to others?
Am I acting with the best interest of everyone involved?
What's my primary motivation behind doing this?
Why am I really doing this?, or
Why didn't I do that?
How to Motivate Yourself to Do Anything in 4 Simple Steps
Back when I worked in sales we had bi-weekly meetings. On the surface, the meetings looked like accountability sessions with classes for training. But really, the purpose of the meetings was just to motivate us.
During those meetings we were supposed to talk about and learn various things, but we ended up just getting a motivational talk 95% of the time. Developing the ability to motivate yourself was one of the most important factors in being able to exist in such a rough business.
Most of us were aware of the shallow and temporary nature of the motivation one gets from something like a motivational speech or YouTube video, but we still needed it to stay focused at times.
If you need to motivate yourself with such things often times you'll find you're just banging your head where it's not supposed to be. But, without even knowing it, that's exactly what a lot of us were doing.
But while we fed off of these meetings, speeches, and other shallow forms of motivation, everyone in the office also read books like Think and Grow Rich and listened to audio tapes from people like Tony Robbins.
We did this because we were aware of the deeper level of motivation and these were the resources that could help us identify our source for deep or great motivation as well as harness it to become successful.
We typically identified this deep or ultimate level of motivation as our "reasons" or our "why". We'd constantly meet successful people both from our own office and abroad, and each and every one of them always said the same thing: you need to know why you do what you do and that reason should be clear and compelling.
When you think about it, you need to have a churning in your stomach. Not always literally, but sometimes. This essentially just means you need to have a strong emotional connection to that reason. This could be your son, your daughter, your wife, husband, or a combination. One of my friends was working for his recently deceased mother because he wanted to make her proud.
You might have noticed a trend here: our deep or ultimate motivators are people. Specifically, those people closest to us. Our loved ones.
Next, as an extension of that, you wanted something from the work that you're doing for yourself and for those loved ones. Those were an extension of your reason or why and essentially your ultimate goal or goals.
At the office, I worked at pretty much all of us were very money motivated. As was I, at that time. Instead of, "I'm working to put food on the table", it would be more like, "I want to become financially independent and be able to provide for my family anything they ever need. Money will no longer ever be an issue." That was a real dream to us.
And visions like that worked like a charm. As I mentioned, all of the most successful salespeople, who built teams in the hundreds and thousands and made 6-7 figures preached the same thing.
Years later, as I've had the time to experiment and confirm this in my own life, I've come to see that while there was a lot of misguided effort in that office they still held a lot of wisdom with regards to motivation The four steps to developing your ultimate motivation are:
1. You need to know why you're doing what you're doing. You need to find your reason or reasons. Is it your son? Think "if this person wasn't here, would I be here or have the same drive?". This is why you want what you want. The root cause of all or the majority of your motivation. If you don't feel you have this, don't worry. You can get. I mean the motivation, not the kid...
2. Dream true. Set compelling, ambitious, yet sensible goals. You need to dream true. Know what you REALLY want. Back in the office, we called it dreaming big, but I decided to change that. What people really meant when they said dream big was to dream true. This is the part where you take those people, yourself included, that you care about and ask yourself what you really want for them. This is essentially where you set your intention or major goals for your life.
3. That reason or reasons need to be crystal clear. You need to know EXACTLY what you want, not a general idea. There can be no doubt in your mind of what you want. This is the part where you formulate a vision. A clear formulating of your dream into a vision for your life in the future. This vision needs to be crystal clear. This means that if you live for your son or daughter, and you want to provide for him and teach him good morals, standards, and any important principles which are important to you to pass on to your son, then you know exactly what those are and how you're going to do it. Visualize the great man or woman your son or daughter can become and know that, while you can't control someone else, you're going to give your all to instill the wisdom you've obtained from your life into him in order to ensure that he has the best opportunity to find peace and happiness in his own life.
4. You need to keep those reasons in front of you every single day. This is what you live for. This reason or reasons need to be up on the back of your office door in the form of a dream board, they need to be in your pocket in written form to be read once if not twice a day or any other way that you know will effectively and constantly remind you. This is the fuel that powers the machine. Even the greatest dream can be forgotten easily if it isn't kept in front of you and visualized constantly.
What if it's a smaller everyday task? Of course, this can seem unimportant, but even big dreams are a collection of smaller actions. Sometimes, especially on difficult days, you need to take motivation wherever you can get it, so here's a couple useful tips for generating additional motivation in a general:
1. Tackle small tasks first. This will build your confidence and make you want to do more. Motivation is very much like an old train. You need to keep tossing coal into the boiler in order to keep the train going. If you stop, the train stops. On any given day if you can learn how to generate a little energy or confidence you can build on that easily. You can use the path of progressive accomplishments to build temporary motivation during a tough day. This exercise is great for building confidence but it also gives you the motivation to do more. I've used this many times and it works like a charm.
2. Don't think so much. Oftentimes, the more you think the more likely you are to talk yourself out of what you're doing. Especially if it's something you already don't want to do. We can often be our worst enemy, and that's usually because of this inner dialog. Learn to do more and think less and you'll find yourself having become more productive as well as happier. And then sometimes, if you've been putting something off, you just need to shut your mind off altogether and do it. If you decided previously that something is the right thing to do, but you're having a hard time pushing yourself to do it, then put everything down, stop thinking, and get up and do it. Whether you need to walk, talk, call, type, or execute something, get up and start doing it without thinking.
3. Practice mindfulness. Moving on from the last point, one of the ways we become unmotivated is that we talk ourselves out of things. This is the inner dialog I mentioned in the last point. We always make things bigger in our heads than they really are. By practicing mindfulness you'll begin to quiet your mind and give yourself a healthy tool which allows you to get out of the trap of your mind and fully into the present moment to do whatever it is you need to do. The importance of this fact on productivity can't be overstated.
4. Have fun. Don't overlook this point. Two people can do the same thing and one will find joy in it while the other will find it boring. And this is simply a matter of effort. That is, making the effort to enjoy what you're doing vs. convincing yourself something is monotonous and boring. Don't take anything for granted, even the smallest task. Appreciate every little thing in life and find out how to enjoy the daily tasks that you wouldn't normally find enjoyable. Trust me, this is a big deal. And, it works. The first place I'd start towards making this possible is the last point: practice mindfulness. Be fully present for whatever it is that you do whether it's rebuilding your patio or completing a project. Also, look deeply into what you do during your work. See what you typically overlook and draw a deeper connection to the work that you do. What does this have to do with motivation? Finding joy in your work or practice can generate huge amounts of motivation. In fact, if you love what you do, this can often be all or most of what you need.
Aspects of Motivation
I wanted to end with a few last notes about motivation. I talked about these earlier but I want you to keep these points in mind when thinking about motivation:
- Motivation is your fuel. It's progressive. That is, if you accomplish even a small or simple task then you'll develop the motivation to do more and often larger things. Learn how to get yourself going in the morning with varying tasks and you'll learn how to generate motivation for the rest of the day. For this reason, a strong morning routine can really help you start each day off right.
- The deeper the motivation, the better. The deeper, the greater the motivational factor, the more motivation that's generated and the more often it's going to work. Even the best motivational factor (love for our son or daughter, for instance) won't motivate you 100% of the time, so you need more than just your "why" in place, but that is by far the single most important thing you can do towards keeping and building motivation.
- Sometimes your primary motivation won't be enough. Your ultimate "why" is the most powerful force you have towards keeping motivated. But you'll need more. YouTube videos in the morning (there are some great ones), music that pumps you up, pictures that generate specific emotions, thinking about various aspects of your dream/vision, the eyes of a child at a shelter you volunteer at, or some little confirmation that you're on the right path. It could be any of a million various little things. Whereas your major motivation pulls you like a great locomotive, minor motivational factors are those things which can rehabilitate you and fix up any damages on the locomotive after a rough day.
- Motivation can be positive or negative. Negative motivation is what we naturally gravitate towards and it's self-centered nature causes us much suffering. Positive motivation is what you should work on developing and is effortless because it moves you towards a purer and more selfless form of motivation. Keep something in mind, though: there's a strong positive in negative motivation. To be mindful of a negative motivation is to receive a great insight into a major affliction which is holding you back. So don't beat yourself up if you begin to notice that you're motivated by something negative. Not only is it perfectly normal, but noticing this is a huge step in the direction of positive change.
Whether you have goals or not, we all have intentions. We all plan or intend to do things each day, week, month, and year of our life and motivation is the underlying factor which propels us to take action.
Compassion, love, joy, and wisdom are all extremely powerful motivating factors which move us as well as those around us towards greater well-being. And these motivating factors are more powerful than any of the traditional negative motivational factors such as greed, power over people, or approval.
Look deeply and mindfully within yourself in order to identify your deepest motivations. And, if necessary, begin to steer yourself in a new and more conscious direction. Harnessing motivation as a force for good, like so many other things in life, is ultimately about becoming more conscious.
Devote yourself to living mindfully, both in the present moment and mindful of your actions at large, and you'll develop the ability to wield motivation as a powerful force for action.