For centuries and even millennia, the human race achieved incredible feats. We left our humble beginnings behind and became the top species on the planet. We invent, build, and destroy. Millions of people through history contributed to our greatness. And they never needed motivational speeches and fancy benefits to get the job done.
To achieve great things, motivation is not required. And yet, the talk about motivation is more and more prominent in the last decades. Why? Because as a civilization we are becoming weak and comfortable. We don’t do things merely because they need to get done. We don’t do things to survive. We don’t do things to contribute. We are much more self-centered. We do things only if we are motivated to do them. And we expect people around us to somehow motivate us into doing.
Unfortunately, that is not how motivation works. Motivation is not the trigger to start working. Motivation is only helpful to keep working once you began, so you go to the finish and don’t quit before it’s time.
Success breeds motivation
If you tend to blame your humble roots, parents, teachers, unsupportive environment for your life’s misfortunes, you can stop right here. Very rarely that is the real cause of why you are unable to achieve your goals. In reality, it should be your advantage. Motivation is based on having success. And when you start at the bottom, there is an endless opportunity to have small victories on your way up.
As Jeff Haden writes in The Motivation Myth, there is only one recipe for getting motivation. Do you ask what? Success! Even a small success can fuel your motivation to more successes in the future. Which in turns becomes as more motivation. It is a virtuous cycle.
The same goes for confidence. Many of us don’t look like we are particularly confident individuals. Fear of failure, anxiety how you are seen by other people, hesitation to start if you are not sure you can finish are real and are not signs of a confident individual. Luckily for you, there is an easy way to deal with it. Preparation. The best way to get rid of your hesitancy about your skills and abilities is to prepare. Start doing things. You will build confidence as you go and as you get better.
Grit it out
So how do you start? You grit it out. Don’t wait for finding motivation. Don’t wait for someone else to motivate you. Don’t wait for finding your passion. Just start doing things and get the first small successes.
The often-overlooked fact is that you actually have these small successes and you may not even realize that. Let’s say you want to learn a foreign language. You can set a goal that in two years you want to be able to converse at a native level. However, with this goal, you won’t find the motivation. It is an excellent long-term mission, but it doesn’t help you to sit down every single day and learn some new words.
The way to go is to break it down to small tasks that have clear success criteria that you can celebrate. Let’s say in your mission to learn the language you set a task for yourself to learn to count to hundred in that language this week. Then, on Sunday afternoon you sit in your chair and count aloud to a hundred. Success!
You just showed a knowledge you didn’t have a week ago. You have a small win. It is motivating. You’ve got better. You are having fun as you can now respond to others when they ask you something that requires a number as a response in a new language. Have a bit of fun. And while you are at it let’s learn twenty different colors the next week. You just got the motivation to take the next step.
“Motivation is not required to start an activity, but it is useful to keep you on track and to finish it.”
Have your priorities straight
Having a professional and even a life mission is a powerful way to stay focused on what is important and to achieve your professional and life goals. It works the same way as a company mission. It helps you to prioritize. It helps you to focus.
Cal Newport in his book Deep Work talks about two ways to make decisions of what things to do or tools to use. The any-benefit approach and the craftsman approach.
When you follow the any-benefit approach, you are justifying to yourself saying “yes” to things and tools that may provide any benefit. Even if the benefit is negligible, you may still say yes for fear of missing out on something. The problem is that you completely ignore the negative aspects that come with the initiative or a tool.
For example, you may decide to spend a ton of time on Facebook. Facebook is a great service, and its obvious benefit is that you can stay in touch with your friends or so-called friends. What you may not realize that there is a negative side. You have a finite amount of time and attention. You may have exchanged a bunch of instant messages with some acquaintances and read a couple of articles on vaguely interesting topics, but that time was taken from talking to your family and producing something on your own. You traded important, high valued tasks, for unimportant shallow entertainment. You lost.
The craftsman approach to decision making, on the other hand, takes into account not only the benefits but also the negative aspects. You say “yes” to an activity or a tool to use only when the positives outweigh the negatives. It seems like a no brainer, but many of us really struggle with this concept and succumb to the any-benefit trap to justify to ourselves why we are wasting our lives.
Don’t lie to yourself about what is important
I will say it again. Be clear on your priorities. I meant it. Don’t try to lie to yourself and to others about what is truly important to you. Too often we let the cultural expectations blind us. If I ask you to pick the most important thing for you. What comes to mind? And what it actually is? Most people would say something like health or family.
However, your behavior may indicate that it is not necessarily the case. You spend all your time in the office trying hard to get promoted or endless hours working on your business to earn as much money as possible. When was the last time you exercised? How many hours a day you spend with your family? Your actions suggest that family and health are not so important. It is just the obvious thing to say as you don’t want to look bad in the eyes of others and even in your own eyes.
If you genuinely want to achieve something you need to be crystal clear with yourself what truly is important to you and focus on that.
It is fine to want different things from what people around you want. You are a unique individual so shed the guilt of not living up to the expectations of others. Make sure you live up to your own expectations, and that means focusing on things that are important to you.
If you try to satisfy everyone. If you try to have it all. Chances are that you will end up a rather unhappy person. Having a clear idea of your priorities and what a successful life looks like to you is the only way to reach it.
What are your thoughts on how motivation work? How do you set priorities? Do you try to adjust your priorities and life goals to the expectations of people around you?
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