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How many times have you heard the questions: “What drives you” or “What excites you?” These questions may come from well-meaning people but they make one problematic assumption – Our motivation depends on something external. As a result, instead of actively building structures that motivate, we find ourselves aimlessly looking for some outside factors that will motivate us. Instead of asking: “What motivates me?” We should be asking, what am I doing to remain motivated? The answer to this question lies in the doing, not motivation itself.
In the lines that follow I will share three simple techniques to increase motivation. Knowing that one cannot always be motivated, I will share a technique with you that I know you already know to help you get things even when you don’t feel like lifting a feather. However, before I start, two misconceptions need to be kicked out of the way right upfront.
First, we see motivation as a finite goal to be achieved. A lot of us falsely believe our life will be worry-free once we have achieved that goal. Motivation is a dynamic process, not an end-goal. The process of motivation is analogous to eating, sleeping, or drinking water. We don’t become healthy or strong by reaching a state where we needn’t eat, sleep, or drink water.
Second, amotivation is seen as something negative that needs to be avoided at all costs. Trying to resist those moments when we feel like doing nothing will drag us further down the abyss we’re trying to avoid in the first place. We need to remind ourselves that those moments of amotivation are a part of the human experience. As much as there would be no light without darkness, there would be no period of activity without downtime.
Here are the four actions you can take starting from today to increase your motivation:
1. Know thyself
The first step in helping you build motivation is to know yourself. It’s for a reason that the Temple of Apollo at Delphi carries the inscription “know thyself.” We are all different, the truth of the matter is that motivation varies within and across individuals. For example, to get myself worked up for my writing activities by being alone with music.
Knowing what motivates and distracts me makes it easy for me to get my juices flowing. Study your pattern, learn the time of the day, the day of the week, where, and how long you are likely to be the most productive. It’s highly impractical to lay out all the different scenarios here, but a deep self-reflection, trial-and-error, and constant journaling will help you understand your pattern.
“Where there is a will, there is a way. If there is a chance in a million that you can do something, anything, to keep what you want from ending, do it. Pry the door open or, if need be, wedge your foot in that door and keep it open.” – Pauline Kael
2. Take Responsibility
The second best way I’ve found to help increase motivation is to take personal responsibility for the outcomes of one’s actions. When you know you will be held responsible for the success or failure of a particular project, you are more likely to get motivated, do your best, and get things done. Working with children, I am always amazed at how much they comply to order when they are treated as responsible individuals.
For example, you will realize that when you know it is your responsibility to pick your kids up from school, you will do everything in your power to reach them on time. This concept is very relevant to the workplace. Managers, employees, and the organization at large may benefit from employees who are taught to take responsibility for their actions.
By creating structures where people are responsible for the outcome of their actions, they will require less control thereby giving managers more time to do what really matters.
3. Spend time with energy givers
They say birds of a feather flock together. If you’re serious about getting things done, spend more time with like-minded people. Research shows we are likely to consciously or unconsciously pick up the habits of people we spend time with. Spending time with people who procrastinate or complain constantly will take a toll on your personal productivity.
Psychologist Emma Seppälä, PhD noted, “we are wired for empathy.” Equipped with that knowledge, your next action is to make a list of at least five friends you will spend time with.
“Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Going back from the second misconception, even with the above principles, I don’t rule out moments of amotivation. Remember, I said these are part of a healthy human cycle. You may still manage to get things done even when you don’t feel like it.
The best way I found to help me get things done whenever I don’t feel motivated is to do a task completely different than the one I am aiming for. Say, for example, you are trying to finish a report that is due tomorrow. You have tried for 2 hours with no avail. The best thing to do is to get up behind the desk and try something entirely different. It could be walking, running, or watching a video on social media.
Try to stay away from the main task for at least 30 minutes. You’ll be amazed to realize that all you needed to find your spark was time away from your main task. Remember the best way to motivate yourself is through action. Instead of giving in or resisting procrastination, you walk around it so you get things done.
Remember the old adage: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.” Well, this is exactly the same with motivation, a speech can get your adrenaline pumping but they can’t make you take action unless you decide so. So, stop aiming for outside factors to motivate you, get up right now, and do what you have to do! No-one will do it for you!