The gurus are right. We need to define our goals, and how we do that is less important than that you do it. “You can’t get to where you want to go until you know where you’re going,” says David Allen, author of Getting Things Done and Making it all Work.
Once you know where you want to go, the next step is moving toward it.
What do we do on the days when we feel ‘off?’ We feel down, demotivated, or disinterested. How do we keep ourselves moving towards our goal? In his podcast, Jocko Willink is asked a similar question, and his answer is to “do it anyway.” And I think for most days, this is enough.
The problem comes when you are burned out. It’s a few days of being sleep deprived when someone visits and interrupts your regular schedule, or you have other external stresses upsetting your mindset. These times when ‘do it anyway’ might not be enough. In these circumstances, we need some motivation.
Like most things your brain does, motivation is not straightforward. It arises through many different paths. It can occur when one mental state wins over all the others for a time, for example, your feeling of hunger may win over your sense of tiredness, so you are motivated to get off the sofa to make a sandwich.
Motivation waxes and wanes, too, you feel excited about a new project for a short while, and then the motivation wears off. You might find some extrinsic motivation to re-stimulate you, but maybe not.
Motivation can also arise from the logical side of your brain. For example, you may be motivated to invest your money in index funds, knowing you will be better off in the long term. Or from your beliefs: you may be encouraged to do charity work because of your religious beliefs, for example.
Fear, urgency, addiction, love, hatred, disillusionment, and security can all create motivation. But, in fact, most of your motivations are a combination of all of these factors weighed up against each other. And you don’t have control over them per se.
However, these are merely the parts that make up intrinsic motivation or the motivation that comes from within, and there is also extrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation is the motivation that comes from a place other than your mind. It’s the teacher standing over you while you write, the crying baby that gets you out of bed, and the martial arts movie that makes you want to learn kung fu.
You want to get thin is intrinsic, but the trainer that pushes you through a hard training session is an extrinsic form of motivation.
You will get better results.
We have all had this happen to us, we hear a terrific song start playing, and we feel pumped. So we drive faster, add another plate to the bar, and make another sale’s call. The music gives us a little bit more juice to push a little harder.
The question is, would pushing harder make a difference in any part of your life? If you could write a few hundred more words each day, read a little longer, paint more before getting tired, play longer with your kids, or spend more effort cooking dinner, would it make a difference?
You will be less likely to skip.
We’ve all skipped leg day at some point, and although we shrug it off as nothing, it doesn’t make you feel good. Guilt creeps in fairly fast when you start to shirk the things you’ve told yourself you should do. It’s easy to tell your kids to play in their room because “I’ve had a long day,” but do it too often and you can’t help but feel like a failure. Some extrinsic motivation is all you need to get yourself back on track.
Less likely to quit
There was a point on my way up to Everest Base Camp that I really thought about giving up. I was tired and cold, my legs were sore, and the altitude sickness weighed heavy on me. We had caught up with another group ahead of us, and one of the guys in that group motivated me to keep going. He didn’t give me a motivational speech or cheer me on. After seeing that I was fading, he just talked to me and took my mind off the struggle. It was enough to get me through the day.
You will be more consistent.
Consistency is the foundation on which everything is built. Want to be a pianist? Play every day for ten years, and you will be. Want to be an expert software developer? Write code every day for a decade. Almost anything can be mastered with simple brute force, do it every day for long enough, and you will master it. How you learn, who teaches you, and what method they use all pale in comparison.
Adding motivation into your daily routine will give you a much higher chance of being consistent and getting closer to mastery or continuous improvement.
When extrinsic motivation can be useful
Use motivation when you’re just starting.
It’s day one. You’ve bought some beanbags and have a tutorial fired up on YouTube. The man in the video shows you how to throw the first bag, and you copy him, but instead of landing in your other hand, it plops down somewhere behind you. It’s all too easy to decide that you will not be able to learn to juggle and give up. But the truth is that most things are difficult in the beginning. A little motivation can get us through this initial phase.
Use it when you fail.
You’ve spent the last three months studying Chinese every day, and today is the day you’re going to test out your skills for the first time. You walk down to the local Chinese restaurant and sit at the table, nervously waiting for the waitress to come over. You greet her with a “Ni Hao,” and her face lights up. She starts talking back, but you are unable to catch anything she says. You forget how to ask her to slow down or how to say it again and instead resign yourself back to English. “Sorry, I’m just learning. What did you say?” Finally, the light leaves her face, and she hands you the menu and walks away. Three months and all you managed was a “hello.”
It’s easy to beat yourself up when you come up against failure, and sometimes it can be tempting to give up, but some motivation to remind you why you started to begin with, might just keep you going.
When you need an extra push
Deadlines stretch us, and that’s good if you are not on track though some motivation can give you what you need to pull that all-nighter!
Suppose today is the big meeting, the exam, the interview, the marathon, etc. You’re going to need all the motivation you can get. Knowing it’s there for you to use can make a difference to your performance.
When you’re feeling lethargic
Imagine you’re feeling lazy, sprawled out on the couch scrolling YouTube, and know you should be practicing, but you don’t have the energy. Suddenly a video pops up showing some awesome new photography tips. By the end of the video, you’re ready to get the camera out and practice your composition.
Where to find motivation?
Your Past Self
When you start that new habit, hobby, or business, it is always motivating to write down your goal and why you want to achieve it. Not only does this give you a clear focus and confirms the logical part that this is something you want, but it also can serve as motivation for the future. When I’m tired and unmotivated, it always helps to look at my weightlifting goals. It reaffirms why I need to go to the gym today and gives me the push I need to get in another workout.
Ultramarathon runner David Goggins created a ‘cookie jar’ for himself. When he’s 100 miles into a 200-mile race, he can pull a cookie out of the jar to remind himself how much of a badass he is and that he can keep going! You can, too!
Friends or Family
Often family and friends are what you’re doing things for. You might be putting in extra work to get a business up and running for your family. Reminders of them around your office can give you the juice for another late night.
I’m sure you have that one family member or friend that can pick you up when you are down. It might be a gym partner, a colleague, or your Mum. If it’s appropriate, give them a call and see if they can give you a push.
Images of Success
When you walk into most gyms, you will see pictures of bodybuilding legends like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronnie Coleman. In boxing gyms, it may be Ali or Mike Tyson. Do you have any images of success where you do your work, whatever it may be? If you like to study chess in the evenings, why not change your find somewhere to put an image of Garry Kasparov?
I’ll be honest, when I need a kick up the behind, YouTube is my go-to. Of course, plenty of workout motivational speeches and videos always get me hyped. But just being subscribed to channels that are relevant to my goals keeps me motivated.
Seeing videos on my home screen about juggling keeps me practicing, videos about go keeps me playing, the martial arts videos keep me training, and the coding videos keep me wanting to write more code.
You can do this, too. Just make sure you have subscribed or followed plenty of content that relates to your goals on whatever social media you use most. Seeing them daily will give you a little boost to keep improving.
How to turn your social media into motivation
You already have habits that can be hacked for motivation. If you use Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or any other social media site, you can quickly turn it into a motivation engine. Let me show you how.
Let’s say you want to start a new habit of running every day, and you need extra motivation. All you need to do is subscribe to accounts (Instagram), channels (YouTube), or groups (Facebook) on whatever social media you currently use. Your feed will be flooded with running-related posts, pics, videos, and tips.
Your social media becomes a constant source of motivation for you to go running!
- Write down your why, and look at it when you need motivation
- Call a friend or family member to motivate you
- Use images of Success
- Turn your social media into an oasis of motivation