What Is Motivation, Really?
You likely know of people who have been doing the same thing for years and seem to not have any problem staying stagnant. Whether it be in their marriage, job, or personal endeavors, they seem to be getting along just fine without progressing towards anything “better.”
On the other hand, I’m sure you also know of individuals who focus on the positive, goals setting and are constantly pushing themselves to greater heights. Be it promotions at work, building a family, celebrating marriage milestones, traveling more, or going to school again, these individuals seem to constantly progress towards something that improves or enhances their life.
So what’s the difference between these two types of individuals?
What you feel capable of doing comes down to one thing: motivation. It’s the force, or lack of, that keeps driving you forward to overcome challenges and obstacles to achieve your goals.
Without motivation, you’ll give up after a few failed attempts, or even on the first tough challenge that comes your way. Or you’ll just remain where you are: unhappy yet not doing anything to progress ahead.
Whether you realize it or not, motivation is a huge force in your life, and it needs to be harnessed in order to excel and actually enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing on a daily basis. If you find yourself thinking, “I need motivation,” there are specific steps you can take.
Unfortunately, many overgeneralize the word motivation. We think of being either motivated or unmotivated as a simple “yes” or “no” state of being.
The Motivation Flow
To feel motivated, you need to dive beyond the surface. Just reading a motivational quote, being encouraged by your friends or mentor, or writing out a short to-do list won’t help you build sustainable motivation in the long run.
You can think of the motivation that we want to achieve like the Sun (self-sustaining and long-lasting), which supplies a constant influx of energy to all life on Earth. Just like the Sun, your “motivation engine” has different layers, starting from the core and spreading out to the surface. The surface is what you see, but the real process is driven from the core (your internal motivation); and that’s the most important part.
If you can create a self-sustaining motivation engine, you’ll be able to find more meaning in your life and enjoy every minute of what you’re doing, which will make your roles and responsibilities less of a chore.
Let me help you understand this motivation flow better by breaking down the motivation engine into 3 parts:
- Core – Purpose
- Support – Enablers
- Surface – Acknowledgement
The Outer Layer: Surface
The outermost layer, also known as Acknowledgement, encompasses any type of external recognition that might give you motivation. It may come in the form of respect or recognition, such as compliments and praise.
Or it could be emotional support through encouragement, feedback, and constructive criticism. It could also be affiliation, where you have mutual companions or buddies sharing the same goal or burden with you.
One recent study pointed out that “rewards had a positive impact on work motivation but no significant relationship existed between reward and job satisfaction”.
Therefore, it’s important to recognize that rewards will motivate you, but they won’t necessarily make you happier in an undesirable situation.
This is generally what you see on the surface when you look at other people. You see the external acknowledgement, respect, and recognition they’re getting.
The Middle Layer: Support
In essence, the second layer of the motivation engine (also known as Enablers) is what supports your goals. They can magnify the motivation core you have, or speed up the momentum that you build. Basically, they create favorable circumstances for things to go smoothly.
If you want to know how to find motivation, positive enablers are key. This could include friends and family, or any support network you’ve created in life.
The Innermost Layer: Core
But what’s most important, and the true driving force behind your motivation flow, is the innermost core, your Purpose. Your purpose is what differentiates the motivated from the unmotivated, the achievers from the underachievers, the happy from the unhappy.
Your motivational core is your Purpose, and it is sustained by two things: having meaning, and forward movement. With these two as a foundation, you’ll have a power source that will feed you motivational energy indefinitely.
Sustaining Your Core Motivation — Your Purpose
Having meaning is simple. If you want to learn how to find motivation, just ask yourself a question: Why?
Why are you pursuing a certain goal? If the reason is vague or unclear, then your motivational energy will be the same. While motivation provides you energy to do something, that energy needs to be focused somewhere. So without meaning, there is no direction for your energy to focus.
Yet, having a meaningful objective doesn’t mean you have to change the world or have a huge impact on society. The secret to meaningful work is simple: it should contribute value to something or someone that matters to you.
One study suggested creativity as one possible path to meaning, saying: “Many of the core concepts in work on the meaning of life, such as the needs for coherence, significance, and purpose or the desire for symbolic immortality, can be reached through creative activity”.
Next up is gaining forward movement. In short, this means to just keep moving. Like a snowball, motivation from having progress creates momentum. So to keep this up, you have to keep moving.
The good news is, your progress doesn’t have to be huge for you to recognize it. Small amounts of progress can be just as motivating, as long as they keep coming. Like driving a car, you may be really impatient if you’re at a complete halt. But, it lessens if you’re moving forward, even if you’re moving slowly.
Creating a simple progress indicator, like checklists or milestones, is a great way to visualize your small (and big) wins. They trigger your brain to recognize and acknowledge them, giving you small boosts of motivational energy.
This is why video games are so addictive! They’re full of progress indicators everywhere. Even though the progress is completely virtual, they’re still able to trigger the motivation centers in your brain.
How to Get Motivated Daily
1. Find out What Drives You Today
Why not take some time today and do a quick reflection of where you’re at now? Take one aspect of your life that you’d like to progress further in.
For example, it may be your current job. Start with your why. Write down your reasons for why you’re in the job that you’re in.
Then, think about your Motivation Core: your Purpose. Write down what it is within your job that gives you meaning, and what are some things that will help push you forward in life.
Once you have those points, it’s time to do a comparison. Does your current job help you make progress towards that purpose that you’ve written?
If it does, you’re on the right track. If it doesn’t, or if you’ve realized your life isn’t going where you want it to, don’t panic. There’re tools that can help you get through this.
Do your best to not focus on the negative. Review your goals and aim yourself in a positive direction, even if it means that you start small.
2. Change Your Approach and Don’t Give up
When something doesn’t feel right, it’s always a good time to take a moment and look for a different approach if you want to learn how to get motivation.
You may be doing everything correctly and efficiently, but such an approach isn’t necessarily the most motivating one. Quite often, you can find a number of obvious tweaks to your current approach that will both change your experience and open up new possibilities.
That’s why saying “one way or another” is so common—if you really want to accomplish your goal, there is always a way; and most likely, there’s more than one way.
If a certain approach doesn’t work for you, find another one, and keep trying until you find the one that will both keep you motivated and get you the desired results.
3. Recognize Your Progress
For many scenarios though, the task is so vast that such an approach will drain all the motivation out of you long before you have a chance to reach your goal. That’s why it is important to always take small steps and recognize the positive progress made. This is how to keep yourself motivated in the long-term.
Everything you may be working on can be easily split into smaller parts and stages. For most big or long-term goals, it is quite natural to split the process of accomplishing them into smaller tasks and milestones. There are a few reasons behind doing this, and one of them is tracking your progress.
We track our progress automatically with most activities, but to stay motivated, you need to recognize your progress, not merely track it. Tracking is merely taking note of having reached a certain stage in your process. Recognizing is taking time to look at the bigger picture and realize where exactly you are and how much more you have left to do.
For example, if you’re going to read a book, always start by going through the contents table. Getting familiar with chapter titles and memorizing their total number will make it easier for you to recognize your progress as you read. Confirming how many pages your book has before starting it is also a good idea.
Somehow, it is human nature to always want things to happen in short term or even at once. Even though we split complex tasks into simpler actions, we don’t quite feel the satisfaction until everything is done and the task is fully complete.
4. Reward Yourself
Feeling down about doing something? Dread the idea of working on a particular task? Hate the whole idea of working?
Right from the beginning, agree on some deliverables that will justify yourself getting rewarded. As soon as you get one of the agreed results, take time to reward yourself in some way. This creates external motivators to help you feel motivated in the long run.
For some tasks, just taking a break and relaxing for a few minutes will do. For others, you may want to get a fresh cup of coffee and even treat yourself to dessert.
For even bigger and more demanding tasks, reward yourself by doing something even more enjoyable, like going to see a movie, taking a trip to some place nice, or even buying yourself something.
The more you reward yourself for making progress, the more motivated you will feel about reaching new milestones.
Final Thoughts on Staying Motivated
Happiness doesn’t need to be a vague term or illusion that you’re constantly chasing after with no end in sight. By finding your true motivation, you’ll be one step closer to realizing your happiness and finding meaning in everything you do.
You may have tried many solutions to help you stay motivated and found that none of them really have any impact. That’s because they bring about incremental changes only, and permanent change requires a holistic approach. It requires more than just focusing on one area of your life or changing one part of your routine or actions.
You want to make a fundamental change, but it feels like big, unknown territory that you can’t afford to venture into at this point in your life.
The truth is, taking your life to the next stage doesn’t have to be this complicated. So, if you’d like to take the first step to achieving your life purpose, the time to learn how to find motivation is now!