Motivation is the holy grail of self-development. We all know how good it feels and how much more we accomplish when we are highly motivated.
Motivation makes hard work seem fun and enables us to move mountains and achieve amazing feats. Like this man who cycled 169.9 km consecutively on a unicycle. Or like this guy who was so retro he ran a marathon backwards in under four hours. Or this crazy bastard who spent over 100 minutes in direct, full-body contact with ice.
But while it’s easy to get excited and start moving mountains, for most of us the mountain becomes tremendous and overwhelming very swiftly. It’s insanely hard to sustain that drive. We start strong, but after a few weeks or months, our germinal enthusiasm has all but evaporated and all we can do is assemble the minimum effort. And even the minimum effort is sometimes asking too much.
And as our motivation collapses, inevitably so do our dreams of extraordinary rewards of wealth, health and happiness. So what do we do?
The self help industry’s approach to sustaining motivation has been to offer us one list after another of practical steps you can take to fix the problem.
It sounds great, until you realize that most of us gain feeble crop from reading these lists. The reason being that those instructions aren’t nearly as useful as most of us would like to believe. In fact, instructions are a particularly poor tool for habit transformation, because it is very difficult to remember even one or two things in the crucial moments, let alone ten or twenty. And if you can remember them, they are insanely hard to implement when your mind is headed in the opposite direction.
So what’s the alternative?
As counterintuitive as it sounds, the answer is theory.
Yes, theory. Theory isn’t just something that you read in books or what academics spend all their days discussing. Theories underpin everything we understand – or think we understand – about the world around us. A theory is a conceptual model of cause and effect that makes it possible to better predict the outcomes in different circumstances.
You see what’s missing from all the instructional lists is that they give us almost no understanding of how things relate to one another and what causes what. In other words, they are missing the theory that bonds it all together so that we can understand and incarnate how something works instead of trying to memorize countless individual snippets of information.
So rather than offer you yet another list of things to remember, let’s see if we can’t internalize the theory of sustaining motivation.
There are three criteria you will need to fulfill. Once you understand the three key to unlock your never ending motivation, you will be able to pinpoint where or what exactly your own problem is and how to fix it.
1. What’s Your Goal?
The first criteria required for never-ending motivation is to clearly define a meaningful goal or destination. Not something you think you want. Something you really want.
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to find a goal or destination that you yourself want as opposed to what others expect of you. Your goal needs to be personal, meaningful and powerful. You need an peculiar goal. Something that you find personally rewarding and that you would pursue for its own sake, not because of any reward or outcome. When you lack a destination to aim for, why would you try any harder or go any faster? Why would you sacrifice, sweat or bleed for something you don’t fully believe in? It may take a while until you realize. You wouldn’t.
If you don’t have a clear goal, you’ll find yourself drifting aimlessly. Any path is as good as the next, and all that matters is feeling good in the immediate moment. Jumping from one source of immediate satisfaction to another will not help you get you to your destination.
But it’s not just your motivation that’s labored when you are drifting aimlessly: there is no reason not to enjoy yourself to pass the time. Without a destination, you have no reason to channel or conserve your energy for a greater cause, so why not indulge in every pleasure and temptation that comes your way?
The power of a goal lies in its ability to channel your energy, and keep you heading in the right direction, despite the many tempting alternative paths along the way. It keeps you going in the face of adversity, fear and doubt, and gives you the strength to delay enjoyment.
2. Are you on the Right Path?
Having a goal is important, but it’s just as important to feel that the path you are on is actually directed to your goal and not somewhere else.
Few things in life are as flattening as realizing that the path you’re on will never lead you to your goal. Whether it’s about your career, your relationship, your health or your social life, the feeling of progress toward a better future is vital for our emotional well-being and our ability to stay motivated.
If you find yourself In the unfortunate situation that you are on the wrong path, you have two choices: change paths or remain on the current path and accept all the consequences that come with it. It’s that simple.
Changing paths sounds like the obvious choice until you realize that changing paths almost always causes disruption in your life and that there are no guarantees you will succeed or that the other path is any better than your current one. This is why most people desperately stay on the wrong path. It isn’t exactly insignificant or easy to jump from one career to another or to give up on a relationship you’ve been devoted for a long time.
But staying on the wrong path is a motivation killer. Why would you put in any more effort than you have to since the road isn’t taking you to where you want to go?
So what do you do? The current path is draining your motivation, and none of the alternatives seems like a sure thing. Because of that, you start working on an alternative path in your free time. Put 30 minutes every day towards the path that you believe will lead to your goal. Start a website. The hell, start three different websites. Take online course. Go talk to people who already have what you want. Over one year, those 30 minutes will add up and they will make your transition significantly easier when you finally decide to make it.
Once you’ve managed to correct your system of life, you will surely know it. It feels like a relaxing sense of confidence. It doesn’t matter to you if you have to start from the mailroom or being someone’s assistant or starting things slow in a new relationship. As long as you feel that this is the path that will get you where you want to go, you can deal with a lot of unpleasant and difficult things in your path.
3. Do You Have Movement?
So you have a goal that motivates you, and you can feel you’re on the right path. There’s just one final ingredient you need for never-ending motivation.
What you need is movement. You need to know your effort translates into results instead of being stuck in a quicksand. In other words, you need to know that the more effort you put in the closer you get to your goal. Without this belief, you’ll struggle to maintain any reasonable level of motivation.
There are many situations in life where we may lack movement and we feel the final outcome is out of our control. Maybe the the firm you work for doesn’t reward effort, making it impossible for you to advance your career no matter how hard you work. Maybe the ultimate success of your business is dependent on some outside force, such as a change in statute or market conditions. Maybe investors are evaluating your company and all you can do is wait for their decision, which is taking forever.
Not surprisingly, when you don’t feel that your effort correlates with the results, it becomes hard to continue taking meaningful action. You’re like an engine on BMW M-Power but no power in your wheels. No movement, no progress.
No matter how hard you work, your lack of movement won’t help you transfer the power your engine is producing to the wheels and you can’t get to your goal any faster. Nor are you able to correct course when you notice yourself staring to fall off the rails.
Since we are wired to conserve energy when our actions lack meaning, the logical response here is to take your foot off the accelerator and measure to do the bare minimum.
This is why it’s so important for our motivation to feel that we control our destiny. It not only empowers us to take action, but keeps us taking action day after day. When you see a direct link between your effort and the outcome, you become highly motivated to take even more action. However, if you don’t control the means by which you’ll get to your goal, you might as well take a seat at the back of the bus, crack open a beer and let the ones driving the bus decide your fate for you. You’ve heard it many times “If you don’t build your dreams, someone else will hire you to build theirs.“
The general rule of thumb is to try and seek out situations where you have as much control over your destiny as possible. If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t seem to have much control, the first step I recommend is doing an analysis of what you truly need control over to get to your goal. Then see what small changes you can make to alleviate the situation. If the situation can’t be changed, then you are challenged to either accept it or move on to something else.
What are YOU going to do?
The ability to sustain your motivation is decisive in your ability to live a successful life. Whether it’s your career, your personal life, or your health, the ability to take meaningful action day after day is what separates the haves from the have nots.
By understanding the three elements of never-ending motivation, you will not only be able to live up your game, but you will be able to identify and fix where your motivation might be spilling and put a nice cover on it.
The three requirements for sustaining motivation to take root are a meaningful goal to aim for, a feeling of certainty that the path you are on will take you to your destination, and a sense of control that your effort will lead you to your goal. Once those three elements are combined, start tapping into your true potential by focusing your motivation to where it will be of the greatest benefit to you.
Maybe you’ll start a firm that solves world hunger or a movement that will change the world. Or maybe you’ll break the world record for most t-shirts worn at once (currently at 257). With ne ver-ending motivation, it’s entirely up to you what mountain you wish to move.
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