The ability to improve your self motivation is something that people often believe is not possible. Many understand motivation to be an innate trait. Due to this, we often look at other people and wonder where they get their motivation from, in both the positive and negative perspective. I will often see someone that is a parent, an athlete, successful in their occupation and still finds time to be a friend and have a social life. When I see her, I am amazed at the motivation it takes to consistently be in her shoes. I also see someone who wakes up in the morning, does nothing for 16 hours and talks about being ‘worn out’ and goes to bed.
Motivation is difficult to manufacture. Being able to generate self motivation can be very difficult if you don’t understand some basic principles. While understanding motivation can be complex, the following is at least one way to become better at generating self motivation.
In his most recent book, “Smarter, Faster, Better”, Charles Duhigg talks about one key element related to improving a person’s self motivation. The element is obtaining a sense of control.
The basic principle states that when a person doesn’t believe they have any choice and no control over their choices, then they are not likely to have self motivation. The story that drove home the point was a story about how the Marines started to change the way they trained soldiers going through bootcamp. Bootcamp is normally seen as a way to break down and rebuild a soldier, where everything is completed exactly how the drill sargent determines it to be done. To improve the training process, they began introducing choices and control into the training process. The choices were sometimes of minor importance. For example, one task assigned to the soldiers was to clean the kitchen. The soldiers were given no instructions. It seems like a very minor task, but soldiers had to decide whether they wanted to keep left overs or throw them out. They had to determine where items such as the ketchup was put away. These situations where soldiers were given the ability to make a choice and had control over what occurred started to change the way soldiers perceived themselves. These small examples grew into situations that were experienced out in various training exercises, where soldiers were deliberately given tasks that couldn’t be completed with the instructions they were given. This meant they needed to make choices of their own, controlling the outcomes.
This past year, I have thought a lot about self motivation. Specifically as it relates to my career and staying motivated. When I finished the Awesome Inc University bootcamp in November, the political landscape was changing. We had a new president which brought a lot of opinions on what the future would look like. As it was November, there were thoughts about the timing for hiring managers and why it would be January prior to companies being ready to hire. Then there was the desire to remain in the healthcare, public health and wellness market, where I already had developed myself as an expert.
What I found in conversations, was a gravitation to factors that I could not control. Here are a few quick examples:
Political: Trump is now president and is going to be repealing the Affordable Care Act, so healthcare companies are not going to take as many hiring risks in this unknown environment.
Timing: A hiring manager needs to wait until the beginning of the year prior to fully reviewing new applicants. They may also need to wait until there is more clarity on what impact Trump’s presidency will have on their business.
Location: There are very few healthcare related startups in Kentucky, especially when focused on Lexington. It may be wise to start thinking about other markets that would be more likely to be hiring than Lexington.
These conversations became quite disheartening and demotivating. As I listened to these stories and opinions long enough, it became easy to fall into a belief that I simply needed to succumb to the circumstances. Sometimes the advice would be to wait until “things got better”. As someone who prefers action, even if the action is the wrong decision, these opinions were depressing. On the days that I began to believe the storylines, I felt foolish for taking action when the suggested approach would be ‘wait for better days ahead’.
Upon reflection of this past year, in the context of Charles Duhigg’s information on self motivation, I can see how having a sense of choice and control is crucial for self motivation. The belief that your effort has some impact on the outcome is incredibly powerful.
So what should a person do in order to generate some sense of choice and control when it does not seem like there is any obvious opportunity? For this I take some inspiration from James Altucher, who shares something he calls his ‘Daily Practice’. My interpretation of James’ daily practice routine is that every person has multiple aspects to our lives. We have our physical health, mental health, family relationships, social connectedness and career. The challenge we have is to do something each day to positively impact those areas. It would be ideal if a person could have an activity for each area, however when you are struggling to find motivation and inertia, find at least one activity that can be completed daily.
While I did not think about it previously, I have implemented elements of a daily practice over the past year, as I have searched to understand what direction my career takes me. Here are the two practices that I have found that provide me choices and a sense of control, which ultimately has allowed me to maintain an internal reserve of self motivation:
I have been very observant in 2017 to not get too caught up in following a strict training plan. In fact, the amount and type of training that I have completed over the past 9 months has not been optimized towards any end goal. That being true, I can still say without hesitation, it will be one of my most successful and rewarding years of running over the past decade. Each day I determine if I will run, what route I will run and for how long I would like to run. The only real goal I have with each effort is that I continue to maintain my health and fitness, along with ensuring I optimize my happiness by the time I stop running for the day.
I enjoy writing. It is one thing that optimizes my happiness. It is also something I have utilized over the past 14 years to support my career ambitions. Since the very first HTML page I posted to ditschfitness.com, in 2003, I have worked at sharing ideas on health, fitness and performance through my writing. In terms of finding some choice and control, it is an activity that no one manages for me. I do not have an editor, an agent or a director of content. Each day I sit down and try to write something of value. There are days that I write 200 words that are simply mental notes. Then there are days that I am able to put down 2000 words that form the beginning of an article I want to share. On days that I am struggling to write, I either go for a run and find inspiration, or I start to edit something I wrote on a previous day. The value of the writing may be difficult to calculate in monetary terms, however it has been invaluable in terms of maintaining a sense of choice and control over my career.
Become an expert at generating self motivation:
When you do an honest self assessment that leads you to question your motivation to make a change, one of your first steps should be to find an activity that you can exert choice and control. The activity does not have to be something major, it can be something as small as the example from the Marine bootcamp, where soldiers got to choose where they put the ketchup when they cleaned the kitchen. Once you have a chosen activity, it is ideal if you can practice that sense of choice and control every single day. As Charles Duhigg shares in his book, generating self motivation is a skill that can be learned. Therefore, like anything worthwhile in life, if it provides you value and requires practice, my recommendation is to practice often.