Navigating the Motivational Landscape: From Inception to Achievement
Every action, every achievement, every course of human endeavour, inevitably begins with a thought. Between that moment of inception, and the often distant lands of a goal achieved, there is a whole lot of ground to cover. It all begins with that crucial first step, but what is the link between thought and action? What on Earth comes over us to convince us that traversing such turmoil on our path to achievement is really worth all the hassle?
Alright, it’s a bit of a loaded question when the title of the article has already announced what I’m on about, but it’s worth some consideration. Why do we do things? What pushes and urges us forward to achieve, to discover, to create? There is, of course, some logic behind this. Not every idea is acted upon, and rightly so. For most of us, we will weigh carefully the outcomes and effort, the impacts and repercussions, and make a purely logical decision based on the facts and the facts alone.
Despite the fact that logic can be applied to justify any decision, emotion is the main driver behind many of our daily decisions, whether we recognise it or not. To quote David Hume, “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them”. And beyond that, there is that intangible knowing when an idea simply has to be acted upon. Those “Mission from God” moments which may or may not culminate in the revival of a rhythm and blues band, the salvation of an orphanage, and the destruction of a record breaking number of police cars.
Motivation. Where does it come from? What truly inspires us into planning and action? Well, that one I can’t really provide a satisfactory answer for, but once that moment has come and you absolutely know that you want to do something, have to do it, and have determined that this is absolutely worth devoting your time towards…how do you go about keeping that dream alive through all the ups and downs between that moment of inspiration, and the achievement of your ultimate result?
…where to start. Hmm, maybe I should grab a cuppa before I get into this.
Ok, so jokes aside for the moment, how do we even start looking at a subject so ephemeral and so broad, and begin to work towards achieving something as elusive as perpetually sustainable drive.
I asked our good friend Chat -GPT how it would define motivation, and it came up with this…
Think of motivation like a river running through different landscapes.
Sometimes this river is full and fast, rushing through lush valleys where everything feels easy and exciting. This is when motivation is a breeze – you’re pumped about your goals, and things seem to fall into place without much effort. It’s like those days when you jump out of bed ready to conquer the world.
But, just like a river, motivation doesn’t always flow through easy terrain. Sometimes it hits a desert. Imagine the river slows down, almost to a crawl, struggling through the dry, tough land. This is like those times when nothing seems to go right, you feel stuck, and it’s a real grind to stay on track with your goals. It’s not that the river stops – it never does – but it sure slows down.
Ok, so perhaps a little bit of a stretch for the metaphor, but still a reasonable summation of the driving force behind human action and interaction. It even threw in a few pointers on how to keep yourself motivated through that rocky, desert terrain.
- Conserve Your Energy: In tough times, think about how you spend your energy. It’s like being careful with water in a desert. Focus on what’s really important, and don’t sweat the small stuff.
- Find Your Springs: Even in a desert, there are hidden springs. When motivation is low, look for things that give you a little boost. Maybe it’s a chat with a friend, a favourite song, or a walk in the park. Small things can make a big difference.
- Build Habits and Routines: Think of these as channels that help guide the river. Having a good routine can keep you on track, even when motivation is low.
- Remember Why You Started: When you’re struggling, think about why you started this journey in the first place. Your initial spark – your ‘why’ – is the source of your river. Revisiting it can help get things flowing again.
Pretty good advice, and I’m certain there’s more that could be gleaned from reading further into these points. But there’s a few things gnawing on me as I read this. Each of these tips also has a hidden potential downside.
- Conserve your energy – Yes, absolutely. But how best to find a balance between conservation and action. Conserving energy, whilst not necessarily detrimental, has the potential to stifle the growth that can come from pushing yourself beyond known limits. Breaking personal records can give a big boost to morale, and pushing to achieve this can serve as a massive motivator.
- Find your springs – I agree that little side-trips and constructive distractions can help to relieve mental fatigue, which in turn aids in sustaining long-term motivation. However, again there is a limit to the usefulness of seeking these little boosts, and a point where seeking motivation-boosting distractions becomes more of a tool for procrastination. Worse still, if this leads to a feeling of “lack of progress”, there is risk that a sense of futility can start to creep in.
- Build habits and routines – Yes, but routines can also become energy-sapping, and maintaining them can sometimes become a detracting factor to your overall enthusiasm. It is imperative to recognise when a routine has reached the point where it is being sustained only for the sake of keeping up the routine, and has ceased to contribute any real benefit. When this happens, it’s time to look closely at whether the routine should be updated, replaced, or scrapped completely. It can also be very revealing to take a moment to recognise if the routine has become a method for procrastination, perhaps playing out a fear of completion and possible failure. Maybe the routine was only created unconsciously as a treadmill to keep the activity levels high, without running the risk of reaching the end of your endeavour.
- Remember why you started – ok, I’m not going to try to gainsay this one. I agree that finding ways to constantly remind yourself of the primary reason why you began is probably the greatest contributor to success. This is also one of the many reasons why defining your purpose, as well as your SMART goals, at the outset of your project is such a vital part of the planning process.
I’d also add to this:
- All things in balance – planning and action, activity and rest, finding the steady path of progress often yields the best long-term results. Like the famous 20 mile march of Roald Amundsen, restraint in times of fair weather, and perseverance in the face of hardship need to be balanced against a measurable goal to avoid over-exertion and excessive stalling.
- Resilience – failure only occurs once all efforts have ceased. This does not mean that stopping to rest is admitting defeat, tactical recovery is also a critical part of every adventure. Imagine attempting to summit Mount Everest in a single trek. The chance of success, and even survival, are minimal at best, and reckless in the extreme.
- Plan your adventure – what’s important to you now, and what can be a vital pursuit for another day. It’s much easier to work towards a reasonable number of defined goals, and add new goals to a list of possible (not confirmed) ideas to be considered on another day.
It sounds good, and is likely to help keep you on track if your motivation has started to wane, but what about if you’ve already lost all momentum? And what about the downside of over-enthusiastic action? Burnout, wheel spinning, delay frustration, and time wasted through lack of clear planning – all this and more can be the result of charging headlong into action on a tidal wave of motivation mania. How do you keep all this in balance when you’re really struggling with the thought of whether or not it’s worth the effort?
When you’re powering through and everything is flowing well, it’s much easier to stay on track, even if things start to get a bit rocky. The laws of inertia are working in your favour.
When your river has run dry, so to speak, that’s when it can seem like the task of building your motivation up enough to complete your goals is a more daunting task than actually working towards them. Sometimes it seems like there’s a mountain blocking our path, and amidst everything else, we don’t even have enough motivation left to take the very first step. If anything, we just need a rest.
How do we move on from these moments? When there seems a whole world of difference between the power and drive we felt when we set out, and that feeling of being so snowed under, we feel that we need to triage basic daily tasks above goals and bold endeavours, just to get through the daily grind with clean clothes and food for tomorrow.
At its core, motivation is a healthy balance of internal and external forces. A portioned mix of our dreams and desires, our sense of self, and even our fears. It combines the pressures we place upon ourselves, the sense of expectations held up by societal norms, and the resistance we feel towards these things. It is intangible and yet at the same time, it’s presence or lack is felt constantly.
To help understand this blend of forces, we can classify two overarching modes of motivation – intrinsic motivation, and extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic – the internal motivator, is the drive we feel through our own passions and desires. The force that drives from deep inside, whether playing a sport for the love of the game, or studying a subject that excites us, seeking the thrill of mastery.
Extrinsic – the environmental motivator, can be a far more varied subject. From the motivation to achieve a financial goal, to competing for glory, being driven by fears or guilt, a sense of obligation, or even just to experience the warm smile of a person who was surprised by your small act of kindness. Extrinsic motivation comes in about as many different forms as we have experiences in our lives, and each has its own attributes to consider. Some may start with a stronger burst of momentum, but may also incur harmful impacts on your long-term efforts.
But how do we balance all of these forces in a way that sustains the sense of drive and urgency, without pushing into obligation and undesirable side-effects like stress and burnout?
The key lies in understanding our own unique motivational landscape. Self-awareness is the key here, which involves looking intently into our own desires, acknowledging our fears, and understanding the values and beliefs that shape our actions. It is a journey inward, and one of incalculable benefit to so many aspects of our lives.
Each of these forces, intrinsic and extrinsic, are a part of a whole. As such, they are strongest when they are aligned, and can support each other when one begins to lose it’s effect. When the love of the pursuit begins to lose its lustre, a strong external motivator such as a planned reward can help to keep things on track. Similarly, if the reward starts to pale in comparison to the effort you’re putting in, try to forget about the goal and rekindle the purity of your pursuit. Find the fun and joy of your endeavour, and simply enjoy the moments of present-mindedness that come from fully experiencing what you are doing, without burdens from the past or expectations for the future.
Finding ways to link intrinsic and extrinsic motivators can be a marvellous reflective exercise, and a wonderful way to dig deeper into what really means the most to you and why.
But what about the tough times? How do we find motivation when all seems lost? The techniques and tips we hear about boosting motivation are helpful, but more important is perspective – there’s a time for rapid progress, and a time to conserve energy. This is fine, and finding the balancing point that allows us to flow between these states is also a matter of fine tuning and refinement. The greatest safety net you have when balancing these times of ebb and flow, is to remember that adversity itself can be a powerful tool of growth and learning. If there is a challenge, there is also a chance for self-development.
There is also momentum in all things, including decline. So often we fight against this momentum, struggling to force our way back to a state of positivity and progress, but falling is ok sometimes. The downward-seeming momentum of times when motivation escapes you, can be a powerful indicator that something has shifted and needs to be reassessed. It can also point to internal demotivators, like unconscious patterns or fears which have been working against us. Perhaps it’s time to put conscious focus on exploring and addressing these as a higher priority.
Or perhaps the seeming lack of progress that has had you feeling demotivated is just the quiet moment of building pressure before your next big breakthrough. Hang in there, and see the momentum of declining enthusiasm as a building of energy for the next surge upwards, higher peaks of positivity, productivity, progress and personal growth.
But all is not lost. In motivation, as with momentum, the first law of motion applies. “A body at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it, and a body in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external force.”
Find the best ways to limit the outside forces that work against your momentum, and search always for the external forces that can set you in motion again when you feel like you’ve come to a stop.
Speak to friends or family or take a tactical creative diversion. Breathe deeply for 3 minutes, ignoring all distractions. Drop what you’re doing and go for a run (not recommended if you are waiting in line at the checkout).
Book a time in your calendar when you plan to do whatever you feel like doing without guilt or worry, then book a time when you will do nothing except work towards your goal without guilt or worry.
Whatever interrupts the momentum of doubt and stress, and lets your conscious thought processes start to pull you in the direction you want to go.
You got this – you know you do. And if you have any doubts, remember that someone close to you knows it too.
We hope this article has offered some provocation for thought. We’re also eager to hear your opinions, advice and motivation techniques that you’ve taken to heart over the years to help you to keep pushing towards your goals.
Join us again next month, when we dive deeper into discussion about the Upside of Adversity.