The Motivation Myth
If you’re not motivated, this will be why.
But when I answer, ‘Well no, I’m not actually’, they will often look at me as if they don’t understand.
It’s simply that I don’t believe in motivation, at least not the sort that is normally attributed to motivational speakers.
In my world, there are two kinds of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic meaning inherent, existing within you, an internal drive or energy, and extrinsic meaning lying outside of you, not belonging to or created by you, coming from someone or somewhere else.
The most effective motivational speakers can only ever provide extrinsic motivation, which is very popular, I’ll grant you, but it’s also ephemeral and limited in its effect.
This kind of motivation is usually delivered in front of an audience of anxious or excited individuals, sitting (or standing) enthralled while a dynamically enthusiastic speaker weaves for them a wonderful web of pure magic, the spun gold of riches and success.
For an hour or fifty, he (or she) will imbue his listeners with a new sense of possibility and destiny, an awesome new vision of their unlimited selves, capable of scaling the highest mountains of their imagination, if only they believe they can.
The members of the audience are given a new lease on life; the only payment required is that they instantly become their ‘new’ selves, all conquering, laying waste their limitations, focussing on their goals and doing ‘whatever it takes’ to achieve them.
If you’ve ever attended this kind of event, you’ll recognise that a) I’m being somewhat euphemistic, and b) I’m understating the magnitude of the manipulation that usually takes place at such events.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to having enjoyed one or two of these myself – I’ve even spoken at a couple – but the point is, as charismatic or powerful as these practiced orators might appear to be, we are relying on their skills in the moment to make us feel good and to give us motivation.
The truth is; no one gives you motivation. You either motivate yourself or you are not motivated, at least not in a sustainable fashion.
And even if you can remain buoyantly optimistic and uplifted for a period of time following the powerful extrinsic motivation that you experience, how long is it before you feel compelled to return to another event (sometimes the same event repeated) for another extrinsic motivational ‘fix’?
For some, of course, this is a perfectly acceptable way to behave. It’s what a lot of people do and they appear to be happy with this as a self-development strategy: they derive a lot of pleasure from the experience.
But I’ve also met and talked to a lot of people for whom this strategy has actually made matters worse!
The reason for this is fairly obvious. Our hopes get raised, our dreams appear more possible (at least for a short while), our aspirations and goals get changed, and although we might feel more inspired, powerful, and capable, etc. our reshaped future vision is necessarily going to take more work and/or resources to attain. Which is precisely why, unless you know how to maintain your own motivation, things are likely to go a bit off-track!
So when we subsequently realise that we are doing less well than we expected (or felt we were promised!) our sense of loss and disappointment grows and in some cases we can become disheartened, disillusioned, even depressed.
I’ve no idea what the statistics are, but based on my own observations about this industry, by talking to a wide range of practitioners and consumers, and with what I know about human nature, I would have to suppose that there are a lot of ‘seminar junkies’ out there who fall unfortunately, but quite neatly into this category.
The Personal Trainer
The personal trainer is one of the best examples I can think of where the motivational element of the service provided is probably as important as the specific skill, knowledge and coaching ability of the service provider.
And by personal trainer, I mean the person that takes you through a regular, structured, personalised routine of physical exercise training.
I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said to me that the reason they finally decided to employ the services of a personal trainer was because they felt they needed someone else to keep them on track, to ensure that they stuck to their exercise routine.
We all know that without that kind of external enforced discipline and motivation from somebody else, or from some externally structured environment like having to go to work, many of us would simply default to our natural ‘can’t be bothered’ state. Our inertia would easily overpower any sense of motivation we might have.
In his seminal book, ‘Flow – the classic work on how to achieve happiness’, author and professor at the Drucker School of Management in California, and former chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Chick-sent-me-high), clarifies that, ‘contrary to what we tend to assume, the normal state of the mind is chaos’, which is one explanation why pretty much all formal education in the western world focusses on creating structured information storage and retrieval systems in our brain.
The very act of creating order out of chaos not only gives us opportunities to learn how to live and progress in the civilised world, but also gives us the neural building blocks that in disciplined use actually bring us pleasure, enjoyment and fulfilment.
But back to motivation and why it is so important to develop our own intrinsic version, and not rely on outside influences to run our lives, especially when we are wanting to achieve some kind of ‘success’.
Successful people take responsibility – for the decisions they make, for their actions, and perhaps most importantly in this context, for doing the things they are motivated to do – often the things they are passionate about!
Another way of putting it is: Successful people know what they want (to achieve), are usually driven (intrinsically) to get the outcome, work out and decide how they will do it, and then take the actions necessary to achieve their desired goal.
We don’t all know what we want from an early age. In fact because our initial discovery of what we want to do with our lives usually comes from some external experience – exciting or touching us by showing us what could be possible for us – it is not until we internalise our thoughts and feelings, and work out whether or not a real possibility exists for us that we discover a level of motivation, drive, persistence, determination, etc. and then, perhaps, decide to follow our dream.
This kind of discovery, coupled with an optimistic and courageous disposition can be a winning formula for success. So how come so many people appear not to possess much or any intrinsic motivation in their lives or work?
Well, perhaps one reason might be precisely because of the way we are formally educated.
“He’s not a good teacher (meaning that the lessons weren’t particularly inspiring or motivating), I just couldn’t get interested in history/science/maths etc.”
Personally, I must have sited this excuse a hundred times for my lack of academic progress in certain subjects at school. And it really doesn’t matter whether or not the teacher was any good. If we end up not learning in school, then there are going to be consequences of some sort.
But the fact remains; the education system doesn’t actually teach us how to motivate ourselves. In fact many of us end up thinking that it’s not our responsibility to learn in school. If we failed at school, it’s because the teacher was no good – he didn’t make the subject interesting enough – nothing to do with me! Or worse: I couldn’t understand the teacher, I must be stupid!
Either way, it either tends to be later in life of by some other quirk of fate that we discover subjects that a) really excite us, and b) we want to do as a career. People often get as far as university and still don’t know what they really want to do. No wonder that in this situation, motivation is in short supply.
Motivation isn’t a stand-alone feeling. You have to be motivated ABOUT something, or motivated TO DO something.
I consider myself blessed that despite a shaky academic school life, I did know from about age 11 exactly what I wanted to do with my life (as far ahead as I could imagine at the time). I was excited by it, and with that excitement, came immense motivation (which included drive, determination, self-belief, energy and ambition). And knowing what I know now – but didn’t know then – I would love to be able to share the ‘how’ of discovery and motivation for everyone that wants it.
‘Discovery’ we deal with in our “Unstoppable” seminar, which is unfortunately on hold just now, but in the meantime I’d like to offer you a really powerful model for when you find yourself a bit lacking in motivation, and especially if, as a result, you are not feeling terribly fulfilled about things.
Firstly, let me reassure you that this isn’t just about doing the things you like to do. It’s about turning any activity that you have decided needs to be done in order to achieve the success you are looking for, into a ‘FLOW’ experience – one that you derive great enjoyment from and achieve progress, growth or accomplishment from at the same time.
And while I’m not suggesting that it’s necessarily easy to learn to love playing – say – football if you weren’t interested in sport, you COULD do even that by using the principles of ‘FLOW’ that I’m about to share with you, if you wanted.
The ‘FLOW’ Experience
In Csikszentmihalyi’s research and study, he has defined a major distinction. I will attempt to simplify as much as possible.
People generally think that happiness comes from doing things that are pleasurable: eating good food, going on nice holidays, buying nice things, watching TV or a good movie, or being with friends.
And whilst these things certainly can and do make us feel good, once the event or experience has passed, one tends to revert to one’s default mental state until the next episode comes along.
On the other hand, enjoyment – as Csikszentmihalyi defines it – is the result of engaging in things that make us grow and develop in some way.
The difference can be stated like this: Enjoyment comes from facing some kind of challenge and succeeding in completing or meeting it. In other words, doing something that needs a certain amount of skill and application, that has an end goal as a part of it, and about which – by the end – you will feel pleased, proud or relieved.
In general, then, watching the television in a passive frame of mind is pleasant but doesn’t produce long-term enjoyment. Whereas, running a marathon, winning any skill-based game, or learning something new, all produce some kind of benefit AFTER the activity is over.
This is where happiness lies; this is the source of all happiness according to the principles of ‘FLOW’.
And this was where the penny dropped for me.
When I first read the book ‘FLOW’, I suddenly realised why certain things made me feel good and STAY feeling good about myself, whilst other things made me temporarily happy because they were pleasant enough to do, but they didn’t KEEP me happy or give me an on-going sense of growth or achievement.
And if you’re wondering why I’m linking motivation to happiness and ‘FLOW’, it’s because once you understand how ‘FLOW’ works, and you design your life as much as possible to be full of ‘FLOW’ activities and experiences, you find that any concerns you might have had about motivation tend to just fall away!
When you spend so much time in ‘FLOW’ the apparent need for motivation, per se, becomes virtually irrelevant.
You become involved in work and play that you love, enjoy and achieve through, and are motivated to get on with: pretty magical really!
So here are the eight elements that you will find in all ‘FLOW’ experiences.
Ensure that these elements are included in the tasks and activities that you engage in, and they will, from then on, produce happiness and fulfilment for you.
Sounds dead easy, doesn’t it? The principles are, but you will have to practice – as usual – to acquire the skill and to turn it into a lasting habit.
The Elements of Enjoyment (taken directly from ‘FLOW’)
1 The experience usually occurs when we confront tasks we have a chance of completing
2 We must be able to concentrate on what we are doing
3 The concentration is usually possible because the task undertaken has clear goals
4 The concentration is usually possible because the task provides immediate feedback
5 One acts with a deep but effortless involvement that removes from awareness the worries and frustrations of everyday life
6 The experience allows you to exercise a sense of control over your actions
7 Concern for the self disappears, yet paradoxically the sense of self emerges stronger after the ‘FLOW’ experience is over
8 The sense of the duration of time is altered; hours pass by in minutes, and minutes can stretch out to seem like hours.
It is the combination of these elements that causes a deep sense of enjoyment that is so rewarding people feel that expending a great deal of energy is worthwhile simply to be able to feel it.
I hope that you can see how rock climbing, doing a crossword, playing sports or chess, learning a musical instrument, or writing a book are easy-to-see examples of ‘FLOW’, but then also consider how what you do could also be, perhaps just tweaked in some way, to make it a ‘FLOW’ experience too.
Perhaps through adding a simple, measurable goal to doing the washing up, or by asking a friend for marks out of ten for your presentation, you could transform how you feel about a task and its accomplishment. Or by deciding to really concentrate or go deeper into the research for a project you have been asked to undertake, you might ask yourself whether or not that would engage you more whole-heartedly.
Even working on the checkout at the supermarket could be turned into a ‘FLOW’ activity by seeing how many people you could get to smile at you today.
And perhaps the most interesting examples of ‘FLOW’, literally life-saving, that I haven’t mentioned, but that are described in detail in the book, are when people in dire straits, for example prisoners in solitary confinement, have invented mental games and turned them into ‘FLOW’ experiences in order to retain their sanity; they have survived where others have gone mad in the same situation!
While I have been writing this piece, it has been a ‘FLOW’ experience for me.
I sincerely hope that you feel able to take this on board yourself and benefit from the wisdom and insight within.
And as a final thought, stop looking for motivation from outside of yourself. Even if you find it and like it, it will never sustain you, at least not for long. Find it within yourself through doing things that you are really passionate about and because you’ve made them mean something special for you in your life. That’s when you will really start to your live at an extraordinary level.
If you have any questions or comments, as usual, I would be honoured for your contribution.
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