What is this mysterious force that we hear about so often? No not the one in the Star Wars movies, the one that gets us moving and pushes us forward towards our goals. It is surely almost as mysterious as its movie counterpart, and often seems just as difficult to master.
I can speak from long personal experience of struggling with motivation and, judging by the quantity of books, blogs and speakers on this subject, I’m certainly not alone in this. Most of us have probably encountered the dark side, that voice that says ‘Why bother?’
Is there anything we can learn from all the legions of well-meaning writers and would-be motivators? Can we ever hope to overcome our inertia and see our lives take off up into outer space? (or at least leave the launchpad) Does it require a difficult and lengthy training period, aided by a tiny but wise Jedi Master? Let’s investigate.
Motivation – definition
1.1 ‘The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way’
1.2 ‘The general desire or willingness of someone to do something’
Most of us are aware that there is generally a substantial gap between what we do/have and what we would like to do/have. We may have all kinds of unfulfilled dreams and desires that never seem to get any closer to achievement. Occasionally we may find ourselves silently screaming ‘Get up and get going you lazy good for nothing waste of atoms!’. Or words to that effect. (or maybe it’s just me?) Some of us may even have heard similar words uttered by exasperated parents during our youth.
Of course we can’t all be super-motivated teenage squillionaires, starting world-changing enterprises shortly after leaving the womb. There are so many factors that separate the non-starters from the go-getters. Smarts, drive and ambition, plus a healthy dose of good fortune all seem to play their part. They say a good forty to fifty percent of your fundamental personality traits are genetic. But that still leaves plenty of room for manoeuvre.
Being born in the right time and place probably helps too. A youthful genius who dreamed up the idea of Facebook in the 1600s would have probably got some funny looks. Trying to actually build one could have made you the main attraction on bonfire night. (‘Burn the witch!’)
It would seem wise before embarking on any quest for motivation to ensure we have a clear idea of our goals. The general consensus seems to suggest the best way forward is to break them down into a concise and realistic set of steps, with a specific time-scale.
Bad: I want to be a multi-millionaire and travel the world in luxury with my dream partner.
Good: I aim to start my own small venture next year that will enable me to travel widely on a modest budget, hopefully with a pleasant companion for company. I will begin by putting aside funds from my job each month, doing lots of research and preparing a detailed project plan. I will join a social group / dating sites this week to find my travel partner.
Once you have the goals sorted out, the key to making them happen would seem to be best represented by the following easily-remembered acronym:
E D I W D A L T A M G A D
Which stands for: Every day I will do a little towards all my goals and dreams. Or try ED for short.
The key to motivation is overcoming the fear that holds you back and breaking the bad habits you may have slipped into. Very often we develop a host of avoidance strategies to put off starting on those tasks that are the most important. Procrastination becomes entrenched and we end up more and more frustrated with ourselves. We need to overcome the discomfort we experience when starting something that seems daunting.
How to start your motivation hyper-drive engines
1. Make a To-Do list, short and in priority order and try to limit yourself to around seven items. Cross things off as you go and don’t be tempted to start at the bottom with the easiest ones.
2. Use the ‘Little steps’ strategy. Whether it’s writing, studying, exercising or finding a mate, most of us are daunted by the very thought of even starting. Commit to doing just five or ten minutes. You can then stop, or if it feels right, carry on for a bit longer. Once the wheels are in motion, it’s surprising how the momentum can carry you further.
3. Try the Pomodoro technique. You get a timer (or use your phone) set to 45 minutes. Work for the set time then stop and take a break. Repeat as required.
4. Buy a huge quantity of amphetamines. (Just kidding. Don’t do this)
5. Reward yourself for each successful completed action, however small. Try not to make the reward too counterproductive. Drinking a whole bottle of tequila to celebrate your first five minutes of studying is a no-no.
6. Keep a log of your progress in a journal. Write down the thoughts and feelings that arise and how you dealt with them. This type of self-therapy process can be very effective and helpful and will also give you a record of what you achieve over the course of the year.
7. Do not indulge in self flagellation when you have the inevitable set-backs. (although what you do for fun in private is entirely your business) Expect there will be bumps and dips in the road. Occasionally the road will be flooded or there may be a surprise attack of Imperial Stormtroopers. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and, yes, start all over again.
8. Seek out sources of ideas, techniques and inspiration. There are many great free resources to help you get moving and escape the shackles of your own bad habits. Here are a few examples I’ve found helpful. All have featured great articles on inspiration, motivation, goal setting, etc.
9. It’s so easy to waste the day on a myriad of small distractions. TV, social media and re-arranging your string collection can all eat up valuable time. Be strict with yourself and limit these to a set time and duration, after you’ve completed your main goals. Think of your future self thanking you for being smart and disciplined.
We may all have access to a mysterious force at times. When we find activities we love and engage fully with them, we may enter that perfectly absorbed state known as flow. But even without such absolute absorption, we should never underestimate the cumulative effect of small daily actions. The steady drip of water day after day can bore through solid rock. So although it may be boring, to succeed you must be a drip!
I hope you have found this modest summary of motivational strategy useful. If at some point in the near future it helps you to reach squillionairedom, feel free to send me a large suitcase of cash. It will be warmly received and might help my own mission to the stars reach light-speed a bit sooner.
Copyright J.Lennick 2015 All rights reserved.
Yoda pic © Lucasfilm Ltd / The Walt Disney Company