So what exactly is motivation? And why is important to us?
Why Motivation Matters
The only way to accomplish a worthwhile objective is to muster the drive to achieve it. Wanting and needing something are not enough. Only action makes desire more than a fruitless wish. Motivation is the emotional force that impels you to act. It is evident in the faces of competing athletes, in the work ethic of entrepreneurs and in the intensity of serious students. Yet everyone faces some common enemies that can undermine motivation, such as:
• Feeling undeserving – Many people feel they don’t deserve to succeed.
• Fear – Others worry about failure, rejection, humiliation or drudgery.
• Comparisons – Evaluating your progress against others will hinder you.
• Blame – Accusing others of a lack of drive gives you an excuse to quit trying.
Other burdens that blunt motivation include “substance abuse,” “magical thinking,” a sense of being overwhelmed by too many options and other underlying problems. Yet, if you work only when everything is aligned and you are in the right mood, you won’t get anything done. If you wait for inspiration to tap you on the shoulder, you could wait forever. Motivating yourself requires the “maturity” to analyze your goals, decide what you want and act to achieve it. Individuals get a shot of motivation in reaction to several different kinds of stimuli. However, people react to stimuli differently. Consider two boxers in a fight. Both want to win. But while one fights to display physical strength, the other may be driven by the quest for a monetary prize. Human behavior theorists set out to cluster motivation into simplified models. Their broadest grouping looks at motivation in two dimensions:
internal, driven by thoughts and feelings, and
external, driven by desire for wealth or safety.
Other well-known motivational theories include:
• Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – Human needs start with the necessities of physical survival and progress to safety, love, recognition, achievement and self-actualization.
• Alderfer’s ERG Theory – People need “existence, relatedness and growth.” Humans seek answers to existential questions, like “Who am I?” and “What are we doing here?”
• McClelland’s Acquired Needs Theory – People want to succeed, to associate with others and to acquire power. One of these needs always dominates the other two.
• Skinner’s Reinforcement Theory – Motivation is a product of conditioning through positive and negative reinforcement.
These models and many more accepted constructs explain some aspects of human behavior. Most experts draw from the items shown as a smorgasbord and don’t treat them as rigid choices.
Methods of Motivation
You can use many different methods to motivate yourself and others. Some techniques rely heavily on rational thinking, decision making and willpower while others draw on “imagination, the subconscious and the spiritual side.” The best methods touch on both. Positive thinking, visualization and hypnosis, which are popular processes if not always scientifically verified, can help you define your purpose and goals, manage your willpower and trigger your imagination. To give one of these approaches a fair try, dig into it deeply, rather than flipping from one to another. As you examine different motivational tools and find ideas that make sense, test a few seriously. If need be, mix and match them into a system that works for you. You’ll know your strategy is effective if you find yourself working wholeheartedly to achieve your goals. If you remain stuck, you need a different strategy. Perhaps turn to some top motivational authors, such as Brian Tracy. Check out a couple of positive-thinking classics, such as The Strangest Secret by Earl Nightingale. Author Anthony Robbins popularized Neuro-Linguistic Programming, which says beliefs determine your actions, so new achievements require changing your beliefs. For a logic-based self-help method, see Albert Ellis’ A Guide to Rational Living. He examines personal issues using an A-B-C framework. Look at “Adversaries or Adversities,” examine your “Beliefs” and work out the “Consequences” in “conversations with yourself.”
Finding Purpose and Establishing Aligned Goals
Nothing builds motivation like finding something you really want to do. The objectives that drive you the hardest can help you find a larger purpose, but discovering your ultimate goal can be difficult. Think carefully about your dreams and visions. Follow ambitions that pull at your emotions and avoid requirements you find off putting. Consider what you think is important and what you “really have to offer this world.” If you make the wrong directional choice, you can always switch paths. Don’t fall for the idea that you are trapped. You can change your job or obtain more education. If need be, you can change your religion, friends or marital status. You can move to a new place, dress differently and handle your money more wisely. Very little in life is fixed and immovable. When you set out to win a new position, assess your skills and experience. If you need more training, map out how you will acquire it. Strive to align your purpose and goals across all fields: your personal relationships, job, finances and health. Learn from people who are already where you want to go. Develop relationships with role models and mentors. Learn from friends who share your goals. Study people who are doing a good job and can offer valuable guidance. Cultivate healthy instincts and decide what is best for you.
If pursuing your ambitions has come to seem like heavy drudgery, your goals may be out of date and could be working against your motivation. Align the primary functional areas of your life – work, finances, experiences, health, family and relationships – with your real purpose. These areas demand a lot of motivation because they occupy so much of your time and energy, and they bear a possibility of failure. To motivate yourself, identify goals that you really want to achieve and pursue them. Set challenging targets that you know you can accomplish with some extra push. Don’t try to swallow the whole goal at once. Break it down into smaller interim tasks. Write your goals to make them feel immediate, real and attainable.
Motivating Multiple Facets of Your Life
To make the most of your income and create a secure future, develop the right attitude toward money, gather good information and develop sound fiscal habits. Building wealth is never a “spectator sport,” so you need to learn how money really works. Watch your spending and try to use money effectively. Save regularly and have an investment program you can stick with (as long as it works). Avoid “get-rich-quick programs”; they only create wealth for the people who sell them. Above all, do not continue chasing a negative-cash-flow lifestyle that pile up debt. Too many people live passively, viewing life through their TV sets and settling for whatever comes along. Instead, get active and engaged to lift your energy level or freshen your emotional state. Take charge of your health. If you follow smart eating habits and start a fitness regimen, you’ll not only feel stronger and have more energy, you’ll also develop a greater sense of control over your life. Don’t try to leap into extreme performance overnight, and don’t let the pursuit of fi tness consume your life or divert you from your larger purpose.
Add richness to your relationships, especially with your relatives. When it comes to your family, realize that everyone has faults and no one is perfect. Your family represents your tightest relationships, particularly the people you grew up with, those who “helped you forge your view of the world.” Establish the same kinds of emotionally solid ties with your children and strengthen your loving union with your spouse. Sometimes, however, a certain level of detachment actually can enhance healthy bonds, so strive for balance. Help the people who matter to you feel “secure, respected and valued.” Uphold their purposes and goals. Think in terms of teamwork and mutual support, not competition or combativeness. Each person should be able to build a healthy self-identity based on a sense of independence. To meet your goals and stop wasting time, keep your eye on the bigger prize, not the drudgery you have to do to get there. Fulfilling your purpose can
energize you for the tedious groundwork. Maybe you can delegate some tasks to others who enjoy them more.
Getting the Spark Back
No matter how fiercely motivation burns in your heart, it can grow or fade. “Discouragement, burnout and obsession” are realities of the human condition. But you can conquer setbacks that rob you of strength and resolve, and throw you into despair. When trouble comes along, try to view it as temporary and short-term. “Face reality.” If you haven’t tried your best, be honest with yourself. The goal you thought mattered may not be so important after all. What can you learn from this experience? What would you change if you were to start over? What is your path forward? You can relight the flame and stoke the furnace of motivation to energize your life again.
Examine what you have accomplished rather than focusing on where you faltered. Instead of discouraging yourself by viewing the miles you have yet to travel, look at the next few steps and get moving. Realize that obsession and fanaticism are not true motivations. They are emotional disturbances that can hurt you in the long run. Take time to rest and refresh yourself. When you feel tired constantly, when you want to pull away from things you once enjoyed, when you feel that nothing you do seems to matter, when stress is a constant companion, you are manifesting many signs of burnout and should do something about it immediately. Sometimes, the solution is as simple as getting “back to basics” and releasing a bunch of accumulated distractions. Often, becoming active and focusing on your goals can rekindle positive emotions.
The terms “manager” and “leader” have come to mean somewhat different things, and accepted definitions vary. Good managers understand their organizations, their functions, the best practices in their industries and their subordinates’ objectives. They are good communicators and they offer their staff members coaching and feedback to help them succeed. Leaders, on the other hand, motivate others to perform at peak levels. They connect on an emotional level with their followers. Leaders are often charismatic, a valuable asset. However, a leader can be effective without exerting loads of charm. As a leader, you inspire others by providing a vision of what they can achieve. Praise their accomplishments when they fulfil the goals you set. Transfer your personal conviction and professional sense of purpose to your team through the words you use, the standards you follow and the example you provide. To be effective, present your followers with a “congruent picture.” Any lapses can undermine what you are trying to achieve. A team probably needs a manager and a leader, one to supply administration and the other to offer inspiration. It can function with either alone, but if you fuse an inspired team with effective management, it can accomplish whatever it sets out to do.
Keeping Your Motivation Burning Bright
Experts offer various exercises and tools you can use to stay motivated and energized. For example, “write your own obituary.” What do you want others to say and remember about you? Are you giving them good reasons to have warm opinions and recollections?
Sometimes putting yourself on the line by announcing your goals boosts your motivation, though some people find, conversely, that taking such a risk makes failure more threatening and becomes a rationale for inaction. They feel that if they don’t try they can’t fail. Pick the option that makes you act. If you feel angry about something, refocus your irritation to fuel your work rather than letting it bog you down in unconstructive venting. Sometimes, a motivational “buddy system,” wherein you and a partner motivate one another in a mutually reinforcing relationship, is an effective tactic. Ultimately, the best way to motivate yourself is to discover the one activity, task or profession you find most enjoyable and valuable, and go do it. Then “you’ll never have to think much about motivation again.”
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