Part 12: How to Save Your Motivation

Motivation Salvation

According to Kyle Eschenroeder, a writer and the marketing director of an investment company headquartered in Missouri, there are seven main motivation destroyers:

  • Ingratitude
  • Envy
  • Impatience
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Inaction
  • Loss of meaning
  • No skin in the game

 

Ingratitude

Considering each of these factors in various scenarios of my own life, I think Kyle may be onto something.

Being grateful for the things that are given to us, the favors performed on our behalf, and the opportunities provided us is a foundational aspect of being a good person.  Gratitude, however, can go far beyond making us an idyllic human being.

As previously stated, our minds tend to gravitate towards the negative, the mistakes we’ve made, the things we’ve lost, the people who are no longer in our lives for one reason or another.  This focus on the negative absolutely destroys our motivation, leaving us depressed, lethargic, and drained of all creativity.

Contemplating on the things that we are grateful for can boost our optimism, taking us from feeling desolate to feeling hopeful, supported, successful, creative, and in control of our lives.

Every year around Thanksgiving I see people posting on Facebook about all the things they are thankful for, but why is it that they only post about these things in November?

Now, I’m not saying people should be posting on social media about these things every day, which would certainly be better than the pity-parties that I also see quite often (and have participated in myself), but they should take mental stock of all the things that are going well for them, all the things that they have that they didn’t previously have, and the progress they’ve made over time.

In fact, author, entrepreneur, and public speaker, Timothy Ferriss, says that making a list every day of the things we’re grateful is the most powerful thing we can do to enhance our lives.  It may sound cheesy and possibly cliché, but expressing gratitude for what we have and what we’ve accomplished so far in life, can go a long way in shaping our attitude towards the positive and reinforcing our motivation to keep pushing forward.

 

Envy

Second on Kyle’s list is envy.  I mentioned Facebook before and I’m going to mention it again.  Along with other forms of social media, Facebook can be a platform for jealousy and resentment.  After all, everyone wants to post all the best things they’ve done, the best experiences they’ve had, all their best achievements, all their success, etc. to make it appear as though every waking moment of their life is fantastic.

Sometimes people do this because they want to share all the great things with everyone else, sometimes it’s because they want to convince people that their lives are better than they really are, and sometimes it’s because they want to convince themselves that their life is better than they fear it may be.

On top of that, there’s everyone who sees this content, their acquaintances, friends and family.  This is when envy comes into play.  As the observers, we fall into the trap of comparing other people’s lives to our own.  We hate that we aren’t going on as awesome of vacations, we aren’t making as much money and buying as fancy of cars or as large of homes.

We get upset that our kids aren’t as successful as someone else’s appear to be, our job titles aren’t as impressive sounding, our marriages aren’t as “perfect.”  Well guess what, none of that is true for those people who’s posts we’re looking at.

Everyone tries their hardest to make what people on the outside see, appear to be the “perfect” life.  No one wants to show their failures, no one wants other people to know about their mistakes, their bad decisions, the fights they have with their spouse, or the times their kids don’t make them proud.

Even when we try to be happy for others, it can take a real kick in the arse to get us to do it genuinely.  It’s hard to be happy for other people when we see our own lives falling apart at every seam.  And it’s okay to admit this because if you don’t, then your just being dishonest with yourself and the only way to rise above dishonesty is to face the truth.

This is where gratitude comes back into the narrative.  We need to learn to be grateful for what we have and compare ourselves to no one else but our past selves.  Your mistakes and poor life choices have nothing to do with the success of other people, so why compare the two?  The envy that spawns from these comparisons destroys our motivation to improve ourselves.

It’s natural to feel envious of what others have, that is ingrained within the primal sector of our brain and isn’t going anywhere.  In fact, it can be a useful tool to inspire us to seek improvements within our lives and within ourselves.  What establishes it as something negative is when we focus only on what we don’t have and become obsessed and engulfed with our jealousy of others, turning that envy into hatred towards others who are better off than us.

Use your envy in a positive way, use it to motivate you to set higher goals and push towards them, acknowledge that other people may be better off than you in life, but that there are plenty of other people who also have it far worse than you do.  Learn to be grateful for the things you have and the things you have achieved in your life thus far.

I would recommend to anyone that if they are feeling overwhelmed by the successes of others and are having a hard time not comparing their own life to those of their family and friends, then maybe it’s time to pull away from social media sites and apps like Facebook.

I used to spend a lot of time on Facebook and the like, until I too started feeling these negative things.  I caught myself comparing my own life to everyone else’s and came up feeling as though I was behind, that I was not successful, that my life was not as blessed as everyone else’s, and this chain of negativity just kept building upon itself and it drug me down into depression.

So, speaking from personal experience, we need to spend less time reading about everyone else’s success and start focusing more on achieving our own goals.  We don’t live other people’s lives, we live our own.

 

Impatience

I’ve spent nearly a decade teaching teens and adults how to perform their jobs.  If there is one skill that I could point to and say is important for any teacher or trainer to learn, it’s patience.  While patience was not one of the six virtues or twenty-four strengths outlined by Dr. Seligman, it’s absolutely invaluable in many aspects of our lives.

Whether we’re talking about a career in sales or dealing with children in a school, patience can take us far in life.  Understanding when to act or when to hold back can save us so much trouble down the road.

Impatience is all about wanting completion or results right away, it’s about rushing to get things done – typically with little attention to detail.  As a writer, I’ve experienced the rush to get a project done and posted for the world to read, but afterwards I’ll go back and re-read the material and catch all kinds of mistakes I didn’t notice during my editing because I was in such a hurry to get it done.

Impatience can ruin a lot of things, from the cake you’re baking to the marriage you’re trying to hold together.

I previously stated the quote about wasting someone’s time being like theft.  While this is true, in most aspects of our lives the concept of quality should be at the forefront of our ambitions.  It doesn’t matter how quickly you can get it done when the end-product is total garbage and not at all marketable to any audience.

Being patient is by no means a walk in the park, it requires a lot of self-awareness and self-control.  Have you ever observed a child in a store begging his mother for a specific toy and the mother refuses to purchase it for him?  What happens next?  You guessed it, the child falls to the floor and throws a temper tantrum.

For many parents, I’ve noticed that this is where their patience falls apart and they lose it just as much as the child they are trying to parent.  Typically, I’ve seen three different approaches over the years I’ve witnessed this battle of the wills take place.  The first is impulsive and the parent will begin yelling and shouting at the child to shut up and get up off the floor, this command is usually followed with threats of one punishment or another.

The second method is to just walk away from the child, leaving them there in the aisle until they realize they’ve been left behind, resulting in the child getting up and running while still screaming after the fleeing parent.

The third method is far more difficult, and most parents aren’t capable of it because they’ve not practiced it with their child successfully.  Communication.  The child is throwing the fit because they want something that they’ve just been told they can’t have.  The child has their reasons for wanting it but does not understand the parent’s reasoning for not getting it for them.

You’ll typically hear the parent say, “It’s too expensive” or “you have too many toys already” but a small child has a hard time rationalizing these things or making sense of them.  They want the toy and they want the toy now.  Patience for them is a concept they do not yet understand.

The Marshmallow Experiments performed at Stanford in the 1960’s and 1970’s show that children have a hard time being patient when it comes to gratification.  In those experiments they placed a single marshmallow in front of each child and advised them that if they didn’t eat the marshmallow while the researcher was away, when they returned the children would get two marshmallows.

Guess what happened… exactly, most of the children ate the single marshmallow instead of waiting and getting two.  So, trying to rationalize with a child can be difficult because they don’t understand patience, but when the parent also has a hard time with patience, then chaos is going to unfold, especially in the toy aisle of every store in America and around the world.

It takes time to communicate with others and it takes time to reach the goals we are striving to achieve.  As young people we have a lot of ambitions about where we want to go in life and how we think we’ll get there.  Then in-walks life and we find ourselves on our arses looking like fools.  Mistakes can make us even more impatient than we were before because we feel as though we need to make up for lost time.

However, with patience we can plan out our goals and set in place milestones towards our success.  Accomplishing these minor initiatives towards an overall goal can grant us the motivation we need to keep trekking on our path to success.  There’s going to be setbacks, that will never change, but minor boosts to our motivation can be exactly what we need during those difficult times.

I’ve never been a huge fan of making 5 or 10-year plans because I’m concerned with how all-consuming they can become.  Every day provides new opportunities and sometimes new revelations.  Watching our plan suddenly unravel due to some unforeseen reason can be devastating and zap our motivation to look for alternative paths through life.

In Dustin Grinnell’s video-opus he states, “I realized I hadn’t postponed my dreams because of fear, but because of an addiction to certainty.”

As someone who struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) I have a really hard time dealing with uncertainty.  I like everything planned out, rehearsed, practiced, structured and reasonable.  When it comes to life, it’s anything but those things.

I’ve had to learn to be patient with outcomes I wasn’t expecting, situations that I wasn’t “planning” on facing.  Situations that often made me feel panicked, anxious, worried because I didn’t know how to handle them, what to do to remedy the problem as I saw it.  I’ve also learned that sometimes chaos is not such a bad thing, uncertainty is not always negative.

The year after my mom died I decided to go on a road trip around the Midwest, driving through Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and North Dakota.  I intentionally didn’t plan out every little detail, and in my attempt to make it as casual as possible I mistakenly didn’t consider where we were supposed to sleep one of the nights during the trip.

It turned out just fine for us.  On another instance I was supposed to be driving to Glacier National Park, but feeling too tired I decided to sleep in and figured I’d spend the day walking around the town I was staying in.  It wasn’t planned, but walking around meeting the locals, visiting various places of interest, turned out to be one of the best days of my trip.

The takeaway here is to be patient because not everything will go as planned, and that you shouldn’t get lost in the details because they will likely change or even worse stifle your creativity and experiences.

Feeling Overwhelmed

Quite possibly the best advice I can ever give to anyone facing overwhelming consequences or odds is to first calm yourself down.  You can’t think clearly if your mind is racking itself with catastrophic thinking.

When facing a stressful situation, I like to have the important things planned out.  Not every detail can be covered, and as I just stated in the previous section, every detail cannot and should not be planned out.  Just cover the most important ones.

First think about what you’re facing and consider the pros and cons of the situation.  If this is an upcoming presentation at work, then you need to have a game plan, have some idea of what you’re going to talk about.  And just as it is in sports, you need to practice!  I cannot stress the importance of repetition enough.

Consider the most likely positive outcomes and consider the most likely negative outcomes and consider what you’d do if any of those were to occur.  Having a plan B is smart approach to any scenario.

While it may sound cheesy and cliché, giving yourself a pep talk is not something to laugh at.  Focus on your strengths and skills and instead of imagining your failure, you need to imagine your success.  Be confident that you can overcome whatever it is that you’re facing, remember past scenarios where you came out on top, give a boost to your ego, it can help carry you through.

If possible or reasonable, share your burden with someone else, reach out to others for support.  As mentioned in a previous section, consider using a journal to write everything down.  Carrying a burden on your shoulders can wear you down and drain away any motivation you have when facing obstacles and setbacks.  If you’re not comfortable sharing with other people, at least write it down in a journal, you’d be surprised how much it can help alleviate the anxiety and help you clear your thinking.

Most people do better when dealing with overwhelming odds by performing physical activity.  Whether that’s hitting the gym or going for a long walk, physical activity can take the edge off and help clear your thinking just as well as journal writing.  Meditation is also a good option for those with the willpower to stick with it and learn the practice.

I’ve noticed that my catastrophic thinking is what feeds my sense of feeling overwhelmed.  All of that negativity makes me feel even more worried and anxious.  It does me absolutely no good at all whatsoever, only making my life that much more difficult.  The old adage rings true that worry does absolutely nothing for you.

Once you overcome what you’re facing, that victory will give your motivation a mega boost and propel you forwards toward your goals.

 

Inaction

One common destroyer of motivation is inaction and I’m guilty of it.  Feeling overwhelmed can lead directly into becoming inactive, right?  You’re facing so much that it just seems unwinnable and you give up and lay on the couch and watch T.V. or play video games instead.  Or maybe you get lost on social media, reading about everyone else’s success while you lay on your couch afraid of everything beyond your front door.

It happens to a lot of people, now more than ever before.  Some people try though, they set goals, but in a short amount of time they never achieve them because they don’t take steps to do so.  The odds seem like too much of an uphill battle, the path to success paved with too many difficulties and trials that it seems safer and easier to just stay in bed.

Taking the easy way is just another motivation destroyer.  Inactivity is more than just being lazy, it’s addictive and destructive.  I’ve had many writing projects in the works, but sometimes the overwhelming breadth of the project can make me shelf the idea or put it on the back burner in favor of “easier” projects that will take less time and energy.

Being a quitter or taking the easy way out is seductive choice for many people, and I’ve absolutely fallen victim to it as well.  Although, victim is not the right word, it suggests that it’s something that’s happening to us without our consent or control.  Being inactive is absolutely a choice we are making for ourselves.

You choose to quit and you choose to take the easy way.

I don’t know who these words are attributed to, but I can’t think of truer words, “Nothing worthwhile ever came from choosing the easy way out.”  It’s the hard choices we make in life that are the most meaningful, it’s the hard path that we blaze for ourselves that is the most rewarding.

How is it done though?  How do we get up and do something?  Well, no one expects you to wake up tomorrow and do something history making.  More rationally, we must start with the small things.  Each day begin pushing yourself to accomplish something small.  It can literally be something as unimpressive as cleaning your bathroom or reorganizing your closet.

Those things might seem petty and uninspiring, but it takes baby steps to make a change in your life that will continue.  People try to make these big changes with the expectation that they will stick with it and keep it up, but what happens in the end is that they fail to continue and fall back into inactivity because the hill they’re trying to climb is too steep for their skill level.

So, set goals that are achievable for you right now, there’s no shame in doing the little things first.  Just like when you train for a sporting or fitness competition you’ve never competed in before, you need to start small and build yourself up.  Start a routine and set small goals that you can achieve, one success that will help you build upon the next.

These mini boosts to your motivation will help propel you forwards in the direction of your overall goals, helping you build momentum.  And you absolutely should celebrate every one of these victories.

As you continue to make accomplishments do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed again, don’t be afraid to take time off and recharge, burnout is a very real and consequential problem high-achievers face.  It can lead to a hard nose-dive into career ending or life damaging choices.  Relax and recharge so you’re ready for the next challenge.

 

Loss of Meaning

Nothing is as powerful as meaning when it comes to the driving forces that push us through life and the choices we make.

Meaning and purpose are big topics in the self-help genre of literature for good reason.  We want meaning in our lives and we want purpose that inspires us to get out of bed every morning and carry on.

These things give us the motivation to face all the obstacles and setbacks that life can throw at us.  We should never discount just how powerfully motivating they can be.

I am absolutely one of those people who has searched for these things, often making them the sole determinant in the choices I have made and the direction in which I have taken my life.  From enlisting in the military to embracing the art of writing, how we feel about something is a priceless force.

One of the most potent voices on meaning in the last century was Viktor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning.  This book has been praised for decades for good reason, it’s one of the most memorable I have read and own.  Many of the situations in my life have caused me to reflect on the lessons offered in its pages.

For as many authors as there are out there who have written on the topics of meaning and purpose, you are sure to find as many opinions.  Some people say we shouldn’t focus on meaning, just experience life day by day.  Others say that meaning is everything and that it gives our lives purpose and purpose is what gets us out of bed in the morning.  Our purpose is our motivation.

This ideology that we all need a mission statement really drags us down if we haven’t found one.  Especially those of us who work in an office for a living where our work has little or nothing to do with making the world a better place and the work that we do accomplish has no tangible meaning to us as individuals.

I’m sure I’m not alone in stating that I’ve always wanted some higher purpose in life and that I don’t want to do any work that is not meaningful.  We also like to imagine that to do great things we also need a lot of money.  In some sense, it is true that in order to have a mass effect on national or global causes we certainly do need a lot of resources.

However, there are other things we can do to improve other people’s lives that doesn’t require a lot of money.

One of the best guides I have come up with over the years to chart a path towards feeling fulfilled is to ask myself these three questions:

  1. Do the people I love or appreciate, know it?
  2. Have I made a positive impact on others?
  3. How will I be remembered?

How you answer these three questions will define whether or not you are living a meaningful and purpose driven life that has not only been a benefit to you, but to others.  None of these questions require you to be rich or famous, and that’s important because wealth and fame are not what gives meaning or purpose to life.

The first question is pretty self-explanatory, the second may lead some to think they need to be some sort of saint or heroic figure, but really making a positive impact on someone can be as simple as being kind to them when others are not.

Sitting down and having a conversation with someone where you actually listen to them and not just talk at them the whole time, can go a long way in making someone feel appreciated and that alone makes a huge impact.

Any decision we make to assist others or sacrifice for the betterment of others provides us with the opportunity to feel as though we are making a difference, and it gives our lives meaning and gives what we do a purpose.  For there is no greater purpose than serving others in some way.

The third question really goes hand-in-hand with the second.  If you are spending your life enhancing the lives of others, then you are likely thought of kindly.  We all want to be the type of people who have stories written about them, we all want to have statues made of us, but alas this type of legacy is not common.  What we can be is the type of person who touches another’s life in such a strong and deep way that they never forget us because of it.

Making that kind of positive impact is the kind of lasting legacy we should all strive to accomplish.

 

No Skin in the Game

Sometimes we lack motivation because we have nothing to lose.  The outcome will not have any impact on us and so we just don’t care about getting up and doing anything about the event or situation.  Other times we just don’t spend any time thinking about the consequences of our inaction or lack of motivation.

Consequence can be a strong motivator if we want to avoid pain or further suffering.  If we are facing something where we have the potential to experience a negative outcome if we do nothing, it can be one of the easiest ways to be motivated.  But what if the outcome won’t affect us directly, how do we get motivated to influence it?

First, we need to ask ourselves who it will impact.  If those who are facing the consequences are people we know and care about, then our action should be without question and we should be fully willing to put ourselves out there to help them.

If we don’t know them then it’s a question of character.  Do we want to be the kind of person who stands back and chooses to do nothing when others need our help just because it might be difficult to do so?  I would certainly hope not.

We can use this type of motivation to our advantage by forcing ourselves to be at risk of inactivity.  If we want motivation we can maneuver ourselves into the path of consequence and really put pressure on ourselves to achieve goals.

This method can be a double-edged sword, however, because some people may not be willing to risk loss if things go south and may avoid these types of opportunities all together.  This may be beneficial sometimes, but avoiding opportunities can be a real disaster for anyone looking to expand their skillset or business success.

It really brings us back to the section on taking risks and being brave and fearless.  Finding success after facing adversity is deeply motivating.  It could also be addictive like gambling, putting us at risk of losing everything on a chance.  Therefore, some moderation should be implemented when putting yourself or others into risky situations, take time and be patient so that you can weigh the pros and cons and determine whether the risk is worth the rewards.

%d bloggers like this: