Where does motivation come from?
What’s different about the day you finally decide to put your foot down and work on your goals versus all the other days you choose not to?
It happens all the time. A handful of people continue to go to the gym after January, someone starts a business after failing to get started a bunch of times, and in general, some people manage to find a way to trade short term gratification for long term rewards.
How do you become one of those people?
I know you want to make that trade, short term vs long term. I know it sounds good. It’s logical. But you’re an emotional creature. Your emotions get in the way of your motivation all the time. You have to build processes to combat your emotions.
And that often starts with finding the right sources of motivation. Depending on the way you’re wired, your past experiences, and the type of goals you have, different sources of motivation will work for you.
Just know that motivation is nothing more than a catalyst.
You build long-term success by riding a wave of motivation until you can build habits, routines, and long-range plans you build on by getting a bit better each day.
But I’m here for you right now because I know you still need the spark. Choose a source that makes sense to you. Either try to conjure it up, look for it, or find a way to focus on one of these sources long enough to ride the wave.
Often, I’ll intro my blog posts by talking about something that’s bothering you. I’ll talk about your problems, the pain in your life, your frustrations. Then, I’ll agitate them to the point you’re irritated before providing a solution.
I do this because you respond most to pain and frustration. The response might not always be good, but negative emotions just have a way of reaching you much more deeply than positive ones.
In my own life, although I used positive emotions too, my frustrations fueled me most.
I used to have a digital marketing job before I quit to write full-time. I liked my job for the most part, but I had a select handful of clients that annoyed the hell out of me. On top of that, I felt frustrated by my lack of control — over my income, my time, and even what I was allowed to do creatively.
I’d use the aspects of my job that frustrated me to make sure I never gave up on my writing. I pictured what it’d be like to have little control over my life, period. Seared that future into my brain.
What’s frustrating you in your life?
Do you have an annoying boss or clients? Do you make crappy pay? Does it bother you that you can’t be where you want, when you want, with who you want? Does it frustrate you to feel like your fate is in the hands of ‘society’ – politicians, the government, wage laws?
Are you frustrated with yourself? With the fact that you just can’t bring yourself to do the things you know you need to be doing? That you have one job, to do as much as you can for yourself, and you’re not following through?
Some people want to live in this fantasy reality where success and goals and your self-image don’t matter. BS. It will continue to frustrate you to the core if you don’t change. Don’t ignore that or try to push it down. Use it to your advantage.
And then there’s inspiration.
I tend to shift between frustration and inspiration depending on where I’m at in my life, with my business, with projects, etc. Frustration is best to push yourself when you’re feeling really stuck, but you can use inspiration during those times you feel hopeful.
You know the feeling.
There are times where you see somebody doing something you want to do with your life and you say to yourself “I can do that.”
There are times where you, for whatever reason, feel really powerful and capable.
Motivational speakers and self-improvement writers are great for sparking that feeling in you. We can only hand the baton to you, though. We can remind you that it doesn’t require some insane level of talent to pull your dream off, just the right level of motivation to ride until you can build into discipline.
I can remind you that there is an abundance of possibilities out there. But you have to train yourself to look for them and you have to seize those opportunities when you spot them.
So keep doing what you’re doing right now — reading, watching, learning — and understand that you don’t need to know what to do with these insights right away. You’re training yourself to be more optimistic and that optimism will become useful at some point.
I can tell you from going full circle that you’re right about that feeling you have deep down. That, for whatever reason, you do have what it takes to pull it off. And if you do follow through with it, you’ll laugh at how much doubt you used to have.
This is a bit of a corollary to the point about frustration, but there are specific times in your life geared to set you on a path of extreme motivation.
These are the sort of ‘events’ that shift your life in a different direction, give you a new perspective, or provide some fork in the road for you to choose from.
I’ve told the story of how my life changed for the better after a heartbreaking divorce. It gave me a chance to rebuild my life from scratch.
I rediscovered who I was, started new products and platforms, did a bunch of crazy experiences I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. I’m ultimately grateful for that rough patch in life.
Pat Flynn, the owner of Smart Passive Income, started his business after being laid off from his job as an architect. Instead of jumping right into looking for another gig, he finally decided to give a business a try.
You see stories about people doing a complete 180 after having a near-death experience, falling ill, or any number of experiences that put life into that crystal clear perspective.
These moments don’t even need to be as extreme as the ones I’ve mentioned so far. Think of the moments in your life as signs for what you should do next. Again, often understand that many setbacks have seeds of opportunity in them.
In general, keep your eyes trained and develop the habit of trying to draw lessons from the things that happen to you, instead of just letting them happen to you.
I picked up a trick a while back that helped me turn a counterproductive emotion into a useful one.
Whenever I felt envy toward someone, I asked myself if I could reverse engineer their success. I’ve done this my entire writing career.
I never plagiarized anyone, but I’d look at the way writers promoted their work, the general writing techniques they used, the websites they wrote for, and ethically stole whatever I could.
Instead of trying to control my impulse toward envy, I try to use it. Circling back to the point earlier, I see someone else’s success and try to frustrate myself with it. I’ll ask myself the question I ask my readers often.
Why not you?
Why rail against the one percent? Instead, why not become a part of them? The odds are slim, but not impossible at all.
Why stop at envy? Why not understand that many routes to success have a set of steps to them? You may not be able to reverse engineer the exact steps, but you can learn to spot patterns that work well for many people over time.
You’re going to compare yourself to people, period. Might as well harness that energy. There’s this cliche that ‘you’re only in competition with yourself.’ Is that true? Really? It sure seems like we tend to stack ourselves up against other people constantly.
The point isn’t to get into a never-ending spiral of comparison. That’ll make you unhappy, too. The point is to become a bit of an emotional judo master — take some of the emotions you’re prone to feel and flip them positive.
A bit of a corollary again, but this time with inspiration.
I don’t ascribe to the secret or any literal manifestation techniques, but there is something to be said about visualizing yourself having a better life in the future.
In many ways, I’m the living image of the person I used to visualize five years ago. The thought of becoming this person drove me, almost to the point of obsession.
Was it healthy? Is it healthy? I don’t know. I’m starting to come to the conclusion that life is a series of ‘unhealthy’ options that you can either choose to yield in a useful direction or not.
Staying the same, especially if you don’t like your life, for damn sure isn’t healthy. You can try to become a Buddhist or practice stoicism, but, really, do you think you’re going to completely renounce your desires? Be honest with yourself.
Do the work now to benefit ‘future you.’ Cultivate a relationship with ‘future you’ so you can help him or her out. Some will say that you can never make your future self happy because your tastes change, but I’m not fully buying that either. Getting close enough will work.
Imagine what your life would look like right now if you just put a moderate level of effort towards your goals for a small handful of years. That moderate level of effort, sustained over a long period of time, can help you achieve most goals.
Picture yourself at a solid ‘B+’ – you’re healthy, ownership over your time, doing work you enjoy, financially flexible, great network and relationships, and feel like your life means something.
That’s a moderately above-average life that becomes an amazing life compared to how most live. In many ways, I live that life. And while it wasn’t everything I thought it would be, trust me, it’s a hell of a lot better than where I was.