Almost daily, clients report their struggles with motivation. Some of the main culprits are the ones who have developed big, long-term goals. These individuals are perplexed by their inability to follow through on their daily tasks despite being highly driven to achieve their primary goals.
They have read the books, watched the videos, and attended the seminars. Many of them possess so much knowledge they could put on their own event or start coaching others. Despite self-critically defining themselves as lazy, the majority of them are very ambitious and extremely determined people.
The Source of Low Motivation
I inform each of them I don’t believe in laziness. Either you lack sufficient motivation, or something is blocking you emotionally causing fear and avoidance. I have spoken in previous articles about emotional blocks. If you would like to learn more about this topic, go to MasterTheKey.com and read some of the articles I have written pertaining to this issue.
In this article, I want to address the topic of lack of sufficient motivation. I have found there are several contributors to this phenomenon. The first of these stem from one’s chief goal not being linked to what is most intrinsically rewarding. An activity that is intrinsically rewarding is pleasurable in its own right; you enjoy doing it for the sake of it, not just for the external reward it provides.
External Rewards Inhibit Motivation & Performance
Many people have bought into the trap of using external rewards (money, status, and material goods) as their main source of motivation. Every bit of research shows external rewards are not as motivating as intrinsic, or inner, rewards. Moreover, they actually impede performance and inhibit motivation over the long-term.
If your goals are structured around external rewards, you will not be as motivated in the daily grind as those whose goals are linked to intrinsic rewards. Furthermore, motivation will decrease over time as it takes time to obtain the external reward, as is always the case. I find breaking away from this pattern can be extremely difficult for most of us.
Developing Authentic Goals
Almost everyone acknowledges the wisdom in pursuing intrinsic rewards over external ones. However, we are bombarded daily with messages from marketing and pop culture that material goods and status will bring us happiness and fulfillment. There is no doubt this is influential to all of us. It can be a like a salmon swimming upstream to break away from the lure of the Siren’s Song of materialism.
Another factor decreasing motivation is when we are not pursuing something that is authentic to us. I have worked with numerous individuals who came to the awareness their goals have been centered around making their parents or family proud or what is culturally acceptable and validated. Some of my clients are just coming to realize this in their last few decades of life.
To avoid the despair this causes, take the time now to really dig into your deepest motivation for why you are pursuing your current goals. Now if you have what I refer to as a “Clean WHY” and your goals are authentic and intrinsically rewarding yet you still struggle with consistent motivation, your problem most likely lies in developing multiple motivators or how your goals are structured.
Evolutionary Wired-In Motivators
One of the things that has been most helpful in understanding how to harness numerous motivators is the study of what are some of the biggest intrinsic motivators to all human beings. Some of the principal intrinsic motivators are autonomy, mastery, purpose, and connection. If you are trying to increase motivation, look for ways to develop more of these into your daily tasks and overall goals.
For example, studies show we are much more enthused and engaged when we have a voice in the development of our goals. Moreover, peak performance research reveals having a mastery-orientation is a sustaining source of motivation. This entails identifying something that provides a pleasurable state in doing it and pursuing mastery of the skill or overall craft.
This is why you lose motivation when you can develop proficiency in something and there are no additional challenges to accomplish. We get dopamine for the hunt, chase, and pursuit. When there is nothing left to pursue, the activity no longer stimulates us or provides pleasure in performing it due to lack of dopamine being released any longer.
The Neurology of Connection
The next two main motivators for all human beings are each associated with connection. Being part of a team or a collective that is pursuing something bigger than just individual goals is highly motivating. Throughout most of human history, survival depended on being part of a group. But our desire for connection goes beyond our survival instinct.
It also feels good to be connected to others; we not only receive dopamine but the body’s natural opiates, endorphins and enkephalins, are released as well. Furthermore, oxytocin is often triggered, which is a hormone associated with bonding, connection, and security.
Purpose Harnesses Multiple Motivators
The last of the four intrinsic motivators I mentioned is purpose. From my perspective, purpose is passion plus impact. It is engaging in activities and pursuits that are intrinsically rewarding but also affects others in a positive way. With purpose, you are harnessing multiple inner motivators simultaneously: passion, connection, and meaning.
An effective way to employ these drives is to develop activities and goals that provide inner reward, make sure you have a sufficient level of autonomy in how they are structured, focus them in a way that impacts others positively, and perform them as part of a team or group. When you learn how to stack motivators, you will not be left being dependent on only your WHY, or primary goal, as your sole source of motivation.
The Downside of Big Goals
Research also uncovers that having a big, audacious goal can actually demotivate you if you do not have it broken down into smaller goals that can be achieved along the way. You need wins to stay motivated. Earlier in my life I fell into this trap for a period of time. I had developed clear goals that were authentic and purposeful. However, I was pursuing them with the hope I would be happy and at peace once I attained them. Meanwhile, I was unfulfilled and stressed out the whole way there. This can be a common snare for high-achievers.
What I recommend doing is taking your ultimate goal and reverse-engineering it into small, specific and attainable tasks. This will keep you motivated and fulfilled along the way. Learning how to structure things in this manner will keep you inspired and enthusiastic in achieving the day-to-day tasks related to your primary WHY.
Inspiration is For Amateurs
I heard a quote this year from an author referencing a well-known artist. He stated, “Inspiration is for amateurs.” What he meant by this was you have to get up and do the work consistently whether your inspired or not. If you wait for a feeling to hit you, it will be almost impossible for you to succeed.
Now this begs the question, “How do I keep myself motivated on a daily basis if I can’t depend on relying on inspiration and enthusiasm?” The key is learning how to create and harness your core emotions. Emotions are chemical, electrical reactions in your brain and nervous system that give you rapid information and energy to respond behaviorally to what is occurring around you. They are the prime drivers of human behavior.
Understanding how to utilize the information I provided in this article will allow you to have multiple ways to continue to trigger powerful chemical reactions (emotions) and harness your innate capacity to drive motivation. Whether it be integrating the four primary intrinsic motivators that drive all human beings or structuring specific, short-term goals, applying this knowledge will allow you to develop consistent, daily drive and focus in the pursuit of achieving your long-term goals.
John Hawkins Jr., M.S., L.M.H.C.
John has helped thousands of clients overcome the hidden internal blocks which had kept them from achieving their maximum potential. Furthermore, he has assisted them in gaining clarity of their true life purpose, identifying their gifts and talents, and developing lives of greater meaning and significance.