Scranton psychology researchers conducted a widely cited study which found that only eight percent of people achieve their goals. Only eight percent? Does that seem dangerously low to you? Considering how many amazing resources there are to help people light fires under their own asses, it's surprising that so many of us find it hard to find and maintain motivation. Because we've been told by trusted sources that motivating ourselves is scientifically easier than we realize. All we need to do is unbundle tasks, muster willpower, manage discipline, eliminate distraction, surrender control, stay positive, find god, increase rewards, install pressure, start small, play music, cast vision, eat less and exercise more. And make a gratitude list. Done and done. But maybe the problem is, we're not going deep enough. Maybe our understanding of human motivation needs to expand to include broader perspectives.
REVALUATION — Motivating yourself by reframing tasks as expressions of your cherished values
Maisel, therapist philosopher extraordinaire, writes about motivation through the useful lens of existential spirituality. His school of thought deeply resonates with me, because not unlike a lot of people, I often wonder what the point of it all really is. Sometimes the fact that this twisted circus called life is all bullshit, makes it hard for me to press on. Maisel's book, thankfully, poses the following question. Can you think of a more powerful excuse for not bothering than the absurdity of bothering? Yes, of course it may be absurd to bother, the good doctor writes, but the absurdity of bothering must not be allowed to stand as the perfect excuse for inaction. Amen to that.
In my twenty years of experience as an entrepreneur, where people who can't motivate themselves go out of business, to truly motivate ourselves in a way that's authentic and sustainable, we can't talk ourselves out taking action with reasoning like that. Truth is, what we really need to do is assert our values. Because motivation isn't about energy, it's about identity. Most people want to make decisions that are consistent with who they believe they are. And so, if you can find out what your cherished values are, and use them as the foundation for inspiring yourself into positive action, then motivation will come so easy it will feel like cheating. That's the secret nobody tells us. Motivation is an inside job. It has to be. It doesn't happen to you, it happens in you.
Deming, the great industrialist, wrote that total submission to extrinsic motivation leads to destruction of the individual. And his point still holds up today. People who learn to locate their intrinsic enthusiasm, people who let the world reward their positive energy, they rarely price for inaction. Never mind the pile of obstacles and excuses in everyone else's way, never mind talking themselves out of doing what needs to be done, never mind procrastinating and never mind sitting around being listless and ashamed. When you know who you are, motivation isn't neither here nor there. Remember, in a changing world that demands adaptation, inaction is more riskier than ever. Try motivating yourself by framing tasks as expressions of your cherished values, and the rest will flow from there. What's your favorite excuse for not achieving your goals?
Achieve your goals more consistently
Overcome your habitual excuses for inaction
Motivate yourself through identity not energy
Make meaning in creative work regardless of outcome