Sources of motivation

Have you ever noticed how some people have a huge impact on the world? People like Mahatma Gandhi and Richard Brandson, who each in their own way have created massive changes in the world. How do they do that, when the vast majority of people leave little legacy beyond their family and a small contribution at work? Let’s take a look at the sort of motivation they need to do what they do, and then we can dive into where it comes from and how it works.

Let’s start by having a look at the conditions for creating an impact. To be able to make a huge impact, these people need to have a) a very strong source of motivation that b) points in a consistent direction. If one of these conditions is missing, you’re not going to have a great impact. I’ve often had ideas for software projects (usually web apps) that seemed great when I was planning them, but just didn’t seem worth developing after a few weeks had passed. I’d get upset that my motivation was fading, then a new idea would grab me and the whole process would start over again. Continually changing direction doesn’t work, at least not if you want finished projects. Likewise, if you have no motivation, nothing’s going to happen. This is what happens when you don’t really know what you want to do so you just go to work, come home and watch anime all evening. At this stage a consistent direction isn’t even an issue because you don’t have the energy to pursue anything. So to have an impact of any scale, you need to have a strong source of motivation, and it needs to point in a consistent direction.

It’s nice to know what we’re after, but at this stage it’s still a bit academic. Knowing that you need a strong source of motivation pointed in a consistent direction doesn’t give you one. To get a better idea of how to have a consistent sense of direction, let’s have a look at why we don’t have one right now. Imagine that you’ve got a problem that you’re trying to solve, so you go to your friends for advice. You talk to one of them and they give you a great-sounding piece of advice. You’re pretty confident that you know what to do now, but you’re not completely sure so you ask another friend for a second opinion. Their advice is great too, but there’s a problem – it’s different! Now you’ve got two great ideas but you’re stuck because you don’t know which to go with. How does this relate to motivation? We need to pick a single, reliable source of direction to motivate us. In the case of motivation, there happen to be two sources to choose between. Let’s take a look at each of them.

Your own highest enjoyment of life

The first source of motivation is your own highest enjoyment of life. Chances are you’re aware of what many people in your life want from you. Your boss wants you to work overtime, your partner wants you to spend more time with them, and your friends are wondering why they don’t see you any more. Each of these pressures is like advice from one of your friends in the previous example. To use this source of motivation,  you tune out everyone else’s clamouring that pushes you in different directions and tune in to your own true desires. You’re tapping into this source of motivation when you say “Enough is enough! I’m sick of being pushed around! I know what I want, and it’s my way or the highway!”. By following this source of motivation, you become an empowered agent working on behalf of your desires; you have a mission and you’re not going to let anything get in your way. You figure out what you want and make a plan. Then you identify all the challenges, the parts of your plan that you think you’ll have trouble with, and you seek to dominate and conquer them with a complete overkill. Say, for example, you want to save up money for a deposit on a house. The thought of owning your own house makes you drool, you want it that much. However, it’s going to take 3 years to save up the money, and you’re worried that you’ll be tempted to spend the money on other things. You decide that enough’s enough, and you’re not going to let anything stop you. So you head over to your bank and set up a 3 year fixed-term savings account that you are unable to withdraw from and set up an automatic transfer to take money out of your salary on pay day and deposit it in this savings account. For good measure, you bet a friend that you can make it without touching your savings and arrange to show them your bank statements every month, with the promise of paying them a hefty sum if you slip up (which is close to impossible anyway, thanks to the arrangement with the bank). After doing all this, do you think you’ll have much trouble sticking to your plan? Nothing is going to stop you now.

That’s pretty awesome, we’ve gone from being pretty wishy-washy about our goal to being certain that we’ll succeed. But wait, there was another source of motivation, wasn’t there?

The highest good of all

The other source of motivation you can tap into is working for the highest good of all. Again, you tune out the pressures you feel from different people, and you still make contact with your desires, but this time you’re focus is on what you can create and give. You become an empowered agent working for the good of the planet, the good of the universe. You’re here to create, to love, and to set a great example of how to live. If you set a goal and you’re not feeling motivated, it’s because your goal won’t help enough people in a meaningful way. To illustrate how that might work, let’s return to the house buying example. This time, you start by looking at who will benefit from the achievement of the goal apart from yourself. Your partner will be able to enjoy the house too. You’ve also got a few close friends who are also planning on buying a house, so you start meeting up regularly and discussing the sort of houses you’re looking for. Together, you plan to buy houses in the same suburb so you’ll be close to each other. You’re worried about spending your savings on impulse buys, so with your friends you set up a pooled high-interest savings account that you can all deposit your money into, requiring all of your signatures for a withdrawal. With your pooled savings you can access a higher interest account than you could otherwise, so you’ll all end up better off financially than if you had used individual savings accounts. Your plan is working really well, so you start blogging about it to share your plan and your progress with other people from around the world. Now keeping up with your deposits to the savings account is a no-brainer. Your friends and your blog readers are helping you out and looking up to you. With all that support, do you think you’ll have much trouble sticking to your plan?

That should give you a taste of the sort of motivation that can really make an impact. If you’d like to dig deeper, you might enjoy Steve’s series on polarity and Pace and Kyeli’s series of motivation. Good luck!

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