Rather than a quote, I’m going to look at what drives us, what motivates humans in general. Why do we succeed in some areas and flounder in others?
The first part of the answer lies in understanding that there is motivation that is generated within yourself, intrinsic motivation; and there’s external motivation, such as pay, praise, or avoidance of punishment/conflict.
External motivation is a huge thing, and it’s not always a bad thing, either. Are you motivated to advance your career, finish your degree, or even search out opportunities with a new company in order to increase your income? That’s not a negative, it’s a positive. Wanting more pay for your work, or better opportunities isn’t something to be ashamed of. Whether it’s moving up in a company or starting your own business, wanting to be in a position that allows you to grow, gives you the security of added income, and keeps you interested in your work are all positive internal motivations.
That said, if you want a promotion because you fear your partner will abandon you without one, or that the people around you will withdraw their approval of you unless you advance in a certain way and at a certain pace, those motivations are like little minefields. Less risky, but just as problematic are motivations for small things. Personally, I’m more motivated to clean my home if I know someone is coming over. I prefer a clean living space, but seriously, left to my own devices I have skipped the vacuuming more than once. That’s because the internal motivation wasn’t strong enough to get me to face the chores.
Internal motivation is the one that a lot of pop psychologists try to teach, but it’s a slippery concept. I’m motivated to write because it brings me joy. I’m motivated to cook with my wok because I love the food I make in it. I skip sweeping or vacuuming because it’s boring work. I love the after-effect, getting to see and walk on a freshly cleaned floor is wonderful. The actual doing of the thing is just such a hassle to me that my motivation turns from “clean floors are awesome!” to “a nap would be good right now.”
So how do we find that internal motivation?
Sadly, many of us are raised with a high level of external motivation. Succeed in school and parents are proud of us. Do well on a project and our teacher praises us. Excel in a creative course and our peers will cheer us. Fail a test and authority figures around us will be angry and/or disappointed. Leave clothes in the floor and someone will scold us. The list could be endless, but the point is, we’re conditioned to respond strongly to those external motivators. The result I’ve witnessed in myself and others is that when those external forces aren’t present, a sort of listlessness takes over. There’s a loss of direction and confusion about what to do next.
Finding internal motivation is how we grow beyond needing the external motivation to accomplish our goals. Now, if belling the cat were as easily done as said, right?
Here’s how I get back in touch with that internal motivation. I’m going to use cooking and meal prep as an example because sometimes, it’s a bit of a challenge to get it started. Once I start, good luck stopping me. I LOVE to cook.
On a particular day, let’s suppose I found a new recipe I want to try. It uses unfamiliar ingredients but sounds delicious. Well, it means having to do some shopping. Ugh. Especially during the pandemic, ugh. Then, I have to do all the prep work. Plus the cooking after that and this recipe says it takes 35 minutes to cook, during which I have to be at the stove while outside we’re hitting triple digit heat.
You can feel the motivation evaporating along with any other shred of moisture in the desert, right? I sure can!
Alright, I need internal motivation. No one is going to reward or punish me for not cooking. Unless I share pictures of it, no one will even know that I’ve cooked.
What made me want to cook that recipe in the first place?
- Those colors in the picture are amazing. I love looking at a colorful plate.
- I don’t know how this will taste with ingredient x, but I know I like everything else in the recipe. I’m super curious to know what the difference will be.
- As with all my meals, I’ll have at least two dishes I can save in the freezer. If I like this new recipe (and I think I will), I’ll have meals for days when I’m not up to cooking, or when I’m too busy to cook.
- I’ll have learned a new recipe and possibly a new skill. That’s always exciting.
- Cooking with fresh ingredients excites me. The aromas, the flavors, the colors, the full tummy and sense of achievement after I’m done…. (Did I mention I love to cook?)
Well, now I have motivation. I can use the recipe to make the shopping list and either venture out to the store or have the items delivered. From there, it’s just a matter of pulling out my favorite knife and my cutting board. Once I reach that point, I’m all in.
When I’m writing, I often have to pull away from “I can’t wait to show this to someone and see their reaction,” and look at myself for motivation. That’s harder to do, for me. I had a lot of negativity around my writing when I was growing up, with only one consistent supporter. My mom liked to praise me for writing in front of others, because it made her look good, but when she wasn’t putting me on display, she was decidedly against me “wasting” my time. That makes it extra hard to motivate myself in a positive fashion. So how do I do it? Keeping in mind that it has been about 6 weeks since I’ve posted to this blog on a regular basis, and that fact proves the difficulty in finding motivation, here’s how I manage to find it.
- What did I feel when I had the idea that started me on a writing project? Reconnecting to that first spark of interest and excitement often pulls me out of the things bogging me down and keeping me from making the words go.
- What do I like about this project? Is it a character in a story that interests me? Is it finding out how much I know about a concept for a blog entry? Is it the research I need to do? Having a reason I enjoy a project helps push away the de-motivational forces.
- How did I feel last time I finished a similar project?
- What will I feel when I finish this project?
- What’s missing? Do I need a deadline to push for, or some other way to feel challenged with a goal? Have I even established a clear goal for myself?
Answering these questions around my current WIP helps me get excited again, and if you notice, none of these questions mention anything about seeking approval from anyone else. These are designed to make sure that I write for me. Later, after the writing is done, I can tweak it to be read and enjoyed by others, but that’s only if I decide I want to share a piece of my work. Otherwise, who cares where the commas are or if I have fragments and run-ons?
The answer is, no one. No one but myself.
So think about what motivates you. Accept that the source of your internal motivation may vary from goal to goal. Get yourself in touch with the things that make you tick, without taking the rest of the world into account. Then, charge ahead and win the day!
Also, in case you’re wondering about the cooking… here’s what happened. My first attempt at sesame chicken!