motivational quote on the power of taking action

Motivation – Why You Don’t Have It & How To Keep It

Motivation is the force that initiates and guides our behaviour. It’s what compels us to take action. Sometimes it’s easy – other times, it feels almost impossible. And so the familiar grip of procrastination takes hold.

Motivation is a punchy cocktail of biological, social, emotional and cognitive ingredients, all swirling into one another. This is not so much a motivational speech, but an examination of what motivation is, what it isn’t, and how to cultivate it without killing it – like a fussy fern.

Live for something bigger than yourself

Modern life fosters a culture of self-focus and personal entitlement, often leading to problems like debt and addiction. We seek meaning in the meaningless: in drinking, in gambling, in consumerism, in things. And, surprised, we do not find it.

Real motivation is borne out of living for something bigger than yourself. Being driven by something more than your personal wants and needs.

Take being vegan. Sure, cheese is delicious. Thinking only of myself, I would probably eat some from time to time. But there are bigger, more compelling reasons to steer clear of dairy. It’s also about the impact of dairy farming on the lives of cows, and the huge global footprint of animal agriculture. And so it becomes impossible to eat cheese, in all good conscience, even if it tastes like melted heaven.

When we allow ourselves to settle comfortably into our personal kingdoms of pleasure and possessions, we do not end up with more. Our lives lack meaning, and therefore motivation. We end up with less.

Motivation comes from within

This might sound in opposition to my last point. What I mean is, motivation is not ‘out there’ waiting to be found. If it were, I’d like to imagine an eccentric guru wearing a top hat and velvet jacket, draped over an armchair, blowing bubbles and chatting to squirrels, waiting deep in the forest to be discovered so that he/she may bestow the bountiful gift of motivation – if you only take the right woodland path to the gingerbread bungalow.

Sadly, the motivation mage is a charismatic myth. True motivation comes from within. It’s like a pile of internal kindling waiting to burst into flame. You are the source – you can choose to give it life. It’s a product of your deepest values, motives, and sense of purpose. It’s how you plan to make a difference in the world.

The answers may not come easy. But it’s worth asking.

Motivation and mindset

Your mindset – your perspective, your take on life – is super powerful. It’s the lens through which you see the world. And it’s closely tied with motivation, as well as reaching your potential.

We’ll go into mindset in more detail in a future post, but to broadly summarise, people tend to fall into one of two categories: fixed and growth.

People with a fixed mindset think ‘you have it or you don’t’, they want to be seen as having a certain ability by others, and may actively avoid situations that could call their ability into question. By contrast, people with a growth mindset believe that while we all have natural aptitudes, anyone can improve their ability through effort, and are therefore motivated to learn and develop their skills.

In other words, a growth mindset motivates you to reach your potential, rather than focusing on what others perceive your potential to be.

More than sheer willpower

Motivation and willpower are not the same thing. One is the deep urge to do something. The other forces you to do something despite the obstacles that get in your way. Motivation is the engine; willpower is putting your foot on the gas.

“He who has a why can endure any how,” said the philosopher Frederick Nietzsche. I hazard a guess this statement applies to women and non-binary folk as well. Only when you know your ‘why’ will you be able to stay motivated, even when the chips are down. In his talk Start With Why, motivational speaker Simon Sinek breaks it down like this:

  • Why – your core belief
  • How – how you fulfil that core belief
  • What – what you do to fulfill that core belief

But he argues that most companies do it backwards; they start with ‘what’ and then move on to  ‘how’. Some neglect to think about ‘why’ at all.

Much can be accomplished with willpower. But you need to have a reason. Otherwise… why?

Knowing your purpose

When we work towards a goal that inspires us, we feel more alive. According to Ken Robinson in his book The Element, “people in their element are not only more productive, but they add more value and enjoy more personal and professional fulfilment”. Our element, he says, is the point at which natural talent and skill meets personal passion.

It is the apex of motivation. Believing in something and building your life and work around it. Finding problems you enjoy solving. On the path to fulfilment, it’s not enough to be good at something – you need passion. You need fire.

When you’re in your element, motivation takes care of itself.

In summary:

  • Motivation comes from having a goal that’s bigger than yourself
  • It comes from within – your values and beliefs
  • It’s a matter of mindset – being open to growth
  • It’s not the same as willpower; it’s finding your why
  • It comes easier to people in their element