Motivation comes from the word ‘move’ and means ‘to move’. Motivation literally means; that which moves a person to a course of action. Motivation indicates a movement that is initiated by a reason or purpose. This is an important point to understand; having a reason and purpose will activate motivation. For example, it is hard to move towards something if you can’t see any reason or purpose. In other words you need a motif or good reason as to why you would put in the effort and to create some momentum and move from where you currently are. If you are keen to do something you are more likely to be motivated; you don’t have to try, you will just want do it. Remember also that you might have a reason and purpose to NOT be motivated; in that case you won’t to ‘move’.

Move away or towards?

At the core we humans are very simple creatures. We either move away from something or towards something courtesy of the brain. The brain is designed to move towards reward or pleasure and move away from pain. Like any other living creature we move away from pain and towards pleasure (survival). In order to be motivated (to move) you need to have a good reason; either a reward or benefit, or a move away from discomfort, dislike or danger.

To be or not to be motivated…that is the question

There are many questions about personal motivation – or lack of it – as well as motivation in others. People often wonder why they themselves or someone else is not motivated.

Managers often ask the question ‘How can I motivate my team?’ The problem is they look for a simple solution like a team building day, expecting it to work like magic. They think that somehow by waving a magic wand they will become motivated. Even if you get the world’s most respected motivational speaker, it’s unlikely to achieve anything more than a short term high. It generally does not result in the team being more motivated to work together. Why…because if there is not a clear reason, a motif for the individuals in that team, nothing much will move them. The same goes for personal motivation. Many people go searching for the magic motivation formula instead of just being clear about their purpose or reason.

WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?)

We generally are only motivated if the most fundamental questions are addressed: What is the point? Why should I be doing this? What’s in it for me? Why is this relevant to me?

In order to be motivated there needs to be something in it for you. Even if you are motivated to help others, it makes you feel good; it gives you satisfaction, a purpose. You need to create and have a good reason to put in continuous effort. Why else would you put in the effort and generally give up doing something else that you might otherwise enjoy?

Did you ever wonder why you had to do certain subjects at school that did not particularly interest you? The answer probably was ‘because it is part of the curriculum’. Did this motivate and inspire you to do well? While you probably complied – as not doing so probably had negative consequences – you certainly did not undertake the task feeling motivated, eager and excited.

But I am trying

How well does it work when you feel you ‘should’ give up smoking, ‘should’ lose weight, ‘should’ drink less or ‘should’ exercise more, when you don’t really want to? Have you ever met someone who has been trying to give up smoking? Answer one question: Do they or don’t they smoke? The problem is with the implication of the word trying.

The word trying says you are not really motivated or committed but you are attempting something, having a go. Only when you see a compelling reason and decide to do something will you be motivated enough to change your habits and achieve what it is you want to achieve. Without a decision and a compelling reason you can try as hard as you like, but you are unlikely to succeed. No amount of teambuilding, motivational speakers or programs can do this for you. No rewards will help you to become motivated beyond compliance if you don’t personally see a motif or a good reason why.

The more motifs, the more motivation

As a general rule, the more reasons you have to do something – the more benefits there are for you – the more motivated you are likely to be. No matter how many reasons other people might give you or how much they try to persuade or influence you, until it resonates with what is important to you, in other words with what you value, you just cannot and will not be motivated.

You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Ultimately no-one else can motivate you other than you. The more your activities and goals are aligned with what you value, the more motivated you will be. You are unlikely to be motivated by what you ‘should’ do rather then what you would love to do. Of course we are also motivated by what I call ‘secondary motivation.’

Secondary motivation is being motivated to do something because if you don’t it will have negative consequences.

If you don’t lose weight and look after your body you might get sick, if you don’t do your tax return, pay your mortgage, earn money etc. there will be costs, discomfort…in other words pain.

The more compelling reasons you can find to do something, the more motivated you will be and the easier things will become. If there is a lack of motivation it is because there is no clear primary or secondary benefit. When you are not motivated in areas of your life that are important to you, examine the ‘pay off’, the reason or benefit of staying stuck. By the way, you can’t make the horse drink but you can make it very thirsty!

Am I being lazy?

Many people confuse lack of motivation with being lazy. Ultimately there is no such thing as being lazy. But there certainly can be an absence of motivation due to a lack of motive.

If you want test this theory ask a teenager to tidy up their room and see their response. You might have (wrongly) judged the absence of enthusiasm as being lazy. Now ask the teenager to leave the room. Hide money in their room in different places and invite them to find as much as they can within two minutes. What do you think might happen to the ‘lazy’ teenager? You got it…MOTIVATION!

Get up, get out and make it happen….or not

Motivation is what will make things happen. It is what helps you get out of that chair, stop putting toxins into your body and move towards what you really want in life. So from now on don’t waste your time by calling yourself lazy or making half hearted attempts by ‘trying’. Instead spend time uncovering your motivation. You will find that there are certain things that motivate you and other things that don’t. No one can tell you what should or should not motivate you. Different people are motivated by different things.

If you feel motivated to keep overeating, smoking, drinking etc. that’s okay. You know the consequences and if you chose to accept them, then that is entirely your choice. So make it! The important thing is don’t kid yourself. The fact is you are motivated and committed to these things otherwise you would not be doing it. So if you want to overeat, smoke, drink, stay sitting in your chair watching lots of TV, then don’t waste your time trying to give up or by making excuses. Stop boring yourself and others with the word ‘should’ or ‘I should give up’. Either give up or don’t! The choice is yours. But before you decide ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this really what I want to do?
  • Why am I doing what I am doing? What is my real motif, reason or purpose? Am I sure?
  • How does this serve me now and in the future?
  • Does what I do really align with my values or is it merely a lack of impulse control?

The motivation myth

We now know that motivation is the key to getting things done; for achieving goals and desires. We also know that aligning our motif with our values is important.

People often say: ‘I know it is important to me but I am just not that motivated’. These people rarely start or change anything because they are waiting to be motivated first. They somehow think that the only way they can move towards something (or away from something) is to be motivated. Wrong! They somehow expect that motivation will appear out of thin air and this will magically hurdle them into action towards their goal. Don’t sit around waiting for motivation to magically appear…it doesn’t and it won’t! The motivation bus will never arrive no matter how long you wait for it.

What follows is a most important statement.

DON’T wait to feel, or to get, motivated

If what you want to achieve is important to you and you don’t feel motivated, just do it anyway without feeling motivated! Make the decision to do it. Yes this might take an act of will, discipline and determination. Yes it might be unpleasant, require a commitment and you might even have to give up something else. Yet you do it because you know the end result, your goal and that is more important than whether you feel motivated or not. The problem is that most people focus on what they have to give up rather than focussing on the long term gain.

Do you really think elite swimmers look forward to getting up every morning at 4:30am day after day? Rather than begrudging their early morning starts, they are completely focused on the end result; their goal. That is what keeps them going, that is what motivates them.

What is important to you?

When you want to achieve something that is important to you, just start the ball rolling. Start pushing that motivation ball until it creates its own momentum…and it will, and then it might even be hard to stop. As the famous Nike motto says ‘Just Do It!’ Or as the famous quote attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe says: ‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it’.

Just like starting to exercise again after you haven’t for a while or perhaps never. It is highly unlikely that you will jump out of bed one morning full of motivation and start exercising. You might not feel like it, but because you know it is important, you will feel better and healthier in the long term, you get going even though you don’t want to. At first it is a real effort and you might have to fight that little voice in your head that will offer you all kinds of good reasons and temptations not to do it.

Here is an important fact. The more you do it, the more motivated you will become! The more the ball gets pushed, the more the ball will create its own momentum. It’s just like pushing a rock up hill. When you push a rock up on one side of a hill, it gets harder and harder the closer you get to the top.

** Important note: Most people give up just before the critical moment of breakthrough. But when you push that rock over the edge it creates its own momentum and it will roll down faster and faster as it builds up more momentum.

So remember. You won’t always be motivated to do the things that are important to you. Don’t wait for motivation to come along. Make a decision to do it anyway and start creating momentum. Soon you will find that the momentum will continue all on its own and it might even pull you along with it.

Why is it so difficult to maintain the momentum?

Now you might say ‘But I have tried to do things differently may times but I have not succeeded’. There is a really good reason for this and guess what it’s not your fault. It all has to do with your brain. There are three major reasons.

The latest research in neuroscience tells us that when you want to make changes in your life the brain will not necessarily be on your side and might actually hinder you in achieving what you want. Let’s explore this further:

1. Don’t take it personally

Many people resist change. Even when people’s lives are threatened, through smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor eating habits etc., changing the habit often seems near impossible. Have you ever wondered why so few weight loss programs work? Here is the answer. It all has to do with habits and conditioning.