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The Myth of Motivation

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Motivation is simply the procrastination of procrastinating.

Let’s get real about motivation, what it is and what it isn’t. In the entertainment industry, film specifically (and where I spent most of my 20’s seduced by the illusion of being a well-fed artist), motivation boils down to one’s intention, the in-the-moment and overarching desire of a character. It is not about the choices themselves but rather the ‘why’ behind them. These come in two fold. Can you spot the two themes in the following movie plot themed examples?
  1. The aspiring sports player wants to be a professional star. His motivation is to uplift the reputations and means of poverty-stricken families everywhere and to pay for the rehabilitation treatments of his disabled brother.
  1. The college drop out wants to start her own business. Her motivation is to change they way renewable energy is stored and to save the parkland where she used to spend her summers.
Sure these aren’t real movies, but the archetype of themes pervade. Motivation can be both general and personal at the same time. But it can never not be personal. Motivation that is not personal isn’t motivation, its procrastination, excuses, nice-to-haves, and/or just goals.

Effective motivation must be personal.

A classic film anecdote for actors comically begins with “What’s my motivation,” only for the stern and slightly irritated director replying with, “You’re getting paid to do it, that’s your motivation!” Unfortunately, I’ve seen the same logic and direction permeate the workspaces of all industries. If you’re only doing your job because you’re getting paid to, you’re seriously missing out on the reward and satisfaction that working with motivation can provide. You’re also likely not living up to your potential either.
Don’t get me wrong, going to work to get paid is a solid motivation but it is a general one. What is the personal reason behind it? Be specific and be honest.
Is it really to just ‘keep the lights on?’ Sure if you’ve been out of work, borderline broke, or desperate to maintain your bills, ‘keeping the lights on’ is a true and extremely high stakes situation. Going to work everyday ensures you can keep your home heated, take hot showers, cook food, charge your phone every night, etc. These are essentials and without them survival is all the more trying. Suddenly, your motivation to work is about survival. How would you treat your job differently if your immediate livelihood depended on it?
Perhaps your personal motivation of working-to-get paid is “to save up for vacation.” That is honest but not detailed and not very personal (yet). Have you been working for 16 months with no break? Have you always wanted to see cousins in Europe or recreate the picture of where your parents met in Utah? THOSE are personal reasons and worthy enough to provide REAL motivation.

You cannot motivate others.

And others cannot motivate you! I’ve heard many a lecture, proverb, or sound bite alluding to the fact that effective leaders must motivate their employees. That’s a bunch of bullshit. People aren’t motivated by people alone. If you want to get a someone engaged, you must discover what it is that does motivates them!
Does the Customer Service Rep really care about answering phones in the least amount of rings as possible? Likely not. But they certainly may care about providing the best service to the client. And when you share how customer satisfaction increases 25% whenever calls are answered within 30 seconds, how do you think their behavior might change?
Motivation is personal. It’s not a manager barking orders or an instruction manual listing steps to follow. Motivation comes from within and is different for every person. People can’t motivate other people. But those that can align objectives with personal causes will find a wealth of motivation. As a leader, take time to learn what motivates each of your employees and zero in on that. The truth found there will allow you to tap into their engagement and inspiration.
If you’re struggling to find motivation in your own life, perhaps you need to rethink the goals you’ve given yourself. Its easy to settle, become complacent, or let comfort seduce your ambitions. If you’re finding yourself in a similar place try the following:
  1. Clarify EXACTLY what you want in life/work and then ask yourself ‘why?’
  2. Why do you want it?
  3. How much do you want it?
  4. Are the reasons personal?
  5. Can the stakes be raised further?
  6.  Repeat 1-5 until exhaustion sets in.
Whatever is left will be your motivation. Own it and embrace it in everything you do.
Willpower and Motivation are heavily related. Improve both by scheduling tasks in advance. By simplifying your decision-making ahead of time your follow-through and execution will shine.


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