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I’ve heard expressions like “I need some motivation” and “I just don’t have any motivation to do this” many times. I’m sure you have too. Of course, it would be nice to wake up, get a cup of motivation, and go on with your day. Unfortunately, this is not how it works. Motivation is not something we can get. Let me explain what I mean.

Motivation Is Like a Momentum

There is a common stereotype in our society that everyone needs a motivation boost. We don’t even question it when we hear someone say “I didn’t feel motivated.” That might be true for the person, but what they actually need is to create the right environment for motivation to happen and catch the momentum. Motivation is an effect and not a cause.

Motivation is like a force of momentum that moves an ocean wave. It gets the wave moving, but it isn’t the cause of this movement. Other things, such as tidal flows and the whole body of water, have collided to create the wave in the first place.

We Got It All Backwards

I have already mentioned that motivation is not something we can get all of a sudden. It’s a result of many other factors. In other words, motivation has certain conditions. When those conditions are met, we feel motivated. This is actually helpful to know. Even though we can’t just get motivated suddenly, we can make sure that the conditions for motivation are met.  That’s what we need to focus on. Even though we can’t get a cup of motivation, we can prepare the ingredients for it.

The Four Conditions of Motivation

  1. Clear Objective. Clarity about our overall direction in life is a very powerful driving force. For example, there might be an assignment due in one of the classes and there is a million reasons to procrastinate and not to feel motivated. Therefore, let’s think about the bigger picture. I find one exercise especially helpful for that.  I call it ‘The Truth-Seeker’. Basically, a person asks themselves the same question, ‘Why am I doing this?’ many times, until they reach the most important reason.  Example: I have an assignment due, but I don’t have any motivation to do it.
    • Round 1. Why am I doing this?  Because it is worth 10% of my grade in this class.
    • Round 2. Why am I taking this class? Because it is a part of my major.
    • Round 3. Why am I getting a degree in this major? Because I want to have a career in this field.
    • Round 4. Why do I want a career in this field? Because I think I will enjoy a lifestyle of this profession, which includes a good salary.
    • Round 5. Why do I want a good salary? Because I would like to support my parents who are working really hard.

    Clear Objective: It is important to complete this assignment to be able to support my parents later in life.

  2. Defined Action Steps. Imagine a feeling of driving a car through the thick fog. At some point a question ‘where am I going?’ will come up accompanied by a feeling of pointlessness. It is a similar feeling that stops a person from taking action, if they are not sure that this step will actually take them closer to the destination. Motivation diminishes when the direction isn’t clear. Good news is the opposite holds true as well. As soon as the action steps are outlined, they replace the need for motivation.
  3. Experience. Let’ imagine doing any task for the first time. For example, snowboarding or learning a programming language. The learner would naturally find someone they can observe and borrow experience from. It could be a snowboarding instructor or programming teacher. As the time goes by, the student begins to feel a combination of curiosity, confidence, and motivation about approaching the new skill. Similarly, if there are no books or videos, no teacher or peers, and no other sources to borrow experience from, the student would feel demotivated, lost and maybe even scared. Thus, personal or borrowed experience ignites motivation. Surrounding yourself with people who have already reached the goal you want to achieve is a common success strategy for building momentum. If they could do it, you can too.
  4. External resources, such as information, money, or simply energy, can affect the way we feel about a task.  For example, I may not feel motivated to study when I want to sleep and it is raining outside. To overcome this, I identify what I need and acquire the resources that will help me gain motivation. Examples:
    • I feel motivated to study when I’m surrounded by studying people. The resource here is surrounding myself with other people doing the same thing. To do that, I  can go to the library or coffee shop.
    • I feel motivated to study when I don’t feel sleepy. The resource is getting enough sleep.
    • I feel motivated to study when the sun is bright. The resource is light.

I Say “I’m Not Motivated”, But I Mean …

Obviously, “I am not motivated” is a self-destructive limiting statement. The process of overcoming the lack of motivation starts with looking at the underlying causes.  Am I madly in love with my objective? Am I even clear what my objective is? Do I need more experience? And who or what can help me gain it? What other resources could be helpful? Answering these questions helps create momentum.

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TL; DR

Motivation is an effect of the four factors: clear objective, defined action steps, personal or borrowed experience, and external resources. By focusing on all, or at least some, of these factors, we can increase our chances to feel naturally motivated, catch the momentum, and be all that we want to be.