Every day I find myself awed by the creations of others. Whether it's building a business, writing an elegant piece of code, or crafting a completely unique and original idea; the creative output of others makes me marvel at their achievements.
Admittedly, each time I see something this moving, a small fire lights in my stomach, subconsciously (or maybe consciously) wanting to produce on the same level as those who I admire. While it's impossible to quell the innate and immediate sense of envy, I'm not someone who sells the success of others short. The outputs I admire are the product of time, dedication, and hard work; and the success people have based on their own merits should only be celebrated.
My next line of thought brings me to the point of this journal article. If these successes are the product of time, dedication, and hard work; where do these individuals find the motivation necessary to be successful at what they do? Are they by nature extremely driven and motivated? Do they have habits or processes in place that enable them to exude this motivation? Is motivation something that can be learned, developed, or even taught? You can see the rabbit hole I'm starting to peer into.
The purpose of this article is to discuss motivation. Looking at the motivation of others, the motivation each of us have inside ourselves, and trying to, to the best of our abilities, figure out ways we can find our own motivation, and use it for achieving our goals.
A Helping Hand
To add perspective beyond my own thoughts, I've asked questions to a handful of friends and colleges who I think are particularly motivated. Two contributors I took the liberty of quoting throughout the article are Dan Burseth and Adam Garcia.
Dan, one of my best friends who I've known since middle school, graduated from Northwestern with a degree in Industrial Engineering, proceeded to work as a trader on Wall Street, and has since enrolled at MIT where he'll be graduating with a dual MBA and Masters in Engineering in the spring of 2015.
Adam is the founder of The Pressure, a creative studio based out of Portland Oregon. Adam's work has been sought after by brands such as Nike, Nickelodeon, and Fast Company Magazine; and beyond his client work, contributes to a variety of amazing passion projects.
These two were great examples of people who I consider extremely motivated, and their contributions are greatly appreciated!
To me, motivation is the innate feeling that drives an individual to accomplish their goals. People who use motivation successfully generally accomplish their goals, and those who are not motivated generally fall short of goals or are too apathetic to set them. To me, motivation is a quality that cannot be objectively measured, but like dark matter (nerd alert), you know exists because of what it creates.
During our conversation, Dan pointed out that motivation (and it's sibling concepts: achievement and will) are perhaps the second most documented philosophical topic in human history, falling below the existence of God. It's important to keep this in mind when reflecting on motivation, knowing that the internal struggle we all have is one which every human ever born has in one way struggled with. It's also important because it implies that determining what motivates us is something that requires dedicated thought. It's not a quality people intrinsically have inside them (or not), but is created through thoughtful habits, self assessment, and discipline.
Posing Some Questions
When diving into the topic of Motivation, I asked myself and my colleagues, a series of questions all pertaining to their own motivation - motivation on both a micro (day to day) and macro (months/years) scale. I wanted to know if people consider themselves to be motivated, if it's something they made a conscious effort at, and some of the conscious or unconscious things they do to maintain this motivation.
While not an exhaustive dive into the topic, it definitely reinforced a few thoughts I had, and also showed a few interesting themes worth sharing.
Why it's Hard
From my conversations the theme that maintaining motivation is hard, goes back to the risk/rewards questioning of the brain. As Dan puts it,
Thinking long term is hard - The brain is tasked with an incredible challenge: forecast the expected value of my current decision along a continuous and infinitely long timeline, identify the probability of an eventual reward (and it's value), and act accordingly. Dan Burseth
That statement in itself is hard to digest, let alone act on.
The statement implies motivation is the ability for people to successfully navigate choices requiring long-term reward assessment. Choices that gauge the risk/reward of a given task, and the benefit of that task in the context of achieving a goal. The more long term risk/reward evaluating you need to perform to accomplish a task, the harder your brain has to work, and the more motivation you drain.
Continuing that thought, to maintain motivation, then, those choices need to become easier to make, thus requiring less brain power and leaving you with more motivation for the next decision.
The question then becomes, how can we make the choices required easier to make, enabling us to stay more motivated, and allowing us to perform more tasks inline with achieving our goals?
That question could be discussed into some detail, but in my opinion the best course of action to ease the process of determining risk/reward is establishing a core set of values which are immediately known and can easily be referenced. This makes the process of contemplating a decision easier to make, as the risk/reward decision can be evaluated in the context of the core set of values you want to embody.
Does it align with my values or does it not? Boom: decision.
That quick analysis is far from scientifically substantiated, but none the less, speaks a great deal about the importance of crafting personal values you adhere to, and goals you want to accomplish. With those firmly held core beliefs on the top of mind, decisions you make in your daily life are inline with your values, values which help you execute tasks, tasks which align with your goals.
As Adam put it:
Knowing that most of the choices that I make are leading toward a general direction of where I’d like to be in the future. Adam Garcia
Not Necessarily a Conscious Thing
From the motivated people I spoke with, no one came out and said "Yeah I'm very motivated." Maybe this shows the humble character of those I spoke with (which I would agree with), but I think it's safe to say people generally don't think of themselves as more or less motivated than the next person.
Part of this non-identification probably comes back to motivation being something that is inherently personal, and as such, hard to identify in other people. Dan identified three layers of personal motivation: Rewards, Flexibility, and Fear. Without knowing those deeply held thoughts of someone else, it's hard to identify why they do what they do, and in turn, how motivated they are.
However, as I continued to chat, it became clear that while these people didn't immediately identify themselves as uber motivated, they all spoke about conscious actions they take in their day to day lives to grow and maintain their motivation. These "actions" weren't necessarily monumental steps, but rather, specific attributes of their personal ethos that helped foster motivation and drive.
One example I found extremely interesting was Adam's notion of being a producer rather than a consumer.
The balance of consumption vs production is something that I am very conscious of. I choose to be a producer rather than a consumer, and at the end of every day I can definitely look at that day, look at that proportion and say “What did I do today?” Adam Garcia
Dissecting the quote a bit, Adam has identified purpose in what it means to being a producer and has created personal values around that concept. This allows him to reflect on his day, gauging success and progress on the way he wants to live.
What about the day to day?
So if the macro level to staying motivated is establishing a personal ethos, creating core values, and setting long term goals; what is the micro level?
Based on the people I talked with, that answer is a little less meta than the previous discussion, and is greatly helped by surrounding yourself with other motivated people. People who are accomplishing their goals, then associating yourself in that collective productive mindstate.
The adage of "you are the average of the 5 people you see most often" comes to mind.
I tend to surround myself with motivated, creative people that are constantly and consciously taking steps towards who they want to become. Those kind of humans are so seamlessly woven into a creative life that they exude motivation and it’s contagious. Adam Garcia
I can vouch for this as well. People who are motivated and achieving their goals, love doing exactly that. They love the notion of progress and love helping other people achieve their goals.
Last but not least, the other theme that came up rather frequently, was the notion of removing distractions and maintaining focus. Many of the people I talked to alluded to being weary of television, remain skeptical of social media, and don’t pack their day full of other non-productive mindless tasks. It's not that any of these things are inherently bad in small doses, but that they distract from the reflection and contemplation necessary to weigh the progress of your day.
While outright meditation may not be the answer for everyone, taking time to think about your actions, without being anxious of a pending Twitter notification, proves powerful.
To summarize everything I said above:
I hope you found the reading of article as rewarding of an experience as it was for me to write. Being and staying motivated is something I know will always be a WIP for me, but there is comfort in knowing that it is for everyone, and we're all here to help push each other forward, together.
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