The Power of Motivation Is Limited (365 Days of Spirited Living — DAY 362)
“The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”
— Arthur C. Clarke
Too often we think that the key to achieving our goals is being motivated. But motivation is very abstract. You can’t really catch it or grab hold of it and hang on to it. You can’t even force yourself into having it like you can with something like determination. It comes every once in a while. The rest of the time, it is up to you — your choices, your will, your self-discipline, your faith, and your persistence.
We are motivated to set goals; we must be determined to reach them. When motivation runs out, commitment keeps us striving, working, pulling, pushing, overcoming, failing, and ultimately succeeding. Often the problem isn’t that motivation hasn’t shown up, rather, that we are attributing too much power to it that it simply does not have. Here are two ways to think about motivation:
Psyching yourself out with rewards and foreboding only works in the short term.
What do we tend to do when we learn new, often surprising information? We tend to jump on its bandwagon. We experience a flash of excitement or impetus to do something with what we have recently learned or acquired. That little spark we feel is motivation and it is only temporary.
For example, maybe you read in a magazine that drinking caffeine after 5 PM will lead to getting less sleep at night. So even though you’re a notorious caffeine drinker, you quickly throw away the coffee or soda as soon as the clock strikes 5. Or maybe you heard on TV that sitting all the time leads to serious health problems. So at the top of the hour, you’re the first person out of your desk.
But after a few days, maybe a week, you’re back to drinking caffeine all through the day and night or sitting at your desk for 8 hours straight. This isn’t because you have forgotten what you read or heard. Rather, it is because permanent change is not motivated by external rewards or an attitude of foreboding, feeling that something bad is going to happen if you don’t do this now.
Of course, when we learn new information, we should let it inspire us to do better. But we should not dwell on the thought of what might happen if we don’t do this thing or that things. Permanent change happens internally. If you want to develop better habits, you have to do so on the inside first. External behavior is influenced by internal thought processes. If you don’t have an internal motivating reason why you’re doing something, you won’t stick with it for long.
This is one of the reasons some people give up on college, give up on starting a new business, give up on writing a book, give up on so many other good things. They haven’t defined why they are doing it. They’re just going along with whatever way the wind is blowing and they don’t have anything grounding and causing them to stick with a new habit or a new goal. When you have an internal motivation for doing something, you are more likely to stick with it from start to finish. And you don’t have to rely on rewards or feelings of foreboding to get it done.
Developing a growth mindset will help you see challenges as opportunities for growth and improvement.
Carol S. Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, developed the growth mindset vs. the fixed mindset theory. In a fixed mindset, people believe that the traits and talents they are born with are fixed and cannot be changed, thus their success or failure is also fixed and they do not believe they have the power to change the outcome.
In a growth mindset, on the other hand, people believe that their talents and abilities can be developed and improved through learning, persistence and hard work, thus their success or failure is under their control. They are more likely to work through setbacks and overcome challenges than those with a fixed mindset.
We are all capable of learning, improving, and growing no matter what natural abilities or talents we are born with or lack. It is important then not to fall into trapped thinking where we believe that we start to believe we are powerless and act as if nothing is in our control. We can’t control the universe, but we can control what we read, what we learn, how hard we work, and whether we persist in overcoming setbacks and challenges.
Success or failure are not in the hands of fate or chance. It is in our hands and in order to push through when motivation grabs its hat and runs away, we have to constantly remind ourselves that whether we succeed or fail is a direct result of our will to work hard or lack thereof, not of external forces or factors outside of our control.
It is important that you know the difference between these two mindsets. If you know you tend to have a fixed mindset, you can actively work to change that into a growth mindset. This way you will begin to look at challenges as stepping stones to your goals and be willing to work harder to overcome obstacles so that you can get to where you want to go. Motivation will only help you do so much. The rest of it is choice and persistence and that is totally up to you.
“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.”
— Steve Maraboli