What is motivation (and how to find it)

Discover the secret to finding motivation and achieving your goals...


what is motivation how to find it

Are you waiting for that lightening-bolt moment to get you started? Jeff Haden, author of The Motivation Myth, tells Ali Roff what motivation really is and how each of us can find it, before explaining why it works to help us to our goal and …

What is motivation?

I was talking to Venus Williams (if I’m going to drop names, that’s a good one) and we were chatting about all the things she does other than play tennis – the activewear she designs and the related company that she runs, as well as her interior design firm.

She performs at a high level in a variety of pursuits, and at no time did she ever talk about a ‘lightning-bolt moment’, when it suddenly hit her that this is what she wanted to be, or do, the idea of: ‘This is my passion and I have all the motivation I need to carry forth and conquer, forever.’

Most successful people I talk to found something that they were interested in, decided to try it, worked at it, and discovered that they enjoyed it. They created a feedback loop without realising it: ‘I’m interested in something, I’ll try it and put in some effort.’

Effort usually produces some improvement, and improvement feels good and makes us happy, and that dynamic gives us motivation – and then it creates a flywheel, where effort plus success and, ‘Wow, that feels good!’ equals a little bit of motivation, which takes us back to effort.

So, they actually learn how to find passion, purpose or motivation through the process of working towards something, as opposed to needing motivation upfront in order to have inspiration.

what is motivation how to find it

Do some people naturally have more motivation than others?

Every person has enough motivation in them to accomplish what they want to do. Don’t wait or hope or wish for an external source to get you started. You don’t have to learn how to find motivation – it’s inside you. You simply have to find something you’re interested in.

Also, you don’t need to have enough motivation to see it all the way through at the beginning; you just have to have enough to get off the couch and start. The secret is to find a process.

Say you want to get fit but you’re trying something that doesn’t work; you’re not going to see an improvement, so you’re going to quit. If your goal is to run a marathon, or write a book, you have to find a process that works. Successful people focus on the process, and the end result largely takes care of itself.

Successful people focus on the process, and the end result largely takes care of itself.

Jeff Haden

What do you think is the key to a successful start?

The big thing that holds people back in terms of motivation is the distance from here to there. Say you’ve decided to run a marathon, and the first day you run a mile, but your knees hurt and it was a terrible experience.

If you say to yourself, ‘Wow! Just one mile was awful – and I’ve got to do 26,’ you’re probably going to give up, because the distance from here to there is too big. I don’t know anyone who has an intrinsic amount of motivation that will allow them to constantly think about those 26 miles and overcome the feeling of defeat they face with the thought of, ‘How on earth am I going to do that?’

The key? Keep your head down and don’t look at the full distance – that’s how to find motivation within yourself. Just ask: ‘What am I supposed to do today? If I am supposed to run a mile, and I ran a mile, then I should feel good because I did what I set out to do.’ You accomplished something, and tomorrow your goal is to achieve tomorrow’s goal, and not to think about six months from now. 

With this knowledge, how can we approach our big change or new goal using a process?

It depends on what you’re trying to achieve. The accumulation of numbers can get you to a certain point. If, for example, you want to write a book, and every day you write a target number of words, at the end of it you will have a book. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good, but you will have a book.

Other challenges don’t really lend themselves to chunking by numbers, so the best thing to do is to look for what others have done. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The process someone else used to accomplish something is probably 95 per cent applicable to you as well.

We have a tendency to think that we’re all unique and special and need a bespoke process. But, usually, when you decide that something needs to be custom-made for you, you’re looking for what you want to do, not what you have to do. What you’re really saying is: ‘I don’t really want to do the work that is probably integral to achieving whatever it is I want.’

The empowering part is to know that a particular process has a good chance of success. With six months of working towards something, would you rather be at the other end of six months of effort, having achieved what you wanted to do, or having done what you felt like doing along the way, but not having succeeded?

If you are not willing to follow the process, then you’re probably better off not starting because whatever it is that you want to do doesn’t mean that much to you – and that’s OK, because you don’t have to do everything. But, if you say you want to do it, then you’ve got to agree to do whatever it is to get you there.

How can we conquer procrastination when it comes to making a start?

If our new challenge or goal seems too difficult, or we don’t know where to begin, we can sometimes talk ourselves out of it. One of the co-founders of Pinterest beats procrastination by setting himself five minutes of work and, if he still doesn’t want to do the work after five minutes, he’ll stop. More often than not, we’ll keep working – once we start, it always ends up being easier than we thought.

The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up To Win by Jeff Haden (Penguin, £20) is out now.

More inspiration: New beginnings – how to beat bad habits

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