If you’re like most of us, you probably think that you’re headed down the wrong road every time you just don’t feel like doing what you’re doing or what you have to. You may think that you’re lacking passion and so this path isn’t the right one. You may get down on yourself because you’re not driven enough or strong enough to persist. You may try all the common sense tricks that are meant to keep you motivated: thinking of your long term goal, thinking about your achievements so far, thinking that all you have to do is get back in alignment. The thing is: these things are really sticks disguised as the carrots. You’re really just beating yourself up. And your inner self—and drive—won’t be fooled.
Hulbert Lee has written about motivation in quite a different way. He doesn’t advise you to push or pull that mulish part of you: he uses the wisdom of gurus Steve Jobs, Timothy Ferriss and Jack Canfield to illuminate three important facts concerning motivation and inspiration: 1) your goals won’t always make sense or be enough to drive you; 2) carrots do work better than sticks; and 3) going with the flow makes more sense than rowing against the tide.
1) Your goals won’t always make sense or be enough to drive you.
Lee uses Steve Job’s story to express that reminding yourself of your goals may not always be motivating because there is so much you still don’t know, that you will only learn along your journey.
Jobs dropped out of college because he couldn’t see that what he was learning justified the amount of money his parents were spending on tuition. He hung around school, dropping in on classes, and took a calligraphy class because it was so different than his science and engineering focus. This class was taught by someone who had been a Trappist monk for 18 years and Jobs learned a kind of focus and moving meditation that tempered his fiery and impatient manner a bit. He later said: “It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture.”
This calligraphy, of course, later came through in the typefaces made available on the Mac, distinguishing it from PC’s and informing the industry.
Jobs told graduating Stanford students: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Trust that your choice to do what you’re doing carries a gift and a lesson that will make sense later. Don’t question yourself so much. Don’t beat yourself up with goals. Have faith in your journey and in your learning and you may find that the work is easier to do the less you try to tie it to concrete outcomes.
2) Carrots do work better than sticks.
Tim Ferriss is a productive writer because he knows he works best as a night owl; he knows that background activity (or sometimes noise) helps him to focus; he knows that his favorite cup of tea gives him the comfort that will help him to do his best work.
Have you heard that you should get up at 6 am every day and sharpen your pencils? Are you figuratively strapping yourself in your chair? Shutting out every distraction? Do you follow someone else’s prescription for productivity?
Ferriss believes that comfort is key and what gives you comfort isn’t the same as what comforts someone else. What drives someone else isn’t necessarily what will drive you.
Experiment with treating yourself. How inviting is your work environment? Do you work better with noise or silence? Do you accomplish more by working in bursts or long stretches? Does getting up and doing something physical help you to re-focus? Try working at different times of the day. Try adding beautiful objects or scenes to your workspace. Create the kind of environment that makes your workplace inviting, a treat, rather than a chore or a punishment.
3) Going with the flow makes more sense than rowing against the tide.
Lee posts an important Jack Canfield quote: “Research now seems to indicate that one hour of inner action is worth seven hours of out-in-the-world action. Think about that. You’re working too hard.”
Could you be working too hard? Don’t use the quality or quantity of your output to measure this: check in with yourself. If you’re feeling mulish, then perhaps you need to work at something else. If you’re getting nowhere, perhaps you need to rethink your technique. If your mind keeps drifting, maybe you really need to work at daydreaming!
Canfield believes that inner work is more important than outer action. Taking the time to think and freely associate can give you inspiration and ideas that could change the course of your outer action. If you’re running into walls, take some time to meditate or use visualization techniques to think about how to flow around and over obstacles rather than butting your head against them and trying to force your way through.
Your dwindling motivation may be a sign that you need to take a break.