What does Motivation Really Mean?

A lot of people engage performance psychology services looking for ‘keys’ to steely motivation.  This is the type of drive and discipline that sees us leap out of bed at 4:30 in the morning rain, hail or shine, then charge off on a 15km run and be the first into the office and last to leave. The problem is that these ‘keys’ is a myth. They simply do not exist.

The platform of online video streaming makes it easy for us to access motivational videos screaming at us to be tougher, better, faster and stronger. This leads us to believe in the myth of motivation and extreme overnight behaviour change. Our inevitable failure to replicate and sustain this level of extreme motivation also often leads to us feeling disheartened and disappointed. Sometimes, we need to accept that our dreams or desires are simply beyond the capabilities we have and are meant for others.

Why does this happen?

Motivation is a myth is because it is not a stand-alone concept. Motivation is the combination of both Importance and Belief. It is when we feel something is important and we are capable of achieving success. Then, we see the follow-up discipline, prioritising and action which we associate with ‘motivation’. So ‘motivated’ people are those with a clear understanding of what is important to them and why, and belief that they are capable of achieving success in these areas.

Why does this matter?

Understanding motivation in this context helps recognise that there is far more to it than simply ‘getting to work’ and prior planning. Although less ‘sexy’, this is necessary if you want to see long term behaviour change and increase your likelihood of success. Planning should revolve around understanding importance and setting achievable goals to build belief.

So how do you stay motivated?

To understand importance, ask yourself 5-why questions to uncover the deep seated meaning of why you want to begin this journey. For example, say you wanted to lose 10kg. At the first level of ‘why’, this may because you used to be able to run 5km non-stop and now you can’t.

Asking yourself why running 5km is important (the 2nd why) may produce the answer ‘Well, I felt fit and healthy when I could run.’ This uncovers that health is important to you. Through asking yourself (the 3rd why) ‘Why is health important?’, you might recognise  that ‘Being healthy means I can physically do the things I want.’

It is important to contemplate exactly what you want to do (e.g. why is being physically capable important?/the 4th why). You recognise that you want to be able to keep up with the kids whilst they are playing.

Again, reflect on why this is important (the fifth and final why)? Because you want to be an engaged and present parent who sets a good example for your kids around an active lifestyle. In this example, investigating the 5-whys led from I want to lose 10Kg, to I want to be an engaged and present parent. This is a far more meaningful and important goal than just weight loss. We have moved the goal from losing weight for losing weight sake, to being a good parent.

The 5-whys take time and in some cases, you may already know the 5th why before getting to that level. However, taking the time to be disciplined in thinking through and investigating each level will help align the desired behaviour change you are looking for with truly burning inspiration.

What else can I do?

In regard to the second aspect of motivation, belief. Make sure you take the time to recognise the small steps on the journey to your overall destination. In the example above, losing 10kg is a long process which could seem overwhelming. But focusing on the first 2kgs can be a good way to build momentum and set a more achievable initial goal.

Before setting off into action, make sure you spend time breaking your overall desired outcome into smaller “journey goals”. Ensure they are relevant and inline with your overall goals. This makes them a true indicator of progress to build confidence and highlight any  changes you need to make.

So where to now?

Motivation is not simple.  The video-streaming generation may make it look as easy as yelling a bunch of motivational words at yourself on repeat, but if it were truly that simple then most likely you would have already started and succeeded.

Behaviour change is far more complex than this and therefore our understanding of what motivates us needs to match this. A firm understanding of why you want to change (importance) and what this would mean for your life is the key first step to motivation. This needs to be supported by a clear strategy on what progress looks like and the “markers” along the way which indicate progress. Through breaking down these goals, the overall task will seem that little bit more achievable.

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