Firstly, Happy New Year. I appreciate it’s been a while since my last blog so allow me to offer my apologies to readers of lifelawandotherthings. I would say that life got in the way, but that would contradict the message in my first ever blog, so no excuses – look for more regular posts from this point forward.
In writing this post, I was inspired by a conversation that I had with one of my best friends a while back. I suppose he thought I had forgotten about it, perhaps he had himself, but at the time I remember thinking that it was so important that the need to write it became etched in my memory, as weighty and ever-present as a university thesis deadline.
The topic of this post is motivation: what it is, how to get it and how to maintain it. Motivation is vital because with it, we are propelled towards our goals and objectives and without it, we struggle to get anything meaningful done at all. I hope this blog helps readers to find the motivation for achieving whatever goals they have in mind for 2018 and to maintain this motivation in their day-to-day lives.
What is Motivation?
Motivation has been defined as the “desire and willingness to achieve a particular goal or objective”. This definition makes it clear that motivation is indivisibly bound up with goals and objectives and in order to have motivation, we must necessarily have these things also. Whilst goals and objectives are essential to the definition, when we speak of motivation in everyday parlance, what we are often alluding to is the “desire and willingness” aspect of the definition. Desire is our wish to achieve a particular objective and willingness is the state of being prepared to achieve a particular outcome. Desire and willingness are the very essence of motivation and once harnessed, these two things propel us towards our goals and objectives.
How to get motivation?
As motivation is the desire and willingness to achieve a particular goal or objective, it is first necessary that we determine precisely what the goals and objectives are that we would like to achieve. Many people claim that they lack motivation but when we enquire deeper into why this is, it becomes clear that they haven’t actually determined the object of their efforts. Once we have taken the step of clearly setting out our goals and objectives, then we may find this alone provides us with the hefty dose of motivation needed to achieve them!
Our desire and motivation to achieve a particular outcome is increased if, as well as clearly defining our goals and objectives at the outset (I find writing them down particularly useful), we also think carefully about why we want to achieve a particular goal or objective. As an example, if my goal is to establish a charity mentoring disadvantaged ethnic minority university students, then I will not simply write this goal down on its own, but I will also set out why I want to achieve this goal i.e. to improve minority representation in the workplace. There can be a host of reasons why we want to achieve a particular goal or objective but once we have outlined some, or at least one of these reasons, we will find that motivating ourselves to achieve them becomes a lot easier.
How to Maintain Motivation?
Maintaining motivation over a period of time can be extremely difficult. Although initially we may have clearly defined goals and objectives and start out energised to achieve them, over time we may find that this desire lulls and this can seriously hamper, if not derail our ability to achieve our goals and objectives altogether. Personally when my motivation to achieve a particular outcome starts to decrease, there are a few useful methods I use which serve to reinvigorate this motivation – the following serves as a collection of some these methods
1. Return to the goal
My first tip for maintaining motivation is to regularly return to the goal or objective that we are striving to achieve and the reasons for it. This is where the benefit of writing down our goals becomes clearer because if our motivation starts to drag, we can easily revisit our written goals, be easily reminded of what they are and the reasons for why we set out to achieve them in the first place. For me this is one of the best ways to get fired-up again to achieve my goals.
Another way of maintaining motivation is through reading books that specifically deal with this topic. There are several books available that can help with motivation and two of my favourites are The Magic of Thinking Big by David J Schwarz and Stop the Excuses by Wayne Dyer; both of these books contain essential messages and helpful tips that help me to galvanise myself back into action whenever my motivation starts to decrease.
3. Motivational videos
I also am a big fan of motivational videos: Some of my favourite speakers are TD Jakes and Les Brown, but there are also a host of excellent compilation videos available on Youtube that I find help motivate me, particularly during preparation for exams and interviews. During my Masters I watched these on a fairly regular basis and found that the positive messages they contain about how to overcome fear and laziness fired me up and made me feel very much willing and able to achieve my goals.
Whilst motivation and the state of being motivated can at times seem elusive, it is worth remembering that if our reasons are clear then our motivation should follow. When this motivation lags, far from this being the end of the world, we can return to our reasons and use a variety of aids to propel ourselves back into action. This should keep us on track and consistently moving towards whatever goals and objectives we set ourselves!
This short post was inspired by none other, than my mother. “Don’t beat yourself up!”, four simple words that encapsulate years of wisdom and act as a gentle reminder that even in the midst of life’s most stressful moments, we should never be too hard on ourselves.
Although harmful and ultimately unnecessary, “beating ourselves up” is infact remarkably common. Have you ever had a moment of worry or doubt about something and then replayed or imagined the scenario over and over again in your head until you are stressed-out and worried? This exercise often takes place in the immediate aftermath of a bad experience, but can also be common before a situation has even happened, as we consider all of the possible ways in which it could go wrong.
It goes without saying that there is little to be gained by beating ourselves up. If a situation has recently occurred then it is by definition in the past and we cannot go back in time to change it. So we bombed the interview, or felt we could have done better in our presentation, the fact is that we cannot re-live that moment. However, what we can do is either to take what lessons we can from the bad experience or, if it is the case that we feel we cannot learn from a situation (almost impossible in my view), then we should try and forget about it. As an article I read recently reminded me,“it’s ok to have a shit day” and sometimes it’s best to just forget a bad experience and move on with our lives rather than to endlessly agonise over it. Not beating ourselves up becomes even more important if a situation has not yet happened, as doing so can actually create the experience we are hoping to avoid. If we are thinking only negative thoughts before an event then it is quite likely that this worry will disrupt our preparations and may even impair our performance on the day. The reality is that the event hasn’t happened yet and until it has we’ve simply no idea of how things are going to go, so why imagine the worst?
None of this is meant to suggest that feeling down or worried about something does not represent perfectly normal human emotion. Simply put, we cannot help it if we are upset about a situation that did not go well or feel nervous about a prospective one. However, “don’t beat yourself up!” is a reminder that whilst our feelings in these situations are perfectly natural, they probably aren’t rational and allowing them to snowball out of control is never likely to be helpful. Instead, we should try replacing them with other thoughts and feelings for example, determination to deal with a situation better next time, or positive thoughts about how we will perform in future. Doing this will help us to overcome these negative feelings and invest our emotional energy into more useful pursuits.
So next time you feel that you’ve let feelings of sadness or worry about a past or future situation build up remember, either let them go or re-focus your energies, the important thing, as my mum would say, is “don’t beat yourself up!”.
This blog was originally scheduled to be entitled, “The importance of a plan”, but when I began to think about it, whilst some people would advocate planning every step of our lives, experience has taught me that despite our best efforts, we can’t always stick to our plans. Life has a terrific tendency to throw us curve-balls and as we grow we often develop new ideas and perspectives that cause us to deviate from our original plans. That’s why I believe it’s important to have an overall goal; that way, no matter how much our original plans change, we have a firm grasp of what general direction we are heading in and can make decisions about what steps to take in order to get there.
What Type of Goal?
The first question you might ask is what exactly do I mean when I talk about a ‘Goal’? I believe that it’s a word that, although used by many people in everyday parlance, is worth re-defining here in order to get a clearer picture of exactly what is meant. The Oxford online dictionary defines the word goal as:
“The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result”
What’s immediately apparent is that this is a very broad definition. This reflects the way that I also believe we should set our life goals – as broadly as possible. Broad goals allow us to be flexible in how we pursue them and prevent us from becoming disheartened if everything doesn’t quite go to plan. To explain this idea, take the goal of “wanting to help needy people”. Now it’s clear that there are a number of ways in which we can help needy people: We can for example, make that goal an integral part of our working lives by becoming an aid worker, social worker or teaching in disadvantaged schools; or we could pursue that goal as an extra-curricular activity outside of our working hours, such as volunteering time working in a soup kitchen or providing free advice at a legal centre. We can see here that whilst there are countless possibilities of things that we can do, as long as our goal remains broadly to ‘help needy people’, we will be well on our way to achieving it by perusing any number of these avenues.
In contrast, let’s take the example of a goal such as, “I want to be the head legal advisor at Amnesty international”. Besides the fact that it may transpire that Amnesty International may no longer exist by the time that we have built up the credentials to apply for such a post, there is always the possibility that in a years’ time you might want to work for a different NGO, or maybe there is another head legal advisor at that time and the post isn’t open to applicants. In this instance there would be no possible way of achieving your goal and this failure is likely to lead to disheartenment and a loss of morale.
It’s important to note here that I am not ruling out ambition. If your goal is to be Prime Minister or to work for the United Nations then that’s perfectly fine and I would personally encourage ambitious goals, I would only caution against too narrowly defined major life goals, as these don’t permit flexibility and may lead to disappointment if not attained.
How many Goals?
This question seems really to be on a par with ‘how long is a piece of string?’. My answer is that we can set as many goals as we like in relation to the various different aspects of our lives. People may want to set goals for example, to help them manage their time better, to lose/gain weight or to learn a new language. In this sense, setting achievable goals can help in every area of our lives. Nevertheless, I’ve found that just having one overall life goal helps me to really focus all of my outlook and energies on achieving it. Too many of these risks clouding our perspectives and confusing our direction which can be akin to having no goal at all.
Whilst one major life goal is good to have, It’s a good idea to have many ‘sub-goals’ to help you achieve this goal. These should be more defined then your overall goal and it’s important that these are concrete and realisable so that you may track your gradual progress. Again by way of example, let’s stick with our goal of wanting to help needy people. Now we may decide that the way that we want to do this is through aid work. We might start by researching a list of non-governmental organizations that do the specific type of work that we are interested in, then set the short term sub-goal of securing an internship at one of these NGO. Once we have achieved this goal, we can then re-set our goals or if we do not achieve it we can alter our sub goal. The fact remains however that this is all helping us move closer to that broad overarching goal.
Protecting the Goal
Finally it’s important that we do everything we can to protect our goals. Whilst many people we come across might aid us in pursuit of our goals and may be able to offer advice and guidance, it’s just an unfortunate fact of life that not everyone will be inclined this way. Some people, who perhaps haven’t been successful at achieving their goals or perhaps who haven’t thought about setting any clearly defined goals for themselves, may cast judgement on our goals or sometimes attempt to convince us to abandon them altogether. Whilst I would not advocate simply dismissing the views of a host of individuals with a great deal of experience in the area that you are interested in, it’s worth taking people’s opinions in relation to your goals with a pinch of salt or sometimes better, simply not to disclose them to others at all. It’s better to live life in the pursuit of the goal and not achieve it, then to let the opinions of others stop you trying.
I will end with a quote from Andrew Carnegie regarding the importance of setting a goal:
If you want to be happy, set a goal. Goals commands your thoughts, liberate your energy and inspire your hopes. – Andrew Carnegie