Motivating Oneself

All people struggle with motivation from time to time. One of the biggest indicators of success in life is our energy levels which can be measured as early as three years old. If the journey to success were a car, your motivation would be the fuel. However just like a car, sometimes parts break down which causes performance to drop. Have you ever struggled with procrastination? If so, this article is for you.

Before I discovered how to really motivate myself, I would suffer from procrastination all throughout school and my early work life. Whether it was putting off homework, projects, working out, and or even getting out of bed to go to work. In order to motivate yourself, you must first understand yourself. You need to figure out your drives. There have been many books on the subject as to what really drives human behaviour, if you ask Anthony Robbins he might say that we constantly seek to avoid pain and gain pleasure. Then there is Maslow's hierarchy of needs which strives to answer the question as to what really motivates us, with food and shelter being at the lowest end of the spectrum, all the way up to self actualization. What I've found is that there are two parts to ourselves, in the book The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt, he describes the two sides as the Elephant and the Rider. The elephant is a remnant from our ancient "reptilian" brain, it controls our emotions, including our fight or flight response. The rider evolutionarily is a much younger part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex. It is the basis of our logical mind. The rider is what we use to make rational decisions, analyze the pro's and cons, and ultimately control our willpower. The problem is we all know exactly what we should do, our rider is very good at that. The trick is knowing how to motivate your elephant.

The book Switch by Chip and Dan Heath is all about changing habits by utilizing the elephant and rider together. A habit by definition is something that is done automatically with little or no conscious thought. It is important to know first of all that the elephant easily gives up on things given resistance, and it hates any kind of ambiguity when it comes to decision making. The riders primary downside is that it can become stuck in "analysis paralysis" mode. Maybe you have tried to learn a new habit like reading, learning an instrument, working out, or learning a new language. Without a doubt you will start off full of enthusiasm, but soon you will generally give up. This is due to the fact that willpower is very limited and if you solely rely on it to motivate you, it will deplete before you can reinforce the new pattern into a habit. Gary Keller explains in the book The ONE Thing that we only need enough willpower to do the new behaviour until it becomes a habit. The question that comes to mind here then is how do we get the willpower to continue doing something difficult until it becomes an unconscious habit? There is a formula found for creating a new behaviour called B=MAT by Dr B.J. Fogg, Director of the Persuasive Technology lab at Stanford University. Behaviour equals three parts: motivation, ability, and triggers. Lets think about it in terms of going to the gym.

New Years Eve rolls around and you finally make a commitment to start exercising, now you have the motivation part of the equation. Triggers are easy enough, you can leave your gym bag by your door, or set reminders in your calendar to go to the gym. Triggers are broken up into internal and external triggers, starting off we usually rely on external ones. The goal is for the habit to become triggered internally which only happens from repeating actions over and over again. The part of the formula where most people struggle with however is the A or ability. Starting off completely new to exercising, you probably won't know any routines, proper nutrition, or proper form for exercises and this is very intimidating to the elephant. The main objective then is to make the path so clear for the rider that you can use the elephants considerable power to reinforce the habit you are trying to accomplish.

There are four key M's to motivation which Tai talks about; they are Money/Material, Mating/Social, Mastery/Status, and Momentum/Movement. Nir Eyal talks about the three types of variable rewards that are involved in shaping our behaviour in the book Hooked. They match up to the first 3 Ms: they are the rewards of the tribe, the hunt, and the self. Everyone is motivated primarily by one of these M's, you can tell which one motivates you by thinking carefully about which area you are most competitive in and what also what makes you jealous.

People motivated by material gain are primarily driven by the need to make more money and accumulate more, Nir Eyal would say this person is driven by the rewards of the hunt. We are evolutionarily programmed to go out and acquire scarce resources, in the caveman days this would be food, today it is money.

The rewards of the tribe is the need to feel connected socially, again it is deeply ingrained in us all to feel the physical need to be part of a tribe. This is connected to mating or social, if you are a guy and you get jealous when your friend gets a new good looking girlfriend, then you know you are primarily motivated by mating. The need to connect socially is so powerful that it has been shown that people who are isolated have up to a 50% greater chance of having a heart attack, so it is a huge mistake to ignore it.

Mastery or status is related to rewards of the self. An example is video game addiction, if you are motivated by mastery there is a very good chance that you are or were at one point addicted to video games much like I was. The rewards of the self are powered by internal needs to gain competency and a feeling of accomplishment. If you a status driven person then you will feel jealous when other people have more attention then you, and this usually compels you to want to become the best at whatever it is you're doing. Having a high status evolutionarily meant that you were the alpha male in the tribe and that you were the leader, obviously very desirable among men and now we try to find status in many different ways.

The fourth M of motivation is Momentum, the least talked about motivator but I believe to be the highest form and most powerful. At one point in the future you will have everything you want if you put the work in- you will have the money, the status, and mating wont be a problem for you. What's left then is the need to be constantly moving or building something new, an innate human drive. You know this is your primary motivator if it is literally painful for you to not be doing anything and you get jealous when you see others going places in their life, whether that means travel or building their life.

I could go really in depth with the four M's but the key is knowing which one motivates you the most, and design rewards around that. We grow up being told that it is wrong to be driven by girls or guys, or that money wont buy happiness or that you shouldn't try to stand out- that's pure bullshit and those people never understood psychology. We all have a mix of the four M's but they are just at different levels in each of us and they change at different stages of life. Know that motivation is simply your fuel for action, and whatever form you can get that fuel in as long as you aren't hurting anyone is a good thing.

So in summary to motivate yourself, find out exactly what primarily drives you, eliminate all the obstacles in the way to whatever you are trying to succeed and make sure you have a clear path to your goal. Scientifically it takes anywhere from 21-66 days to create a new habit, so you must make it as painless as possible to keep doing the behaviour until it becomes unconscious.

Make sure to check out the books Switch and especially Hooked as they are pretty badass.

Until next time,


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