An Important Piece of Advice on Motivation
We tend to look for sources of motivation outside of ourselves. There’s an elusive “when I feel like it” moment that so many of us wait for, and until that hit of inspiration strikes, it’s as if we’re on strike. On strike against ourselves and our dreams, that is. Because when we are just waiting and generally not doing the things that will move us forward, we’re keeping ourselves from the things we seek. Our entirely predictable lack of forwarding movement, in turn, reinforces our lack of motivation.
Good news: there is a way out of this chicken and egg king of a conundrum. And it’s quite simple.
We must start by recognizing that motivation is something that comes from within. It’s an emotion, a feeling. Cognitive behavioral science teaches us that all emotions come directly from our thoughts. In other words, how we think about our circumstances – not the circumstances themselves – creates our feelings about them.
This simple fact – that our thoughts cause our feelings – is the key to unlocking our motivation.
Why Is Motivation Important?
First, we need to recognize that motivation is not something that just happens to us, like winning an emotional lottery ticket. It can sometimes feel that way, though, which is where this realization can get a bit tricky and requires some incisive unpacking. Think of the last time you felt motivated about something. For me, it was on my morning run earlier this week. I listened to guided outdoor intervals run by one of my favorite Peloton instructors, Robin Arzon. She’s a girl after my own heart, incidentally. A lawyer who left the practice of law to pursue a passion (namely, being a badas* powerhouse fitness motivator and goal crusher). Arzon’s playlist was pumping, and she was calling out run intervals with motivational and inspirational advice the entire time. I, in turn, felt motivated and ran hard. Now it would be easy to assume that my circumstance, Arzon’s voice, and the selected music in my ears caused my motivation. But that would be an erroneous assumption.
It is always the case that our thoughts cause our feelings. Knowing this, I can identify the thoughts that caused my morning run motivation as a mindset coach and a neuroscience nerd. They sounded like this: “I’ve got this; I can do this; this is fun; I love this song; f*c& yes; and so on. It is true that the guided run I picked made it easy for me to think about these thoughts. But it is crucial to understand that it was my mind – not Arzon’s words – that caused my feeling of motivation.
Can you apply this scenario to the last time you felt motivated about something? It will almost certainly seem like your sense of motivation came from something external. But if you look under the hood of your mind, I guarantee you’ll find some thoughts you were having – just sentences or phrases in your mind – that caused your feeling.
So step one is simply to recognize the truth of this scientifically proven fact, namely that our thoughts, not our external circumstances, cause our feelings. Step two is to create intentional thoughts that we can practice to rev up our motivation from the inside out.
My favorite way to hone in on the right intentional thoughts when trying to generate motivation is to return to my why. Why does this endeavor I’m engaged in – whether it’s my morning run, my healthy dinner prep, or my business growth plans – even matter to me? Why do I care? Once I identify that, it is easy to create intentional thoughts that support that driving reason. Here are some examples:
- My well-being matters to me;
- I’m here to serve;
- This is how I grow;
- My work matters;
- This is how I live with intention.
How can you tell if you’ve identified the right thoughts to generate motivation? First, try saying them to yourself and then notice how they feel in your body. Do they feel motivated? If so, that indicates that they are good thoughts to practice. If they don’t, let them go and look for other thoughts that generate authentic motivation for you.
Step three is to practice the thoughts that you’ve identified that make you feel motivated. What I mean by “practice” is write them down and review them daily, if not several times throughout the day.
In summary, my advice to create motivation from the inside out is 1) to recognize that we create our emotions with our thoughts, 2) to identify the thoughts that drive our inner motivation, and 3) to practice said thoughts.
It’s not hard. But it does take intention and practice.
How Do You Motivate Yourself as a Leader?
Identifying what kind of leader you are and strive to be is essential. Traditional leaders seek leadership as a rank, whereas servant leaders see leadership as an opportunity to serve others and understand that their rank is not ultimately about them. This article addresses motivation from the standpoint of the servant leader, the individual who shares power and control to drive engagement and measures success through growth and development.
It is well-established that servant leadership is most effective at building organizational cultures that outperform and outlast those run by more traditional leadership styles. In today’s world of quiet quitting, which simply refers to a pervasive lack of employee engagement and motivation, it is more important than ever that leaders strive to create inspiring workplace environments that call forth the best in their people. In other words, they need to be able to foster an environment where their employees feel motivated and inspired to do their best work. This, in turn, requires that they be able to consistently and effectively motivate themselves as leaders.
So here is the multi-million dollar question: How do you motivate yourself as a leader?
We know from cognitive behavioral science that our thoughts generate our feelings. Thus, we are responsible for creating our motivation from the inside out. This is good news because it places the authority for our emotions on something we have control over, namely our minds.
One of the core principles of servant leadership is having an unselfish mindset. In other words, think about others before yourself. To do this, it is critical to hone in on your mission and purpose as a leader. For example, why are you in this role or seeking leadership opportunities? What drives you? Why does your leadership matter? Answering these questions is an essential first step towards unlocking your ability to generate your motivation as a leader.
Take some time and ponder these questions. Consider talking them over with a mentor or a colleague. Memorialize your answers. Putting them in writing has the effect of making them seem and feel more concrete and tangible. And it gives us something to refer back to when our motivation lags.
It’s also important to normalize the transient nature of our emotions, including motivation. No emotion lasts forever; our feelings are transient, just like everything else in the natural world. As the Buddhists acknowledge, everything in the world goes through three stages: it all arises, abides, and then dissolves. Knowing this, we can prevent ourselves from spinning out in worry or a sense that something has gone wrong when we notice our motivation start to wane. Rather, we can simply acknowledge that fluctuations in feelings states are normal. And we can return to our driving purpose and mission to reacquaint ourselves with the inner source of our motivation.
Advice on Motivation
Another effective way to motivate yourself as a leader is to check in with your team and ask how you can support their growth and development. That is at the heart of servant leadership, after all. Bring a sense of true caring and curiosity to your inquiries. Listen to the answers and insights your people provide. And then consider how you can, as their leader, serve them more effectively so that they can reach their goals and potential. This interactive exchange with your team members often drives motivation by reorienting you to the nature and purpose of your leadership.
In summary, if you’re looking to amplify your motivation as a leader, do these three things:
- Know your driving mission;
- Recognize that fluctuations in emotions are normal and inevitable;
- Connect with your team on how you can best support their growth and goals.