How can we leverage any sparks of “natural” motivation we might have (our interests, passions, and desires) into steady and dependable motivation that does not fluctuate with our mood? How do we keep working when external rewards are few and far between (for example anybody who is starting out in a new career)?
I spent a few hours last week getting an error fixed for a particular Loöq Records music release on a particular website. The correction involved a number of emails, comparing spreadsheets, auditing code in our database software, rescheduling promotional activities for the release, and so on.
Fixing the error had nothing to do with my love of music production (my original “passion” that led to co-founding a record label). It was just work that had to be done. I didn’t mind doing the work, and then I started to wonder why I didn’t mind doing it. What elements were “bridging the gap” between my love of making beats and this laborious administrative fix that was taking up my time?
“Passion” is never enough to create and sustain a career or an organization. There are always boring bits; there are always difficult bits. You will never accomplish much if you rely only on your “natural” motivation (the things that interest you and excite you).
It’s a no-brainer to organize your career (or careers) around the facets of existence that you find most compelling. But how do you transform this “natural interest” into the kind of day in, day out drive and energy that propels you forward, regardless of external rewards (or lack thereof) and internal mood?
First, if you’re not feeling motivated, it’s important to determine if the problem is external or internal.
If there’s no flow …
If you are really having trouble getting motivated in a particular life area, it might be time to reevaluate. Maybe you should be doing something else instead. There is no merit in grinding away year after year if you are not experiencing any significant external rewards (money, prestige, appreciation) or internal rewards (pleasure, excitement, satisfaction, sense of meaning, enjoyable anticipation of external rewards) from the work.
It’s important to carefully consider major decisions about life areas (jobs, relationships, artistic goals) when you are depressed or discouraged. If possible, fix your brain chemistry first, then make the decision. This is easier said than done, as a heinous job (for example) might be the cause of depression or anxiety. If you’re not sure, ask your family and friends for advice. If they all say your job sucks, your job probably sucks. Some problems really are external (like abusive partners, or dangerous working conditions, or lack of demand for your product or service), and have nothing to do with your mental state or attitude.
For me, this happened with DJing. I had a good run, but at a certain point the “grind” aspects outweighed the rewards. So I stopped.
But if the problem is in your head …
On the other hand, if you basically enjoy the work (or life area), and nothing is obviously messed up about your situation, but still need a motivation “pick-me-up,” consider these three approaches:
1) Serve others
I often ask myself “Who am I serving?” when I work on something. When I work on Loöq Records, I serve the both the artists and music fans. It’s not charity work, but I do remember what a huge deal it was to release my first record on a label, and I try to create good experiences for artists on our label (with good communication, fair royalty rates, and sharing ownership of the process/artistic control).
Bottom line: I feel more motivated when my work is connected to a community, and when I’m empowering others as well as myself.
2) Go for greatness/highest possible quality
Quality doesn’t guarantee success, but releasing sloppy work pretty much dooms a project to failure. If nothing else, going for “great” allows you to feel proud of your work. Before I release or deliver a final version of something, I try to ask “is this the best I can do?” Usually the answer is no, and I’m back to tweaking, editing, or even starting from scratch.
This doesn’t apply to drafts and sketches. Sometimes it’s good to get something rough out there to your trusted inner circle. How else are you going to know if it’s worth pursuing further? Not every idea has to reach completion.
It’s not a good feeling to get feedback or a review that points out an issue that you were already aware of (especially of a “finished” product or release). Why didn’t you fix it? Avoiding that feeling can be a good source of motivation. You probably already know what needs to be fixed and improved, so do it!
Bottom line: pushing up the quality bar almost always increases my desire to work on something.
3) Challenge yourself/blast through your self-imposed limits
Do you ever catch yourself saying “I’m not …” (creative, musical, organized, good at math, etc.)?
How hard have you tried to achieve that result or state of being? What evidence do you have that you truly “can’t” do that?
I’m not saying everyone can be good at everything — obviously not. But it’s easy to underestimate yourself, and it’s easy to be lazy.
If you want to progress, create a simple, smart daily program for yourself and stick to it. If you are serious, commit to that program for five years.
If you don’t have any results after five years, then maybe your efforts are better spent elsewhere. But with any less of a commitment, saying “I can’t …” or “I’m not …” is just self-defeating talk.
Challenge yourself. Make a 5-year commitment to become the kind of person you want to be, and work towards that daily.
Bottom line: it’s tremendously energizing to become something that you weren’t, to do something that you once could not do, to shed the skin of your old self and assume a new form.
What are your own techniques to refocus your energy and increase motivation?