Friday, May 07, 2021

The Motivation Paradox

A simple Google search of ‘How to Be Motivated Every Day‘ returned 912,000,000 results. Filled with ‘simple tricks’, ‘life hacks’, and lessons teaching us about the illustrious pursuit of motivation. There is nothing inherently wrong with these results, and a vast majority of them are filled with some very good information. But, we have to be mindful to the fact that we cannot capture somebody else’s motivation, and pigeonhole it into our circumstances. We have to understand that the basis of motivation is purpose. That purpose needs to be iterated and evaluated over time, and that our motivation alone is not responsible for productivity.

Motivation Begins with Purpose


Family Nature Walk
I dove headfirst into what Nature does for my motivation, and I have the best sidekicks loving it too

Every good joke has a solid punchline, and my motivation is certainly a joke sometimes. Like laughter, motivation is not binary. We cannot expect to be able to just turn it off and on at will and expect it to seem genuine. Sometimes, we need to set the stage, tell a bit of a story, and then wow the audience with something witty. Translating this to motivation, it’s called finding purpose. Everything we do, especially those requiring extra motivation, need to have a meaningful purpose. When I am lacking the motivation to complete a task or project, I have to start by simply asking myself ‘Why’ I am doing it. Such a simple question, but it can have incredibly dense answers.

We all know the people who have been doing their jobs for too long. They show up, complain about their work, do it begrudgingly and head home with the weight of negativity dragging their heels behind them. Those people tend to carry that negativity throughout their lives, because they lost the purpose along the way. If they stopped and asked themselves why they are doing their jobs if they hate it so much, the answers will fall somewhere along the lines of “It’s a paycheck.”, “It pays the bills.”, or “I’ve just been doing it for so long.” While at certain points in our lives, those answers are enough purpose to drive our motivation, they are not sustainable if they do not align with us.

Build, Iterate, Deploy


Programming Code
The idea of Build, Iterate, Deploy makes so much sense to me in computers, but I could never set those rules to myself…

If comedy was a poor metaphor to frame the motivation, how about manufacturing? When manufacturing something, we know we have to nail down the perfect assembly to create the perfect outcome every single time. We can attempt to do the same with motivation. By securing our environment, finding the right methods and tools for us, and nailing down our processes, we can almost ‘manufacture’ motivation. Finding what works, iterating and perfecting those systems, and deploying them to keep us in a motivated state.

However, my brain got stuck on this idea of “Manufacturing Motivation”. I wrote it above, and I think it made the point I wanted… Yet, I dissected the idea of manufacturing motivation, and found that it’s not motivation I am actually crafting. We simply manufacture the process, or the flow, and motivation becomes a natural part of the flow we enter when we align our tasks, goals, and values. When we find our flow, we are able to look at our tasks, and correlate them to our goals. Connecting the “Now” to the “Then”, while keeping your values in tact, gives us the motivation to get things done.

Motivation is a Runway for Productivity

The Better Me Project Cover
Motivation was flooding me, but I couldn’t produce the articles I wanted to. A new venture, a podcast, was possible because I build a safe environment around my motivation

We often think that motivation automatically radiates productivity. That the clouds of motivation soak up the potential productivity, and a heavy rainfall is sure to happen. Sadly, this is false, and proved to be a toxic understanding for me. I could often achieve motivation, sometimes briefly, and would expect productivity to follow. When it doesn’t automatically happen that way, that motivation is quick to run out. I’ve been thinking of it as an airplane on a runway. Ultimately, the goal is to send that hunk of metal into the air and send it off to it’s destination. You need the runway to achieve this, that’s our motivation. Yet, that strip of pavement doesn’t magically launch the plane. It provides a perfectly safe environment for the plane – our flow. As long as that flow is crafted in the right way for us, and we attempt takeoff in a safe environment, it is possible 100% of the time.

If we isolate motivation, and hone our environment in a way to cultivate and protect it, we can achieve it as a semi-permanent growth state. We just need to remember that motivation isn’t the only crop we are trying to grow.

Anthony McGuigan
July 2020

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