June 24 – Unlocking the mystery of motivation

June 24. “Motivation is the spark that lights the fire of knowledge and fuels the engine of accomplishment. It maximizes and maintains momentum.” (Zig Ziglar)

A few years back I was teaching a class called Leadership Training for Managers. It was one of the offerings from the good people at Dale Carnegie, which focused on how to be better leaders while managing. In that class we had discussions about motivating the people who work for us, and I hit upon something which I have found to be a truth in my work life. That is that we cannot motivate anyone but ourselves, and I am not really sure we can even consciously do that.

There are mountains of books on motivating others, and there are scores of people who have made a lucrative living on the talk circuit as motivational speakers. All of them claim that if we pull the right levers, or provide the right incentives that we can motivate others to do their jobs faster, more efficiently, or with more passion. With all of these solutions in play, it is a wonder that workforces everywhere aren’t increasing their production tenfold.

The problem with all of these approaches, in my opinion, is that they assume that I as an individual can do or say something to another individual which will motivate that person in one direction or another. But that has just never been my experience. I know for myself that I can listen to a motivational speaker and be impressed by their poise and candor, and even find their approach to be novel, but they can’t motivate me to do anything more than give them applause at the end. For me to be motivated, there has to be that spark that Ziglar talks about in this quote, and that spark has to come from within.

At best a book or a speaker, or a blog can be inspirational. It can create a bit of a thirst within me. It can drive me to want to know more, or to look at myself differently, but it won’t motivate me. Motivation is derived from the Latin word movere, which is to move. For me to be motivated, some motion has to be involved, and I nor anyone else will get moving unless that spark is inside of us.

If I want to get something done, if I want to make a change in my life, I have to find that spark for myself. I have to find that tiny ember, and carefully fan the flame until it becomes a raging inferno within. But finding that motivation isn’t always easy.

Last Friday I was at my Doctor visit and was discussing my current health status. She asked me what my motivations were for losing weight, and I told her about some of the things that inspired me. I spoke of seeing my son lose weight, of the news I received from her on my last visit that displeased me, of wanting to reduce my knee pain, and so on. But the truth is that all of those things, in one form or another, had been around me for years. It might not have been my son who lost weight, but there were other people I’d seen who lost weight. My knees had hurt for years, I had looked loathingly at myself in the mirror for a decade or more, and the stats in my health chart were a problem since 2008. None of those factors had caused me to do anything significant in the past.

She asked about motivation, but I answered with inspiration. I told her who and what inspired me to want to do something. Answering the question of what caused that spark within me is much more difficult. Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know why this time I have been motivated to succeed, and why that ember of motivation has built into a fire.

I can point to the notion of public accountability whether through my friends and family, my weight watchers weigh-ins, or my blog. But I have done things publicly in the past that failed, and for which I lacked the motivation to get past the failure. In my most honest moment, I don’t really know why this time it is working. I am not complaining, and I constantly am fanning the flame of motivation within. I know that the flame is fragile, and that if I don’t take care of it, it will die out. Once lost I fear that I won’t be able to easily get back in the game.

When I was considering the name for this 365 project, a number of words went through my head. I started with the idea of calling it “Motivation 365”. I knew that if I did that I could only focus on my own motivations, but I wasn’t sure I would always be able to pinpoint them. Next I thought of using the title of the book “Inspiration 365 Days a Year”, but I again I was worried that I couldn’t find inspiration every day from the pages within. I finally settled on “Reflection 365”. I know that each day I can spend time thinking about, and reflecting on my life and what I see in the world. Using the quotes in the book as my lens I could focus on particular areas of interest each day.

As I am quickly approaching the half way mark this year, several things stand out in my head. One of them is that while I might reflect on a topic for a day, or a week, it doesn’t mean that I will be motivated to do anything about it. One of these days I want to go back through my blog and look for the times I have confidently written that I will do something differently. I know I will find that some of those commitments to myself were fulfilled, while others withered and died within the confines of my blog. The reason some stick while others fall away will be motivation, or my lack of it.

I think if anyone can ever unlock the mystery of what will make that spark of motivation suddenly burn within a person, there will be unimaginable things that can be accomplished. A well-motivated, dedicated group of people is an unstoppable force.

What do you think is the key to motivation? What kinds of things motivate you?

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