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Motivating Ourselves when We’d Rather do Anything Else!

Dilbert cartoon on motivating ourselves. Credit Scott Adams

Motivating ourselves versus motivating others

Motivating ourselves (or remaining motivated) can be trying in the best of circumstances. 

Driving us to naturally wonder: how can can sustain high levels of motivation when we are faced with a “to-do list” that seems to grow every day? Add to this expanding responsibilities to help kids with homework, a growing pile of laundry, the furnace and car decide to die at the same time, and….you can’t find time to work on your own hobbies!


We know quick-fixes and popular psychology advice to put a picture of your ideal body image on the fridge to help with weight loss or putting yellow sticky notes around the house with hand-written motivational sayings (“I will earn a million dollars in 30 days” or “I will find my soul-mate in 202x) are wholly ineffective. Why? Motivation is not a magic trick and does not come in gift box or handy pill. However, it absolutely is something you can leverage by design and then use to your advantage.

You’ve undoubtedly heard the traditional “Good job” or “Thank you” remarks in the office. This approach is designed, for the most part, to convey two simple messages:

  1. To reinforce the importance of the work you do, and
  2. To motivate you by recognizing and celebrating your achievement

This is easy to understand from the perspective of motivating others, but how does this translate into how we motivate ourselves?

Four steps to motivating ourselves

  1. Clarity of Purpose
  2. Developing a bullet-proof plan
  3. Flex yourself to allow for course corrections
  4. Set a strategy for dealing with flagging motivation

There are several strategies, however every effective one starts with clarity of purpose (goals, outcomes or objectives). Choose the term that works best for you.

Getting further into the self-motivational steps

  1. Clarity of Purpose: I prefer “The Disney Strategy”, previously shared in From Daydreaming to Reality. The idea is vividly visualizing the outcome. Motivation comes from seeing, feeling, hearing, tasting, and touching it. You see the crowd smiling as you walk on-stage, feel the opening rush of energy, hear laughter when you use humour, and see, feel, and hear the applause when you finish.
  2. Developing a bullet-proof plan: I use “PECSAW”, shared in Goal Setting to Achieve Your Dreams. The idea is to reduce noise in our busy world where it’s easy to get distracted. PECSAW reinforces the goal’s positive purpose, then broken down into smaller bite-sized pieces. This is important because achieving small successes triggers the brain’s reward centre releasing dopamine (a naturally occurring feel-good brain chemical). Success naturally focuses us to do the same again with another bite-sized step.
  3. Flex yourself to allow for course corrections: even the best-laid plans can go sideways. Many expressions remind us of this “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, or “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.” The basic idea is that when something pushes the plan off track, we flex our approach and time to get it back on track. Plans are flexible not rulebooks!
  4. Set a strategy for dealing with flagging motivation: here PECSAW is particularly helpful, by reminding us of why we do are doing something when things get rough. In these moments, we benefit by knowing ourselves, and our motivational style. By understanding our style, we can leverage it to put ourselves back on track. Do we need motivation from others, or do we lean on ourselves? Use visual techniques to see how far you’ve come, see your successes, or see how close you are to achieving your goal!

Motivating Ourselves – a Case in Point

Let us consider the infamous philosophy of Thomas Edison as a backdrop to motivating ourselves and remaining so:

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

Thomas Edison

Edison embodied the idea of purpose – he was driven to create an incandescent bulb and successfully did so after 10,000 attempts. It would have been easy to give up well before then, but he was motivated by his purpose, and nothing got in the way of that! His positive perception led to him being one of America’s greatest inventors.

Final Thoughts

By understanding what drives us, we hold the keys to limitless possibilities where motivation becomes an enabler for achieving our dreams, no matter how big or small.

What could you do in your life with clarity of purpose and focus?  

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your views on how to jump-start your motivation when you’d rather do anything but what you need to do or are expected to do. Give it a try!

Credit Dilbert cartoon: Scott Adams

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