The Old Way of Life

Once upon a time, you woke up with a fire in your belly to slay your day. Coffee, check. Kids off to school, check. Productivity buzzing from your fingertips, check. Your energy was electricity that sliced through every obstacle like a light saber. And then a global pandemic happened.

Motivation, by definition, is the reason you do any particular thing, and right now, it’s most likely eluding you. The simple thought of showering and getting dressed in clean clothes might seem like a feat. Nowhere to go, no one to see—why bother? If something as simple as getting ready for your day has been rendered pointless, then is there a point to anything we do right now? My answer is yes. Absolutely yes.

Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation

Born of a myriad of sources, motivation can be both extrinsic and intrinsic in nature. Maybe in the past, you’ve gone the extra mile at work because you know you’ll be eligible for a bonus at the end of the year if you reach a given benchmark (external). Or maybe you’re in the habit of keeping your house clean because it just makes you feel better to be in a clean space (internal.) Admittedly, external sources of motivation are lacking for most of us at the current moment.

The sparkly pot of gold that once kept you steamrolling through your days has been reduced to a mere hypothetical that simply may not be attainable during this crisis. After all, it’s difficult to plan for much of anything outside of surviving the quarantine or the mad rush of being an essential worker right now. That vacation you scheduled months ago, the thought of which was pushing you through the stress of each day with the promise of sun, sand, and cocktails? Cancelled. The launch of that exciting business venture you’ve been pouring your heart and soul into over the past year so that you could have a shot at financial freedom? Now wildly irrelevant and delayed until further notice. Finishing out the school year strong so that your parents can watch the first college graduate in your family walk across a stage? Not gonna happen, even if you do still walk away with that degree.

Grief Is Real

We’re grieving right now, for a slew of legitimate reasons, one of which is that we’ve been robbed of the payoff we were due as a result of our planning and hard work. We’ve been hoodwinked, which in itself makes it hard to feel motivated to work toward much of anything again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice? Well, you know the cliché. On top of that, the knife-like edge of grief itself pokes holes in our motivation balloon, though let me clarify that it’s perfectly okay, even beneficial, to hover in one spot or sink for awhile as a result of grief. Taking pause is important for our emotional well-being.

But each in our own time, once we’re ready to pull up our bootstraps and move onward in the midst of the external confines of this pandemic, we’ll need to cultivate intrinsic motivation as a fuel source as opposed to relying on external rewards so heavily. This likely will require consciously making adjustments to the “why” behind our actions.

4 Ways to Strengthen Your Intrinsic Motivation

  1. Think about the bigger picture. Often in our normal day-to-day living, we lose sight of the forest for the trees and forget altogether about our ultimate “why,” or our genuine, divine purpose in life. Some of us may never have stopped long enough to consider what that purpose may be in the first place. Think about how a toddler keeps asking “why?” after every answer you give him or her. Before you know it, you’re either majorly stumped or you’re getting far too philosophical for a kid’s intellect, right? To find your ultimate purpose, you have to be relentlessly curious like that toddler. If you dig under enough layers, you’ll find that your purpose is the root that anchors and supports all of the other reasons that you do what you do. Generally speaking, your ultimate purpose has everything to do with the impact you want to have on the world and why. As such, it acts as an infinite source of intrinsic motivation. So ask (or remind) yourself what you’re here to do in the grand scheme of things. At the end of your life, what is it you deeply need to have accomplished in order to feel at peace? Now, what are some small day-to-day behaviors that fall in line with that purpose? Draw on this whenever you feel lost or stuck.
  2. Adopt a growth mindset. Having a growth mindset means that you’re willing to fail, learn from that failure, and get back up to try again. Though it sounds simple, it’s not inherently easy for most of us to do. I do believe that it can be practiced if you’re willing to do the work, though. Start by accepting the fact that you aren’t ever going to be perfect. Perfection is a myth we created to torture ourselves. To practice a growth mindset, we also have to take on the expectation that life often will be hard and unfair, but that it’s no less worth the struggle. If you approach your life as a process of discovering your true essence rather than a journey toward an unrealistic ideal, you’ll begin to focus on any progress as victory and any set back as an opportunity to learn. And at the end of the day, you’ll keep going, regardless of where you find yourself.
  3. Compete with yourself instead of others. Put another way, set your own benchmarks instead of striving to meet someone else’s. Your uniqueness deserves mention here. If we were all meant to be and do the same things, the world wouldn’t be as exciting or diverse as it is. View yourself as a one-of-a-kind contribution to the world, and find ways that you can offer more of who you are at your core rather than more of what someone else is. It isn’t your business what someone else is achieving on their path of becoming, and ultimately, achieving the goals you set for yourself will give you far more satisfaction. Anyone else’s successes bear no weight on what you can or can’t do in the future. Put blinders on now and again (i.e. quit scrolling through social media) if you find it helpful to regain your own focus.
  4. Find a way to stay accountable. Sometimes it’s helpful to have that extra layer of intrinsic motivation: the simple desire to keep from feeling that we’ve let ourselves or someone else down. It’s human nature to want to please, and when we say we’re going to do something, in order to maintain our integrity, we have to follow through. For some, the thought of disappointing ourselves alone is enough of a deterrent for giving up. Most people, though, will do better to seek out another person to whom they can speak their intentions out loud, into real existence, then ask that person to check up on them routinely. Even the simple act of surrounding ourselves with people who know what we’re all about, know what we want to accomplish, and know how we want to live our lives goes a long way in holding us accountable and stoking our intrinsic motivational fires.

In Conclusion

Life isn’t always handing us medals, so learning to reach for the meaningful rewards we cultivate for ourselves will sustain us much longer term. We need to get comfortable calling on ourselves in addition to a higher power and each other if we want to make it to the other side of life’s difficulties. Motivation is always present if you’re looking in the right place.