There has been much written on the subject of motivating people. Great coaches publish books on how they elevated their teams to greatness. Business leaders and political leaders tell how they assembled and motivated large groups of people. I find those stories very helpful and often inspiring. Yet how do you create a way to motivate yourself? Is it even your responsibility to motivate yourself? Shouldn't your company or your coach motivate you? If you even need motivating isn't that a problem, because aren't the successful people "self motivated"?
I think self-motivation is important, and it’s helpful to remember that success is a long-term effort. Here is a helpful way to think about the basic need for self-motivation:
- Success is the culmination of a thousand little details performed over hundreds or thousands of days. It is like laying bricks, one at a time, to build a magnificent building
- Some days, we do not want to do the little things. Some days, we are worn out, and some days we want to do something more fun than lay bricks.
- We have to motivate ourselves to do those little things over a long period of time for the magnificent building to emerge.
I am very thankful that I work at a great company that has a wonderful culture. It is certainly an advantage to be among people who help each other, who celebrate each other's success and who think long-term. Yet even in that environment, I will have times when it is up to me to realize that I need some basic motivation to make sure I don’t skip any steps, that I do the detailed work and put in the effort.
Here are a couple tips that I use to continually motivate myself:
- Incent Yourself: When I set goals I am sure to include some tangible incentive for myself when I accomplish them. The incentive can be simple and fun. But there needs to be a reward. I include my family in my work goals and then we have fun in the reward process. These are little things that I do for myself. They do not come from my company. I will finish a big project, and then we will go shopping and I will buy myself a shirt, a tie or a book. It’s simple, yet it’s a tangible item for me to see. Every few years I will have a big event, and maybe I’ll get a watch or new camera. You can even donate your incentive to charity. Just be sure that you have a habit of rewarding yourself. It keeps you fresh, makes it fun, and it can involve your family in your progress. Over the years it has been great to watch my family root for my success and then enjoy the process of helping pick out a pair of jeans or make a donation to one of our favorite charities. They see the goal, they see the effort, and they see the reward. It is now a habit.
- Describe the Benefits Visually: We all have aspects of our work that are necessary but not necessarily fun. To get myself to do the day-to-day stuff required for success, I work on seeing the benefits of long-term success. The more visual I can make the image of winning through details, the better I can see my way through the little stuff. It might be visualizing yourself paying for your child's college or seeing a customer using a great new product that you created. Those images can keep you going when you need a boost.
- Include your friends: Everything is easier when you have a friend along for the ride. When you have a particularly difficult task, get some friends to join you. I have a bunch of friends at Benefitfocus so this is easy after many years of working together. If you have just started at a new company this will be a bit harder, but perhaps you can use it to make new friends. I get particularly nervous going into new environments and meeting new people -- I always have. So I will ask people to go with me. Often they do not know I am nervous, but they help me feel a part of a group, and it allows me to function at my best. One time I was asked to speak at a Rotary Club luncheon. I brought a few friends from work with me and sat them up front and asked them to just smile and nod in agreement the entire time, regardless of what happened. They were a built-in positive reinforcement in a nervous situation.
- Ask for Cheerleaders: People around you may not know you are struggling with a particular task. Ask people to cheer you on. This may sound strange, but I have done it for years. When I get stuck on something that I need to finish, I will seek out some folks, tell them what I am working through and simply ask them to push me along. I have no problem asking people to cheer me on as I push forward. It may be strange for a bit but once you get used to it you will find that people love to get involved in helping you.
The fact that you need to motivate yourself just means that you are alive. Everyone needs to motivate themselves. Nobody wakes up every morning with tons of passion and energy for all of their tasks. We all have ups and downs, good days and tough days. Realizing that is half the victory. The other half is doing different things to make it easier on yourself. Purchasing a gift for yourself or getting a friend to ride along can be the difference between you getting stuck in low gear for too long or pushing yourself to a higher level.