Learn how to motivate yourself and start living an amazing life

My past self assigned me to write a sequel this week to my first blog post on the subject of motivation. There is much more that I can write about the subject than I did in that post. I will enlarge on these aspects below:

  • What makes understanding motivation so important?
  • What role do emotions play in motivation?
  • What factors increase motivation?
  • What effect do beliefs have on motivation?
  • How does self-awareness affect motivation?
  • What other factors influence motivation?

It occurred to me last week that I already have a wealth of information on my website on a number of subjects I plan to address in the future, so instead of looking for additional sources in my notes, I mined my existing articles to find the connections I'll be making below.

Before I answer the above questions, I would like to remind you that you can find suggestions here about getting to a place where you can choose more of your motivations. Even if you are unable to achieve that level, you can still enjoy your current situation. Also, here are some ways to motivate yourself when it's hard to keep yourself on track.

Why is motivation important?

The first thing I wrote in response to this question was:

It may very well be one of the most important topics of all. If we didn't have motivation we wouldn't do anything. Period.

Since writing that, I have also realized that we are already motivated all the time. We are sometimes even motivated to not do anything.Have you tried literally not doing anything? Just sitting there? Some people find it easier than others. I find it incredibly challenging.

Try to think of an activity that most people would say takes no motivation at all. For instance, watching Netflix. It's an effortless activity for most people. They would likely say it takes motivation not to watch their favorite shows on Netflix or whatever platform they prefer. Do they lack motivation then? Not at all.

The people who create the programming provide the motivation. By understanding how human motivation works, they design the program to appeal to as many of these needs as possible, keeping people watching. See my first blog post on motivation for another example: games. 

Most of us don't realize how highly motivated we are to play games and watch TV. When people do such things, they think they are unmotivated because they aren't intrinsically motivated. They are motivated by external factors. In such cases, we are motivated to do what someone else wants us to do, or at least what they hope we will do, which is usually to consume more advertising and therefore more products.In the evenings, I occasionally take walks and notice how many windows are illuminated by a large screen which people sit and watch for hours. I have reflected on what it would be like to explain this phenomenon to well-educated citizens of the 19th century. "We have solved many of the most laborious aspects of life," I might tell them. They might respond, "That's great! You have more time to read, to practice hobbies, and to talk with each other." I can only imagine the look on their faces when I describe modern families that spend entire evenings staring at individual screens without moving or speaking to one another. Can this really be called progress?

Our aim is to be in the driver's seat. Our goal is to steer the car to the destination we want to reach, and we want to press the pedal to the floor. For this to happen, we must understand motivation.

The role of emotions in motivation

I mentioned this briefly in my first article, but it deserves to be emphasized again. There is no doubt that emotions play a significant role in motivation, even though the exact relationship is still a matter of debate. Motivation is one of three fundamentals of emotional intelligence. Think about what that last sentence implies: An intelligent person understands motivation.At least not most of the time. The truly intelligent person knows that, no matter how clever they are, they can never fully comprehend their own motivations. An intelligent person is not a trained monkey or a puppet to be manipulated by others.

In short, since we are all motivated by our emotions in some way, the better we are at identifying and processing our emotions, the better we can control our motivations.

Factors that increase motivation

  • Rewards: this is obvious, but it deserves careful consideration.Here's a thought experiment to put it into perspective. Furthermore, people who have difficulty starting and maintaining good habits or breaking bad ones are usually unaware of the importance of rewards.
  • A hopeful mindset
  • Generosity, a "giving mindset"
  • Compassion (self and other-focused)

I listed the factors above for completeness. Because I've already written about each of them and how they relate to motivation, I won't elaborate here. Follow the links above to learn more.

The role of beliefs in motivation

People’s beliefs are a fundamental part of their personality and motivation, although this is often unrecognized. - Carol Dweck

Obviously, motivation is based on desire. But we also have to believe that we are able to reach our desired goal (self-efficacy) and that we have control over whether we reach it (instrumentality).

Values, considered to be a form of beliefs, are critical motivators. 

Furthermore, our beliefs determine whether we find certain experiences desirable. To put it another way, our beliefs determine if we want something in the first place.

Thus it can be seen that there is no aspect of motivation that isn't affected by our beliefs.

The relationship of self-awareness to motivation

After just completing a four-part series on self-awareness, I would be negligent if I didn't mention this relationship.

Self-awareness is a fundamental element of both wisdom and authenticity, as I've discussed elsewhere. A wise person is aware of their own motives and behaviors and avoids projecting their own feelings and motivations onto others. People without wisdom are susceptible to criticism and interpersonal slights. Their motivation may primarily be self-protective rather than a desire for growth.Interestingly, the well-rounded, or "T-shaped," person has been described as having "the ability to relate to 'the broad picture' and to people, understanding their motivation and aspirations."

Other factors that influence motivation

At this point, I'm reasonably pleased with myself for having learned the fundamentals of the expectancy theory of motivation.As someone who often writes about my fallible memory and mentions how important it is not to rely on it in making major decisions, I want to make an important distinction when it comes to understanding concepts. Understanding concepts is the key to learning them, and being able to recall and explain them from memory is an important sign that one has learned them.

Here are the factors I listed from memory in my initial essay:I didn't see the need to include a definition of motivation in this article, but I went ahead and wrote one in my initial essay: "Motivation is the strength of a desire to do or accomplish something." If you're like me, you might find it interesting to compare it to the multitude of different definitions out there. If you're like normal people, you won't consider it worth your time. (I often ask, "Why be normal?")

  • The desirability of the outcome
  • An individual's perception of their ability to accomplish the desired results
  • The amount of effort they have to put into the process
  • Other activities can create competing desires
  • The perceived cost goes up when there are delays
  • If the ability to reach the outcome depends on others, and not just oneself, then control over the outcome is also an important factor

Here are some other factors I listed off in my essay:

Here are other factors mentioned on this blog that I didn't cover in my initial essay:

  • Skill variety
  • Task identity
  • Task significance
  • Autonomy
  • Feedback
  • Meaningfulness
  • Responsibility for the outcomeAll of the above factors are discussed in the article How to Find a Career with a Bright Outlook.
  • Values and the fundamental motivations that underlie them
  • Comparing ourselves to others can be de-motivatingMentioned in passing: "If Christopher Reeve had continually kept comparing himself to all his non-disabled acquaintances..."
  • Ego depletion
  • Normative social messagesI provided an example of a study where residents did not detect the influence of normative messages that clearly influenced their behavior. This is an example of the many (probably too many to list) subconscious influences on our motivations.
  • MaturityAs an individual matures, they begin taking responsibility for their actions. They begin to differentiate between the inner motives and outer actions of others.

As above, rather than elaborate here on the relationship of each item above to motivation, I have provided links for you to explore yourself.

Keeping my promise

This article is about motivation, as I mentioned in the introduction. The title is a product of my efforts to choose more interesting headlines. However, a headline is a promise, and I will keep my word to you. If you absorb all the information in this article, you'll have enough knowledge to begin your journey to discovering what makes you tick.

Many people lead amazing lives without understanding their own motivations. But if you and I want to live an amazing life of our choosing, we need both.

The final question before I wrap up this article is: What makes a life amazing?

In all honesty, I hadn't given much thought to this question before, so I searched the web for answers. I'll share some of the ideas I came across, which range from obvious to sublime:

  • Traveling
  • Indulging in pleasures
  • Living in a place that you truly love
  • Meeting people with similar interests and goals
  • Exploring beautiful places (even if they are close to home)
  • Venturing outside your comfort zone
  • Envisioning your perfect life and pursuing it
  • Identifying your core values
  • Being open to anything
  • Learning from a person who already lives the life of your dreams or what you aspire to do
  • Appreciating the little things in life
  • Remaining in the present
  • Learning
  • Curiosity
  • Seeing uncertainty with a sense of wonder
  • Being amazed by all there is to discover in the universe
  • Discovering the specific qualities that are uniquely yours
  • Building on your strengths and overcoming your weaknesses
  • Creating something new
  • Loving people, even when they don't “deserve" to be loved
  • Spending time with your family
  • Living within your means

This wide range of responses brings home the fact that an amazing life doesn't have to be lived in some special way or at a pivotal time or place in history.

I also found some quoteworthy ideas in addition to the individual suggestions I listed above:

The most amazing thing about life is getting to feel things. ... We are able to feel emotions, pain, happiness, beauty, presence of things or someone, the wind, the cold, the warmth of a bonfire, the raindrops, someone else's sadness or happiness, comfort, kindness, spiritual presence, love, and just this universe.

The quote above is a good reminder that we don't have to look outside our current situation to find amazement in life.

Take some time and really think about the people you admire. Think about those people that seem to be living amazing lives. If you think about it, what draws you is noticing that they are happy. They seem to genuinely enjoy life. But it’s not the life that they lead that makes them happy. It is their appreciation for the life they lead that makes them happy.

Often, our motivation is aspirational: We see someone else enjoying what they are doing or having accomplished, and we want to feel the same way. Hopefully, it isn't the only reason we have for wanting to accomplish our desired goal. As long as we are honest with ourselves, it should be okay. But the author of the quote gently reminds us that gratitude, not achieving goals, is the fastest route to happiness.I recently learned that this extremely common view that one will be happy when achieving some goal or attaining some status, is known as the "arrival fallacy." As a concept, it's so far under the radar I couldn't find it on Wikipedia.

Decide what you want, make a plan, and do what it takes to get it done. Be optimistic about what's possible but realistic about what it may take to get there. Be prepared for failure. Failure is always a possibility if not an inevitability. It is also an opportunity.

There is a lot of wisdom in this very succinct quote. One thing that should be obvious at this point in the article is, we should also be clear about our motivations. First, ask yourself, Why do I want this? Then be aware of the factors (many of which this article discussed) that will influence your motivation along the way to reaching your goal.

The following is my favorite, considering the importance of meaning in life:

At the end of the day, I think that it all boils down to 3 questions.
#1. Where do we come from?
#2. Why are we here?
#3. Where are we going?
I’m not proposing that you sacrifice any joys or pleasures, I’m merely suggesting that you incorporate some kind of service to others in order to feel blessed that you can help make this world a better place.

I want to close with a quote from contrarian Nassim Taleb. People in hotter climates tend to be more relaxed and friendlier than those in colder climates. His conclusion:

[Maybe] motivation is just overcompensation for not having a real life.

Before you motivate yourself to go pursue an amazing life, why not read my article on What Is Real Wealth?