For long I’ve had the vague idea that I want to be my own boss. Whether I mean it as “be the boss of my own life” or “be my own boss in career terms” is irrelevant right now. What is relevant is realising that to be your own boss, in any circumstance, requires exceptional self-management.
We tend to be creatures of habit. The majority of us like to avoid discomfort, confrontation, and pushing ourselves beyond our current and familiar boundaries. Self-management requires us to take responsibility for ourselves and our actions, hold ourselves accountable, and above all, have an unwavering motivation to reach for what we want.
What is motivation?
Motivation is the process of stimulating us towards achieving our desired goal(s). For long I thought motivation was a feeling that I had to wait for in order to accomplish something like writing a chapter in my book. Before I took a closer look at what motivation really is, weeks and months would go by without a hint of ‘motivation’ meaning that the pages in my novel remained blank.
By understanding motivation as a process that aligns you towards your goals, you can have greater influence over the whole shebang. Motivation is what turns your thought into action, and lets you hop from one stepping stone to the other bringing you closer to the finish line.
How to find motivation when in a rut?
Let’s be honest, sometimes even though we can envision what we want from life and we feel that deep passion within us, it just isn’t enough. Often we find ourselves down in a rut and overwhelmed by our goals. As a result, we may become discouraged and lose sight of our purpose for days, weeks, months, or even years.
The interplay between positive and negative motivation – characterised by the unpleasant backlash we will experience if we don’t reach a goal, or even try to make the effort – can be effective in pushing us out of a rut. Below I outline the motivation process I go through every now and then when I begin drifting away from my goals and need to refocus myself on whatever it is that I want to improve or work towards in my life.
1. Find a purpose
If you don’t have any goal or purpose to aim towards, it becomes quite hard to have or uphold your motivation. A purpose doesn’t have to be anything grand like finding the solution to world peace. It can be as ‘small’ as getting through the day, if you are currently experiencing a dip in life. Just having something to aim towards makes it that much easier to get the ball rolling and lay out the first steps towards your goal.
2. Envision your ideal reality – Positive motivation
Once you have a goal, envision what it would look like achieving it in reality. For example, one of my goals is to work remotely from where ever I want to be that from home, a café, or whilst traveling. I try to envision my “typical” work day in as much detail as possible so that I become filled with dedication and excitement.
Find positive role models to follow in real life and online who have already accomplished what you want to boost your motivation further. We can feel lonely on our own path, because people close to us may not understand what we’re looking for. Therefore, finding even just one figure to look up to and seek inspiration from can help you stay focused.
3. Envision your worst case scenario – Negative motivation
By envisioning what we desperately DO NOT want in our life can scare us into action. It’s often easier to point to something and say “I don’t want that”. Therefore, to picture your life the way it would unfold, if you didn’t take any action today, is powerful. Useful questions to ask yourself during this exercise are:
- What am I running away from?
- If I stop will that what is chasing me catch up and become my reality?
- How would I feel? Could I be happy knowing that that is my reality?
Finally ask yourself; If I continue living the way I am right now and make the same perhaps unhealthy and unproductive decisions, what will my life look like in 5 years? In 10 years? What about 30 years? Will I be happy with the decisions I made or didn’t make? Or will I regret not taking responsibility for what I want and for my own well-being?
In addition, Lockwood et al. suggest that sometimes individuals can motivate themselves with a negative role model. Focusing on the actions of a highly unsuccessful person will illustrate the problems and actions we must try to avoid in the future, so that we won’t end up in a similar situation. However, note that what we may consider successful or unsuccessful is subjective to some degree.
Having a negative role model is beneficial, if you want to avoid unhealthy life habits, become better at managing your personal finances and make more responsible life choices, or break generational trauma patterns for the sake of your own mental health. You can benchmark the actions you take, and set a standard of trying to do better than the actions your negative role model may have taken.
4. Break your main goal down
Knowing what we want is easy. Knowing how to achieve it is difficult, and achieving it without taking any actionable steps is impossible. It is easy to become overwhelmed by how distant your goal seems at the start. Once you understand you don’t need to see the whole journey ahead of you, but just the first few meters, will encourage you to take those initial yet crucial steps.
Think of it like driving a car in the dark. Your headlights only illuminate the first few ten meters in front of you, but once you keep going, more of the road will come naturally into sight. It is important to break your main goal down into small, achievable, yet slightly challenging stepping stones. You don’t want to make it too easy, because a) where’s the fun in that, and b) in order to grow and learn your have to be uncomfortable and challenge yourself.
5. Show up and be your own competition
At the start of a new project it is discouraging to see no real change or growth. Self-doubt and the good old imposter syndrome may dig away at your confidence. Let’s not forget the urge to compare yourself to everyone else around you and their accomplishments. You may begin to spiral down the rabbit hole and your fears begin to talk you out of motivation, just as you were beginning to climb out of a rut.
Consistency is the most difficult stepping stone to reach, and it is where most of us fall into the water. Staying consistent even when you’re feeling tired or doubtful requires a whole new level of discipline i.e. self-management. You must learn to hold yourself accountable, and have enough self-awareness to point out when you’re slacking, and make the appropriate adjustments to fix the course you are on.
Here a healthy amount of competition is crucial, because how do you know you are doing better if you don’t have anything to compare to? That is why you should aim to compete with the person you were yesterday. If you can do any task a tiny bit better today, and then a little more tomorrow, it will have an exponential impact on your life going forward considering the Pareto principle.
Once you see motivation as a concrete process, rather than an airy concept that sometimes hits you out of nowhere a bit like inspiration, you realise how much influence you have over it.
I’ve been a culprit of sitting at my desk waiting for this miracle. Trust me, you can be sitting there for quite a while procrastinating, because you “lack motivation”. Instead, what you may lack are the necessary self-management skills to create and stick with a strategy to keep you motivated and hold yourself accountable in the long-term. Sorry, if I made you feel attacked. I know I do.
What is something that you did yesterday, and would like to improve on today?* I would love to know in the comments 🙂
*Mine is to be more consistent with publishing my blog posts weekly.