Do you know the lady in the above photo? (credit)
No? Well, you should.
She is Bonnie St. Johns.
Bonnie was sexually abused between ages two and seven. At age five, doctors amputated her leg. She got an artificial leg and had to learn to walk again. Her mother was a single working woman, and the family was stuck in poverty. Bonnie said they always had ‘month at the end of money’.
But Bonnie created miracles. She didn’t just learn to walk again; she became an athlete. She was (is) black and lived in San Diego, where there is no snow. But she went on to become the first African American to win a medal in skiing at the Winter Paralympics.
Naturally, the question Bonnie gets asked often is, “How can I become motivated to be like you?” This question plagues everyone’s mind, including yours. And mine.
You want to improve your work skills. Or get fitter. Or read more books. Or use your time better. Or learn a new skill to make more money.
But one trait is always amiss – motivation. Lack of motivation stops you from fulfilling your dreams.
Your start doing something you enjoy, but give up when you must carry on. You reach for your smartphone during crucial moments of deep work, when you must block out distractions. You feel like you suck, like you’re incapable of doing anything right.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Most people feel like you do. But that doesn’t mean you must resign yourself to this condition forever.
Contrary to the popular myth, imbibing motivation isn’t tough. Believe me. You’ve almost cracked the code. You’re almost there. All it takes to go the last mile is a tiny shift in mindset. This mindset will hack your brain’s wiring and allow you to rekindle motivation at will.
Ready to make the shift? If yes, read on. If no, you can go back to browsing the web and wasting your time. I won’t mind. I promise.
The 2 Forms of Motivation
Oxford dictionary defines motivation as “the general desire or willingness of someone to do something.”
Motivation comes in two forms: extrinsic and intrinsic.
Extrinsic motivation stems from your surroundings. Inspiring content, a pep talk, a fitness regime partner, are examples of external motivation.
There’s just one small problem. Extrinsic motivation depends on sources outside your locus of control. When you rely too much on others, you lose out.
If your fitness partner calls in sick, you don’t go for a walk. If you don’t spend an hour reading articles, you don’t feel motivated enough to work. If someone doesn’t criticize your lethargy, you don’t adhere to deadlines.
It’s the small problems which cause massive repercussions. How long will you stay at the mercy of external circumstances to keep going? How many times will you give up and return to square 1 when you don’t find someone to motivate you?
Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, emerges from within you. It’s synonymous with self motivation. It comes when you decide to take action. Conversely, the higher your motivation, the more action you take. Sounds like a paradox, doesn’t it?
Intrinsic motivation doesn’t appear by magic. Nor are people born with it. It comes when, in Jack London’s words, “[people] go after it with a bat.” Intrinsic motivation comes from resilience.
Don’t train yourself to stay motivated. That’s impossible. Instead, train yourself to become resilient – to be able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult situations.
7 Authentic Ways to Develop Infallible Resilience
Here are 7 ways to develop resilience which will last you a lifetime.
1. Don’t Chase A Goal
You know what you should do. Yet, you don’t do it. Somewhere, in a dark corner of your heart, you’re secretly afraid.
If you walk regularly for a month, you’ll lose 5 pounds. To drop 25 pounds, you must walk regularly for the next 5 months. Sounds daunting already, doesn’t it? 5 months in a world where our attention span is less than 8 seconds, is an eternity!
If you work hard now, you might get a good salary increment at the end of the year. But for that, you must put up with commuting, office politics and dreaded work, for over a year. Can you stay motivated for that long?
Human beings suck at understanding causation. We can’t predict the results today’s actions will yield a few months hence. So stop trying.
Instead, do something because you enjoy it. Do it for the love, not for what it will get you.
Exercise for enjoyment, not to get fit. Read for the love of it, not to hit your annual target of books. Work on your project for enjoyment, not because it might get you a promotion. Enjoy meeting new people instead of networking for ulterior motives. Learn a new skill to evolve, not to make money.
With time, results will follow. Sometimes they’ll come fast, sometimes slow. Sometimes, they’ll disappoint you. Sometimes, they’ll surprise you.
The more you worry about your paycheck, your job title, about what people will think of you, about how proud your parents will be, the less you will focus on what’s at hand. – Nicolas Cole
Next, how should you focus on what’s at hand? How can you motivate yourself to do what’s important this instant?
2. Ask Yourself One Question
Earlier, I believed we must hardwire the brain to focus on long term results. But I’ve changed my mind. After all, changing one’s mind is the mark of an intelligent man.
Alright, jokes apart.
In her book Micro Resilience, Bonnie St. Johns highlights the futility of becoming resilient for the big things. Resilience to lose 25 pounds, to write a book, to work tirelessly for the next year, to fix a failing relationship, is arduous.
Instead, she suggests asking yourself – “How can I be more resilient in the next hour?”
Define resilience as small steps to take, and the task suddenly becomes doable. When the hour is almost up, ask yourself, “how can I be more resilient in the next hour?” The compound effect of your actions over time will yield astonishing results.
Alex Ferguson followed this technique during his stint as Manchester United’s manager. In Leading, he wrote:
If you are in real trouble, it often seems like an impossible task to set things right. That happened to us in 2001 when we were 3 – 0 down to Tottenham at half-time….. There was deathly quiet in the dressing room and all I said was, ‘Score the next goal and let’s see where that takes us.’ I didn’t say something like, ‘We’ve got forty-five minutes to score four times.’ That would have seemed impossible…… (W)e did score one goal, and that led, inconceivable though it sounds, to a further four. We eventually won the game 5 – 3.
Doing the same thing over and over again eventually gets mind-numbingly boring.
Remember Sisyphus? He was a Greek king the gods punished with rolling a rock up a mountain every day, only to see it roll down every night? Who wants to live like that?
You can save yourself from feeling like him by investing in learning. Sam Yang offers a potent analogy:
Imagine two twenty-one-year-olds, John and Eric, who graduated from the same university at the same time. They meet once a week for coffee, and where Eric has a week’s worth of new knowledge, John remains relatively the same. If this continues, by thirty, how different will Eric be from John? This is known as the Matthew effect — the accumulation of progressive advantages.
You improve when you step outside your comfort zone. You improve when you stop doing what everyone else does.
Learn how to learn. Spend time every week enhancing your current skills. Here are 8 ways to learn new skills in minimum time.
4. Batch Your Work
Distractions compromise the willpower. And willpower, like any muscle, gets fatigued the more it’s used. Resilience increases when distractions reduce.
Group similar tasks together and work on them. Create a slot to batch deep work. Batch emails and phone calls together, and club them with a long walk.
The more deep work you do, the stronger your resilience grows.
5. Stick to It
I admit. I suck at maintaining focus 80 percent of the time. During such instances, I’m secretly thankful for pending bills. Paying them lets me procrastinate.
But the 20 percent when I focus is a terrific state of flow! During that 20 percent time, I’ve –
- Churned out an 1800+ word-article in less than 2 hours
- Completed presentations from scratch
- Written content which has delighted my clients
- Crafted campaigns and then sat back, watching as they yielded fabulous returns
- Written in-depth answers on Quora
and much more.
I’ve felt the urge to turn to distractions during those 20 percent instances too. But the urge to do focused work has been stronger.
Stick to what you do. This is a key step to develop micro resilience.
6. Increase Your Gaps
Everyone procrastinates. Even the productive people you (and I) envy, do. Achievers differentiate themselves in the gap.
For most people, the gap between productive times is large. For achievers, the gap between unproductive times is large.
You will slip up. That’s okay. What you do after that is important. Do you lie, face down in the mud, cursing your ‘luck’? Or do you pull yourself up and ask, “How can I make the most of the next hour?”
Increase the gaps between the days which feel wasted. Fill those gaps with constructive days. That way, you won’t berate yourself for a bad day. Instead, you’ll reflect on where you went wrong, and correct it the next time round.
7. Look Back
Horrible advice! Right?
We’re taught to never look back, to never dwell on our past. Then why do I ask you to do the exact opposite?
In your past, you’ll find instances where you were stuck, where you felt low, where you doubted yourself, when you felt like things would never look up again, just like you do right now.
But here you are, stronger than ever. You battled difficult times and beat the odds. Just the fact that you’re alive (and better) is proof.
Remind yourself of those times, and tell yourself you’ll do it again. It’s inevitable.
Nicolas Cole expressed it beautifully below:
When things aren’t going right, that means you’re moving someplace new. It’s unknown territory. You don’t recognize where you are yet. But look back and remind yourself of the times when you felt something similar, and then eventually found a clearing. When you doubted yourself, and then found your way.
Life isn’t what you enjoy when you get somewhere. The journey, the highs and lows, the victories and defeats, the calms and storms… that’s life. Resilience keeps you going through all those good and bad times.
You cannot master resilience once and for all. It’s a lifelong process, a game of “you’re-getting-hot-you’re-getting-cold.” You will have bad days followed by good ones, ugly days followed by beautiful ones, and so on.
Don’t turn your mind into either master or slave. Befriend it. Build resilience to stick to what’s important every hour. Do something for the love, not for rewards you expect in return. You’ll find that you can achieve more in two months than you achieved in the last two years.
Go on. Get started. And don’t stop. Happiness beckons.