On the Barrier to Motivation

We are told our problem is a lack of motivation when, in fact, the problem is a lack of purpose. Just as a fan ceases to exist without a cause, so does motivation.

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

Rather than a lack of motivation, sometimes we are deciding not to decide because we are overwhelmed. Our motivation is making whatever we are trying to do into too big of a deal. Instead of trying to understand why we are feeling this way, we try to overwhelm our sense of being overwhelmed with more motivation. We are not creating a solution, we are making the problem worse.

An Overwhelming Wall

A more direct approach would be for me to address why am I overwhelmed. If it is a lack of knowledge, then I should increase knowledge. If the cause is too many distractions, I should actively reduce other distractions. If it is fear, I must acknowledge my concerns and find reasons to be courageous. Whatever the case may be, what must be overcome is ourselves.

Motivation should not be the only reason for doing something. There should be multiple reasons. Things I have done, long undertakings, I did them because there were many reasons to do them. Why would I do something if there is only one reason to do it? Especially if the sole reason is that I am motivated? When I don't know why I should be doing it or why I should even care? It's like being a motivated machine, doing something because that is what my program demands. It's difficult to motivate a sentient being to do something that is pointless. Motivation only works if it serves a purpose.

Pointless Motivation

Motivation in and of itself is not a reason to do anything, rather it enhances existing reasons. Motivation is like a fan, it needs a cause to support. We are told our problem is a lack of motivation when, in fact, the problem is a lack of purpose. Just as a fan ceases to exist without a cause, so does motivation. Imagine cheering for winning when there is no team. Winning is the effect, the cause is the team. We are confusing the effect for the cause. Motivating success without a cause is like trying to win without a team.

Why do actors ask about the motivation of their character? Because they want to know why their character cares about anything that's happening in the movie. If we the audience don't know why the character cares about anything is when the movie is no longer believable. It's not believable for someone to do something for no reason. This is how human beings work, it's why detectives look for motive, and without a motive, they have no case. But why do we try to create motivation without a why? Whenever we see an orange, we see the skin, and that's what we see in pictures, so we think that's what an orange is. We forgot what makes the orange is what's underneath the peel, the stuff we can't see. When we see people producing great work, we see the motivation, but we don't see what's behind the motivation. So we mimic only what we see but can't accomplish what they accomplish.

Simon Sinek expands this further in his TED talk:

Every single person, every single organization on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. ... But very, very few people or organizations know why they do what they do. And by ‘why’ I don’t mean ‘to make a profit.’ That’s a result. It’s always a result. By ‘why,’ I mean: What’s your purpose? What’s your cause? What’s your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? As a result, the way we think, we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in, it’s obvious. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations—regardless of their size, regardless of their industry—all think, act and communicate from the inside out. [...]

None of what I’m telling you is my opinion. It’s all grounded in the tenets of biology. Not psychology, biology. If you look at a cross-section of the human brain, from the top down, the human brain is actually broken into three major components that correlate perfectly with the golden circle. Our newest brain, our Homo sapien brain, our neocortex, corresponds with the ‘what’ level. The neocortex is responsible for all of our rational and analytical thought and language. The middle two sections make up our limbic brains, and our limbic brains are responsible for all of our feelings, like trust and loyalty. It’s also responsible for all human behavior, all decision-making, and it has no capacity for language.

In other words, when we communicate from the outside in, yes, people can understand vast amounts of complicated information like features and benefits and facts and figures. It just doesn’t drive behavior. When we can communicate from the inside out, we’re talking directly to the part of the brain that controls behavior...

A Time for Self-Discovery

Find out why, understand your psyche. What do you care about? How does this task fulfill those needs? What makes this endeavor worthwhile? What reasons do you have for doing it? If you have no answers, why is it so important? Why should it be done? Spend your time on things that are meaningful, especially those things that serve multiple needs. And if you're having a hard time caring about a project, maybe it's not that important. Maybe it's only a vanity project. Maybe it doesn't match your values, it only matches societal values you think you're supposed to live up to. Then find a better goal. Motivation is useless without meaning.

Motivation on a Sinking Ship

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
— William Arthur Ward

Rather than completing a task through brute force, let reason shine. Imagine being on a sinking ship. To live, you must find the leak as quickly as possible. Only when the leak is addressed does it make sense to put all your efforts into bailing water (to add motivation). However, don't rely solely on bailing, use a system of redundancies to keep your ship afloat, have multiple boat saving techniques (all the reasons for succeeding). Most of all, know why you are on a ship in the middle of the sea in the first place. Once you know why you should accomplish a task (your purpose), can you create an environment for motivation to flourish.

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