The 5 Pillars of Personal Power: Part 5: Self-Motivation

In the last four issues I covered four of the five Pillars of Personal Power: Self-Efficacy, Self-Reliance, Self-Discipline, and Resilience. In this issue, I will touch on the final pillar, Self-Motivation.

This pillar can be considered the most important of the five. After all, what good are the abilities to act, depend on yourself, control yourself, and bounce back from disasters if you lack the motivation to act? I say this pillar may be the most important because, in truth, the five pillars are inextricably bound together; each is important in its own way, the five fusing together to create Personal Power. Enough of an introduction, let’s move on to today’s subject: self-motivation or intrinsic motivation.

Last January, Tom made a New Year’s resolution to improve his physical fitness. Unlike many others who made similar resolutions, he kept his and is now reaping the benefits. His co-worker and friend, Larry, would like to follow Tom’s example, but complains, “I don’t have the motivation. I don’t know how Tom does it. I suppose I lack willpower.”

Many people are like Larry. They are confused about the meaning and nature of motivation and willpower. This lack of understanding prevents them from keeping their resolutions and improving themselves. Since Tom is successful, let’s use him as an example to reveal the characteristics of motivation and willpower.

Tom joined a fitness club and has been working out four hours a week for the last year. As a result of his workouts, he’s lost some weight. No longer carrying excess baggage, he now has more stamina and energy. He has a general feeling of wellbeing. In fact, there is a glow about him that attracts the attention of others. He feels good and is self-confident. And why shouldn’t he be; after all, because of his self-discipline, he is in control of his own life. Twenty-six and single, Tom is also delighted about the single women he’s made friends with at the fitness club. Not only are they attractive, but they also share his interest in good health. Tom is enjoying life and because of his exercise regimen will continue to do so for a long time.

Is there anything surprising about the fact that Tom works out four times a week? Not in his mind. You see, he’s reaping so many benefits he WANTS to continue working out. He is motivated to act because he has a MOTIVE or REASON. The reasons for acting are the BENEFITS and PAYOFFS that he receives.

Now, in our imagination, let’s use an illustration to diagram the dynamics of motivation. Pretend we’re in a vacant field and before us is a seesaw. On the right side of the seesaw we will place the obstacles Tom has to overcome to reach his goal of physical fitness. The obstacles include the sacrifices he has to make, the effort he has to put in, and the resistance he has to overcome. Examples of sacrifices he makes are occasionally missing a favorite TV show or turning down an invitation to join his buddies at a nightclub. Going out of his way to travel to and from the fitness club and doing grueling exercises at the club are examples of the efforts he has to make. Finally, overcoming the discomfort of acquiring new habits and fighting the inertia of habitual laziness are examples of the resistance that Tom had to struggle with.

Returning to our seesaw, we will now place the benefits or payoffs of Tom’s workouts on the left side. Let’s start piling them on the seesaw. They include more energy, a zest for life, self-confidence, a slimmer and more attractive appearance, self-mastery, greater happiness, new friends, better health, sound sleep, strengthening of the bones, a longer life, and also greater physical strength, power, endurance, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness.

Do you see what happened? The benefits were so numerous that they outweighed the costs (obstacles). So, the left side of the seesaw tilted and reached the ground. Seen sideways, the plank of the seesaw forms a line rising upwards. If we were to put an arrowhead on the right side of the line (plank), it would be pointing upward. The arrow is pointing toward Tom’s goal (physical fitness). The line, arrow, or plank represents MOTIVATION. Motivation, then, is self-generating. It is created by the payoffs we get when we perform worthwhile actions. Because of the rewards we receive, we WANT to continue to do more of the same. When viewed in this light, we will soon realize that ‘willpower’ is nothing more than WANT-POWER.

Since pictures are powerful tools to help us understand and remember important principles, here is another image, which comes from a Russian proverb: “It is not the horse that draws the cart, but the oats. (motivation)”

By now, the concepts of motivation and willpower may be clearer. To put our understanding to good use, let’s now look at steps we can take for the cultivation of motivation. What is it that you would like to do, but haven’t because of a lack of motivation? Pick a goal and follow the steps below to become as successful as Tom.

  1. Begin by analyzing the costs of acting and not acting. Many people wistfully dream about things that they would like to do without considering the obstacles involved. So, if they make an attempt, they quickly give up after striking the first few hurdles. Considering the costs involved gives you power. It prepares you and offers the opportunity to look for resources and solutions before problems arrive. Don’t forget to consider the cost of not acting. Let’s say you don’t workout because you refuse to get off your butt and put down that bag of potato chips. If so, you are giving up what you want MOST (good health) for what you want NOW (beer, potato chips, and TV). Does that make sense?
  2. Analyze the rewards you will receive after achieving your goal. List everything you can think of because there will be many that you will overlook or be unaware of unless you stop and think thing through.
  3. If the benefits outweigh the costs, make a commitment to start working toward your goal.
  4. “Hey, wait a minute! I thought you said that motivation (want-power) is generated by the payoffs we get AFTER taking positive action. Since I have yet to act, I haven’t received any benefits, and therefore lack motivation. So, how do I start?” Begin by ANTICIPATING the rewards. Add power to your anticipation by visualizing the advantages of acting in clear, specific terms.
  5. Looking forward to success is enough to get you started in taking your first small steps. The rewards you get after taking those initial steps will be enough to motivate you to take additional steps. After all, nothing motivates like success. Each step you take causes motivation to snowball and accelerate.
  6. Repetition strengthens outcomes. For example, you feel GOOD after losing one pound, feel BETTER after losing five pounds, and feel GREAT after losing ten pounds. However, motivation won’t continue to grow unless you notice the improvements, so keep records and monitor your progress. Repetition also reinforces motivation and makes it easier to maintain because it becomes habitual.

To keep the momentum, don’t deviate from your plan. For as Zig Ziglar said, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing — that’s why we recommend it daily.” As long as you keep up the pace, motivation will remain strong. But if you let things slide, there will be fewer rewards, and, therefore, less motivation. So remain vigilant and you will be assured of success.

Turbocharge Your Motivation with Vision

Stand-up comic Anita Wise had this to say, “I’m a little upset. I just found out I have to have this little procedure done. Nothing complicated, but they tell me it is going to improve my vision about 70 percent. But I’m a little nervous. I hate getting my bangs cut.”

I’m glad to hear Anita Wise is improving her vision. But how is your vision? I’m not asking about the condition of your eyes, but the clarity of your focus. I’m not asking whether you have 20/20 vision, but whether your mind’s eye, your imagination, is clearly focused on a dream.

You see, many live lives too small for their spirits. Our spirit and potential are infinite. They know no bounds. So, why is it so many of us choose to live mediocre lives? Perhaps we haven’t learned to see with our mind’s eye, our imagination. When we use our mind’s eye, we open the door to infinite possibilities. For imagination allows us to see beyond what is to what could be. By focusing not on what we are, but what we can become, we discover the key to unlocking our potential.

Look within to gain insight. For as Carl Jung wrote, “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakens.” Pick your dream carefully because we can become only as large as our vision. The size of your dream limits the size of your accomplishments. Although poor eyes limit what we can see, poor vision limits what we can do.

Instead of tuning into TV, tune into yourself. Tune into your dreams and aspirations. To grow, plants stretch to reach the sun; your hopes and dreams are the sun that nourish your growth. Also, heed the words of Harriet Du Autermont: “No vision and you perish / No Ideal, and you’re lost / Your heart must ever cherish / Some faith at any cost. / Some hope, some dream to cling to / Some rainbow in the sky / Some melody to sing to / Some service that is high.”

Our vision, then, is like a map that shows our destination. Once we know where we want to go, we can work backwards, figuring out what roads to take to get us safely to our destination. Once we know which way we wish to go, things start to happen. Without a map, or vision, we cannot predict our future, but with a map, we become seers. We can see into the future because we knowingly create it. However, as the Japanese say, “Vision without action is a daydream and action with without vision is a nightmare.” After all, action without vision is action for action’s sake. It is misdirected, for it doesn’t take us where we wish to go.

Once we envision the person we wish to become, how do we step into it, putting it on like a new set of garments? The following six steps will get you to where you wish to be.

  1. Take a look at where you are today and compare that to where you wish to be. List the qualities you need to become the person you wish to be.
  2. List the steps you can take to develop those qualities in you.
  3. List the qualities you now have that are holding you back.
  4. List the steps you can take to develop qualities that are opposite to those that are holding you back.
  5. Take the actions you have outlined in steps #2 and 5.
  6. Check your progress daily and take corrective action when necessary to stay on course.

Let’s look at an example. Tom has been working for a year as a clerk in an office and dreams of moving up the ladder by becoming a supervisor, later a manager, and eventually a member of senior management. Here are the steps he has taken to start on his journey.

  1. He examines his strengths and weakness and decides qualities he needs include the ability to inspire others, better communication skills, and a better understanding of the overall goals of the company he works for.
  2. He lists steps he can take. Realizing that he cannot inspire others until he is inspired, he decides to do his absolute best with every assignment the company gives him. By doing so, he will become inspired by his own achievements. Also, he takes a public speaking course to improve his communication skills. Finally, he carefully reads the company newsletter and bulletins to fully understand company goals, and asks questions whenever he seeks clarification.
  3. Tom believes his habits of wasting time and procrastination are holding him back.
  4. To quit wasting time he reads and applies what he learns from books on time management and organizational skills. To end procrastination, he develops the self-discipline to start working on each new task as soon as he gets it.
  5. He takes action, carefully taking the steps he outlined in #2 and 4.
  6. He monitors his activities daily to make sure he stays on course.

If we continually focus on our vision, it will enflame us with passion. And that passion, or fiery enthusiasm, will propel us past self-doubt, fear, and complacency. It will fill us with hope. It will keep us inspired. Peter Schultz, former CEO of Porsche, gives an example of the differences between ordinary workers and one that is inspired, “Three people were at work on a construction site. All were doing the same job, but when each was asked what the job was, the answers varied. ‘Breaking rocks,’ the first replied. ‘Earning my living,’ the second said. ‘Helping to build a cathedral,’ said the third.”

When we first set out on the road to our vision, we start out by doing whatever is possible. Then, inspired by our own achievements, we move on to doing whatever is conceivable. Finally, we muster up the courage to attack the inconceivable, using as our battle cry the Nike motto, “Impossible is nothing.” At this stage it is not surprising to have big dreams, for how can we succeed beyond our wildest dreams unless we first have a wild dream?

It’s never too late to have a dream, embrace it, and bring it to life. Many dreams have died by the wayside because of nagging self-doubt, because of the belief “it is not in me.” But if an inspiring vision ever flashed into your mind, it is only because it is in you striving to get out. Don’t kill the dream; kill the self-doubt. The weapon of choice is action. Follow the six steps already mentioned, and if you persist, it is impossible to fail. For if you keep moving forward, no matter how small the steps, you will reach your destination.

Remember, a spirit without a vision is a life without a mission. You owe it to yourself, the community, and the world to follow your dream. As Woodrow Wilson said, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”




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