We know motivation when we see it in others. The colleague that always seems to have gone the extra mile (or two!) and not just completed his project but also pilots a new technique in the process. The co-worker who manages to finish the report by deadline but you noticed she also found time to take her kids skiing on Friday afternoon. The manager who not only takes the time to understand his department’s struggles but puts in the extra time organizing a workshop to get the team thinking about how to overcome challenges in new ways.
Are these people superheroes who happen to walk among us mortals and make us look all the more fallible? It turns out, probably not – they have simply employed some powerful motivation techniques that we all can use to cultivate our intrinsic sense of purpose.
So how do we harness motivation to our advantage? In a previous article, Goal Setting Techniques That Actually Work, we talked about some approaches for minimizing the motivation necessary (making the most of what we already have). This is done by breaking big goals down to smaller tasks and creating systems to make tasks automatic. And in Organizing Techniques That Actually Work, we looked at some methods for making the best use of our time, energy, and attention.
A third approach, and the topic of this article, is how to maximize the motivation available, and cultivate the sources of your motivation.
Let him who would move the world first move himself. –Plato
How does motivation work?
Before we look at ways to cultivate motivation, it helps to understand what motivation is, and how it works. The traditional view is that motivation is the precursor to action. Build up enough motivation and you’ll move onto action. But where does that motivation come from? Presumably, it comes from a good idea. You get an idea, you probably get a lot of ideas. Some of them lead to motivation and if you get enough of that motivation it turns into an action. There are two ways of looking at this process…
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