Staying motivated is one of the most common problems we encounter when trying to attain our goals. So how can we tap into our inner spark, and finish everything we start?
Jeff Haden is a keynote speaker, LinkedIn influencer, and author. His new book is The Motivation Myth: How High Achievers Really Set Themselves Up to Win.
I recently interviewed Haden for the LEADx Leadership Show, where we discussed his latest book, the myth of motivation, and the question we can ask to help attain it. (The interview below has been lightly edited for space and clarity.)
Kevin Kruse: What's the big idea of your book?
Jeff Haden: One thing that hit me is that out of all the successful people I talked to, none of them ever pointed to this one moment where they had this burst of inspiration, or this lightning bolt, I like to call it, of “This is my purpose, this is my passion, all the motivation I need to carry me on this long journey to some success that I hope to achieve.” None of them had that. They all found something they were interested in, decided they wanted to get better at it and explore it, and basically found a process that allowed them to improve, to feel good about their improvement, to therefore feel some motivation to go on the next day. That whole idea of effort equals success equals gratification, equals “Hey that was fun, I want to do it again tomorrow,” that's how they got to where they were.
The people that were stuck, all of them told me “I haven't had that moment, I haven't found my purpose, I haven't found that motivation.” The central theme is that motivation isn't something you have to wait for, or that you have to get from somewhere. Motivation is something that you can create all on your own simply through the means of starting something, and trying, and giving it enough time that you improve a little bit to where you feel good about yourself and what you've done. That gives you the motivation to keep going.
Kruse: How do you start when you are zero percent motivated?
Haden: Well you have to be interested in something. You can't pick a goal that you have zero interest in, because that will not give you any oomph to get started. Let's say you've always wanted to run a marathon. Tons of people have that goal. That's something you're already interested in so you have a little bit of a spark inside you, you just haven't converted that into some kind of effort. The key there is to not just start and flail but to say, “Let me look for someone who has actually accomplished what I want to do.” Let's pick someone who has run a marathon. What process did they follow to get in physical shape, and physical condition, to be able to accomplish that, deconstruct it, break it down to its essence and then say, “What is the first thing I need to do?”
In all likelihood the first thing you need to do it go out today and run a mile. Let's just use that as an example. You only need enough motivation to go out and run that mile. If you do that, and you finish, and you come home, no matter how tired you are, no matter how exhausted you may feel, if you have completed what you set out to do that day you get to feel good about yourself. If you let yourself feel good about it then that gives you the motivation tomorrow to go out and run the next mile that you need to run.
If you work your process, and keep your head down, and don't look out at that big gulf between where you are now and where you hope to be someday, and just look at what is today then every day you get to feel good about yourself, which is really cool. That lets you wake up tomorrow and say, “This is all I have to do. I don't have to do 26, I have to do 1 and a half,” or whatever it may be. If I do that, I feel good. You do have to have something you're interested in.
Kruse: What is the one question that provides nearly every answer for motivation?
Haden: That was based on Herb Kelleher, the CEO of Southwest, and he has to make zillions of decisions a day. Basically he frames them all using the one question, which is “Will this help make Southwest the low-cost provider?” If it's yes, then they'll explore it. If it's no, he deletes it.
You can apply that same framework to anything you're trying to accomplish. If you want to run a marathon, we'll use my example again, if you decide “I don't really feel like training today,” is that what someone would do that runs marathons? No, so you don't. You're trying to lose weight, is eating three desserts what someone would do? No. If you're trying to build a business is treating a customer shabbily what you would do? No.
If you pick out this underlying theme of what you're trying to accomplish and use that to layer it in, you can make all kinds of decisions really easily. Doesn't mean it's easy to follow through, because sometimes the right thing is the hard thing, but it does make it easy to make the decision. If you boil it down that way, it becomes really simple.
We often rely on motivation alone to complete our tasks. As Haden explains, this is a necessary component, but it certainly isn’t enough on its own. Instead, focus on today and ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing right now contributing to my overall goal?”