As we emerge out of lockdown, we are changed. Having had the time, the perspective, and the shift in our reality means we may want life to be different than it was before all this. Now is the time to focus your attention and energy on making steps to change your life to reflect who you really are, and what you really want. This article discusses the motivation factor in making changes happen, and asks you to evaluate what your main thought processes are in designing your new life post-lockdown.
So you've decided something has to change. Maybe that's your career, a relationship, your frame of mind, maybe you need a new challenge. Sometimes it's clear what it is that needs your attention, sometimes you'll just have a gnawing feeling that there's something 'off', and you can't put your finger on what it is. (The life equivalent of "things are quiet... a little too quiet).
The first step is to get clarity on what exactly needs to change. That sentence sounds so crisp and neat, but we all know it isn't always such a succinct process, this step can take time. One of the biggest factors in making solid, well founded decisions that lead you to positive changes is to look into how you are motivated to change. It's not all about the end result. The way you are viewing a goal is, in my experience, more important than the outcome itself. Yes, you want to achieve your goals. But if you are reaching all these goals for the wrong reasons, you'll go right back to square one - a feeling that something needs to change. So let's go through a simple reality check to determine how you're thinking about your goals for your new life post-lockdown with one simple question "what are you doing this for, really?" This question prompts you to uncover your underlying motivation for achieving a goal. Are you doing this for you - who you really are, and what you truly want in life? Or are you doing this to please others? Or are you holding yourself back from doing it in order to save yourself from potential embarrassment?
Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Motivation
Your drive, or motivation, to want to achieve a goal is either coming from your true values (intrinsic) or from a need to please others or avoid potential punishment (extrinsic). Many cognitive theorists have studied forms of motivation, including whether people are motivated by external (extrinsic) or
internal (intrinsic) factors. There is, of course, benefit to both. We all need external forces to keep us on track at times, and we need an internal compass to live with integrity.
This article is the tip of the iceberg on the topic, but my hope is to prompt you to question your goals, so you can reflect and decide what is best for you going forward. Here are some examples of extrinsic and intrinsic thought processes - can you see yourself in any of these examples?
Extrinsic motivation is to do something for an external reward, or to avoid potential punishments. For example:
Person X is fitter than me, so I should really get in shape so I don't look bad in comparison (i.e. avoiding potential external punishment - other people may judge me)
Everyone else seems to want that job, maybe I should apply for it so I don't miss out on an opportunity everyone seems to want (i.e. external reward of everyone thinking I've got a great job)
It would make my parents / wife / husband / friends / dog happier if I did this, so I should really do it (i.e. external reward of other people praising me)
If I don't do this right, people may think I'm a failure so I better not mess it up (i.e. avoiding potential external punishment - other people may judge me)
I better not voice a different opinion, I might upset someone (i.e. avoiding potential external punishment - other people may judge me)
I'm close to promotion and pay raise so I'll stay in a sector I hate working in (i.e. reward of higher pay and potential that other people will respect me more if I'm promoted).
In contrast, intrinsic motivation is all about doing something for personal growth, or because it is high in your values and makes you feel happier in yourself. Or, doing something just for the sake of doing it. Flipping those first examples would look something like this:
I want to feel really good in my body every day, so I really want to create habits that make me feel good in my own skin
I want a career that's aligned to who I am and what I find important in life, even if that means taking time and effort to make the change
It makes me happy to do this / it's fun / it's important to me, so I want to do it, and will feel glad I did it
I'm really excited to do this, I can't wait to learn more, meet those people and give it a go. I wonder what it will be like.
I'm a good person and I don't go around intending to hurt anyone. I'll voice an opinion when it matters to me, and I'll do it respectfully
This promotion gives me more opportunity to grow my skills - I can't wait to learn more and hone my skills so I can master the art of my role
You may know immediately from that list which form of motivation you lean towards. Most people are a mix. What can happen is you may have a lot of intrinsic motivation, but external demands pile up and it starts to feel like you don't have a choice any more so you slide into external motivation, and you begin to feel stuck. Also it's important to note that intrinsic motivation doesn't mean being selfish, or only acting according to what's best for you. It just means being more authentic.
Try it out:
Take a few minutes now to reflect on an area of your life you've been feeling unhappy with. If you have a pattern / way of being / job that you are unhappy with, ask yourself "What am I doing this for, really?" Then go through any extrinsic motivators - are you doing this to support another person, win praise, please other people, avoid negative feedback, avoid risk? Then begin a list of intrinsic motivators. Are you doing this to learn, or grow a skill, or reflect a value? Will this bring you closer to your best self? To raise your awareness, start by applying this to something small - an upcoming plan where the outcome isn't too high stakes.
For example, let's say your friend asks you to help them move house. Extrinsic motivators might be - "he'll be annoyed if I say no," or "I'll look like a good person when I tell people I helped a friend move house," or "I don't have the time or energy but I would feel bad saying no, so I will say yes." So you go ahead and help Steve move. He has a million and 5 boxes, half of which are DVDs you know will never be viewed again by any living being. You spend the day feeling pretty tense and resentful that you're there.
Intrinsic motivators might be "I'd really like to support him, he's really stressed out about moving and I care about him, so I'd like to help," or "I believe in offering help where I can" or "I'm pretty short on time and energy so if I say yes to this, I'll say no to something else - I'll choose whichever is most important to me". Then if you do help him move, you don't drive home cursing Steve's large and redundant DVD collection and bad taste in art, you drive home feeling good that you made the right choices for you, and feel satisfied with your day, and might even feel a little closer to Steve.
As you become aware of the two types of motivators, notice how you view bigger, longer term life goals. Bring that awareness into how you are setting goals, and whether or not they serve your true wants and needs, or whether they lean more on external opinions. We all have external constraints, sure - time, money, family, etc. but where most people get stuck is they stop there. Go a little deeper, and find out what you really want before you set more important life and career goals. You'll know when you are being driven more by intrinsic motivators, because you will feel more curious, calm, aligned, open and willing to put in the work to create your future. Being aligned with your intrinsic motivators will make your goals more authentic to you, and it will make the journey reaching those goals a whole lot more enjoyable.
Hope you look after yourself this week.