Motivation is the drive to get things done. We all need it every day, and often it comes from the outside, like a boss looking over our shoulder. But how do we find motivation when there is no external source? How do we cultivate it inwardly?
Charles Duhigg in his book Smarter, Faster, Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity spends the first chapter explaining how to cultivate a mindset of motivation.
He first states that motivation can be learned:
Motivation is more like a skill, akin to reading or writing, that can be learned and honed. Scientists have found that people can get better at self-motivation if they practice the right way.
For Duhigg, there are two main ways that we can learn self-motivation.
- Cultivate an Internal Locus of Control
An internal locus of control is the: “belief we can influence our destiny through the choices we make.” We must internalize the truth that our actions largely determine what our lives will be like:
The trick, researchers say is realizing that a prerequisite to motivation is believing we have authority over our actions and surroundings. To motivate ourselves, we must feel like we are in control.
Duhigg documents how an internal locus of control improves people’s wellbeing:
People with an internal locus of control tend to earn more money, have more friends, stay married longer, and report greater professional success and satisfaction.
- Connect the Task to What You Care About Most
Duhigg advises starting with “why,” i.e., reminding ourselves about the overarching purposes behind our actions:
Once we start asking why, those small tasks become pieces of a larger constellation of meaningful projects, goals, and values.
Duhigg gives the example of marines struggling through a grueling training exercise at the end of a thirteen-week boot camp. It involved using wooden planks to cross a pit the size of a football field while wearing full gear and not being allowed to touch the ground.
“Why are you doing this?” Quintanilla’s pack buddy whezzed at him… When things are at their most miserable, their drill instructors had said, they should ask each other questions that begin with “why.” “To become a Marine and build a better life for my family.” Quintanilla said.
By linking the struggle to something he cared about, this Marine found the motivation to push through, complete his training and achieve his goal of providing a better life for his family.
For me, implementing this looks like asking: Why should I get off YouTube and focus on homework? Why should I get up early and start my routine? Why is it important to reply to this email?
When I remember to ask the questions, the answers kindle motivation.