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Intrinsic versus extrinsic motivators
Don’t wait. The time will never be just right – Napoleon Hill
“Intrinsic” motivators are internal, they are things you say to yourself, while “extrinsic” motivators are external forces in your environment that influence your behavior. It is important to understand the difference between the two, because ultimately intrinsic motivation is what you need to cultivate and strengthen, until it becomes ambition. Later in this book we will cover the practical methods you can use to control your motivation, but for now we will just have a look at motivation in general to set the scene.
Ambition is a strong, almost unmovable source of constant motivation, which applies to all aspects of your life. Constantly strengthening your motivation within the separate areas of your life will eventually increase your overall ambition, which then fuels you to overcome barriers, improve and ultimately succeed. When motivation gains such strength and momentum that it becomes a natural part of yourself, it becomes ambition. In Napoleon Hill’s book Think And Grow Rich he shows that the main factor all rich people have in common is a single-minded ambition to build financial wealth. How they attain their wealth in a practical sense varies considerably, however the one common theme for all of them was an unrelenting internal drive to accumulate it.
I’d like to share a story about one of my clients, who we’ll call “Lucy” for the sake of anonymity.
Lucy came to me after being stuck in the same boring retail job for her entire twenties. She changed shops a couple of times but the role was basically the same. An entire decade of folding clothes, dealing with stressed out customers, and being paid peanuts. Lucy also suffered from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which filled her with a fear of potential humiliation, and also hugely distracted her from being able to make plans. When she came to see me, she was ready for a change.
At first, progress was slow. Lucy had a number of ingrained limiting-beliefs about her abilities and self-worth, and these ate away at her daily motivation levels. So we kept the “homework” side of the coaching to a manageable level. This allowed Lucy to easily accomplish her tasks. and eventually she built up a long list of achievements. This list continued to grow over time, challenging her belief that she was no good. She was constantly having to recognize herself for achieving goals, however “small”, and the evidence started to outweigh whatever misconceptions her fears were based on.
Lucy began exploring ideas beyond what she had ever previously been interested in. She started watching TED talks on a daily basis; she changed her social circle to include more motivated and ambitious people; she continued upping the ante by expanding the level of challenge in her goals. Before long, she was ready to quit her prison of a job. Lucy applied for a number of internships with different companies to re-engage her interest in Public Relations. Despite a number of frustrating setbacks, she just kept on applying and pushing for success. Her motivation had been slowly but surely increased over time, and was now at a level where it carried her through the inevitable barriers life threw at her.
An earlier Lucy would have given up at the first rejection, but New Lucy was unaffected. She was so certain of her purpose and inspired by the feats of others that she simply knew that it would work out eventually, as long as she never gave up. This is ambition. Today, Lucy is about to start her first internship after being accepted at a top PR firm, and has booked a trip around Northern America to live out a life-long dream. She has basically quit drinking, which used to be her most common pastime, and has started new hobbies like dancing. By building up motivation slowly, both from the inside and by surrounding herself with inspirational influences, Lucy’s ambition is now a powerful fuel to her success. Nothing will stop her now, simply because she can’t be stopped.
Make no mistake, Lucy was not born this way; most of us aren’t. But we can learn to become like this if we are willing to put in the work, have some patience, and dedicate ourselves to the long-term game.
Let’s now have a look at where this ambition, made of motivation from different sources, can come from.
Extrinsic motivation comes from forces external to the self. That’s one way of describing the things outside of your control that happen to you, or that you are exposed to in some way. Many different experts suggest that extrinsic motivation is much weaker and more unreliable than intrinsic motivation. All motivation must start as external before it can become internal. There is always something external that initially prompts a person to consider changing. The insights we make are triggered originally on some external stimuli.
Let’s look at the relationship between external events and internal motivation. In each of these sections I have devised a strategy for how you can consciously transform an external motivator into intrinsic motivation. I recommend that you make looking for these external motivators a part of your everyday life, which will ensure that you are constantly prompted to consider new and interesting ways to improve.
Sometimes we see or hear something that pushes a button inside us. Something occurs to make you feel like your internal foundation has been shifted. It could be someone else’s success; seeing someone you feel you are similar too achieving something you thought was not possible. It could be some profound new way of thinking that comes from a book. It could be a news program documenting a severely impaired person overcoming seemingly unbelievable odds. It might even be a quote that someone has posted online.
Inspiration is usually a brief flash; a quick slap in the face which causes you to briefly stop your mad race in life to consider something new. This effect, however, has a fatal flaw: it will have absolutely no effect on your life unless you take action. Inspiration is really nothing more than a brief euphoric surge of motivation, and without action that’s all it will ever be.
Have you ever watched a documentary about someone who has had to overcome a traumatic event, and thought: “Oh wow, I am so lucky; I should really appreciate things more and do x, y and z!”,yet weeks later your life is unchanged, and you continue with the status quo (keeping life the way it is)? Don’t worry, this has happened to us all. We get all worked up until the distractions of life come back into focus and take away any motivation we originally felt.
I have seen inspiration cause life-long changes and improvements, but only by those who turn inspiration into planned actions. From now on, I strongly urge that you consciously take note when you feel inspired to change for the better and then do something about it. It can be as simple as doing one little thing in response to feeling inspired. For example, if you see a news program that inspires you to help the homeless, immediately go out and find a homeless person to give your spare change to. This in itself is not a huge act, but you have now associated the feeling of inspiration with a measurable reaction. Later in this book you will put together a Master Plan based on your goals. Use inspiration to update your goals on this plan as and when you are hit with it.
Some recommended sources of inspiration:
- Research those at the top of your field of interest and see if they are holding seminars or have written memoirs of their journey to success.
- Talk to people who you consider to be successful, even if they are not succeeding in your particular field of interest, to see how they achieved their goals. Take them for a coffee or a walk and let them tell you how they did it (this kind of networking is something the most successful people in the world regularly do).
- Make it a weekly ritual to share lunch with someone you think is more successful than you are, or they just seem to lead an interesting life.
- Write a list of all the things you think you cannot do or have in your life. Then research these concepts on the Internet to find someone who does what you want to do or has what you want to have. Try to figure out what they did differently to what you are currently doing.
- Try to prove yourself wrong about everything you think is impossible. Again the Internet can help, simply by searching for success stories in the field you are considering. TED talks are a great place to start – I watch a different TED talk on YouTube almost every single day.
Sometimes it takes something bad to happen for us to realize that we need to change, like a painful relationship break-up, getting fired from work, or a serious injury. It may also take the form of vicarious trauma, which is experiencing something traumatic second-hand, like a smoker hearing about someone dying of cancer. I once got completely burned out and borderline depressed from vicarious trauma, because I had been rehabilitating sexual offenders for so long that their stories and fantasies were starting to give me nightmares. This later inspired one of the biggest breakthroughs in my life – discovering my love of coaching – because it forced me to reconsider my career choices.
The external motivation of trauma often converts into fear. Whereas inspiration comes from a positive place, trauma-based motivation comes from a negative starting point, usually shame, secrecy and doubt. Negative emotions often create physical weaknesses… but they can also become a source of strength. The famous actor and uber-achiever Will Smith once said during an interview “The thing that motivates me the most is fear… the fear of being afraid”.
When you are facing a fear-based motivator like trauma, you have the opportunity to turn it into a positively motivating experience, by following a structured process to convert it into inspiration. How many smokers have been shocked by the advertisement campaigns about health risks, only to continue smoking? How many hung-over binge drinkers have sworn to never have another sip, yet are right back on the booze the next weekend? This kind of relapse happens because trauma-based motivators have limited strength. They cause negative emotions, which will always undermine motivation – a positive emotion.
If you have experienced some form of trauma and you are now in a position where you want to make positive changes, you need to “re-frame” this trauma into inspiration. At this point I would like to clearly state that if you feel that you have been severely traumatized, this book may not be the solution and it will be worthwhile for you to consult with an experienced counselor or mental health practitioner.
How do you “re-frame” trauma? In other words, how do you change it from something that holds you back into something that drives you forward?
For every negative emotion there is a positive opposite, which you may be able to source through careful re-framing. If this section seems relevant to you, try completing the following exercise:Converting trauma into inspiration over the page. You can print it off or simply write on the page.
Exercise: Converting trauma into inspiration
PART ONE: The event as it happened
Firstly, write out the traumatic event in simple terms:
E.g.I was attacked by two strangers on my way home, they beat me up and stole my wallet
Next, describe your thoughts during the event:
E.g.what is happening? This hurts and everything is happening really fast, will they kill me?
Describe the emotions you experienced during and shortly after the event:
E.g. Fear, panicking, and afterwards shame and embarrassment
Now describe your behavior during and after the event:
E.g. I curled up in a ball and took it, then limped home
PART TWO: How I wish the event had happened
Now we will complete the thoughts, emotions, behavior steps from Part One again, only this time describe them as though the event had happened differently. By this I mean, how do you wish it had happened?
E.g. Two guys attacked me but I defended myself with martial arts and they ran away crying
E.g.I can handle these two guys, I am skilled in self-defense
E.g.Calm, confident and in control
E.g. I successfully used martial arts to defend myself and scare off the attackers.
As you can see from this example, the inspiration comes from your view of your ideal self, which is covered in much more detail later in this book. For now, I am pointing out that by imagining a traumatic event going the way you wish it had gone, the clues emerge as to how you can turn this tragedy into an inspiration to improve your life. This is not the final answer to undoing the damage of your traumatic experience, it’s just an arrow pointing you in the direction you need to go.
PART THREE: Figuring out the possible solutions
So once you have identified how you wish it had gone differently, answer these questions in relation to what you wrote in Part Two:
How could I achieve those thoughts?
E.g. I could gain experience in managing situations like this by being exposed to safe combat situations
How could I achieve those emotions?
E.g. I could learn techniques in how to stay calm when threatened
How could I achieve those behaviors?
E.g. I could learn self-defense
By now it should be obvious where this leads: you take these possibilities and turn them into a specific goal or set of goals…
PART FOUR: Set goals
Go to the Goal Settingchapter for instructions on how to write these. If this is the first time you are reading through this book, don’t worry about doing this just now, but set yourself a reminder to come back to this exercise when you do get to the Goal Setting chapter.
Using that chapter’s instructions, Turn Part Three into goals to change your behavior. From the example we used above, some goals could be:
- I will go to Wing Chun kung fu classes on Mondays and Thursdays every week until I earn my black belt ranking
- From 27-30 March, I will take the 3 day course run by Combat Courses on Managing Threatening Situations
- I will learn Mindfulness meditation techniques in order to be able to control my anxiety levels in stressful situations
You get the idea. Let’s move on to another source of external motivation…
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This could be described in a variety of different ways, like being ordered, directed, or even coerced. Instructional external motivation occurs when another person, or a group of people, instructs you to change, with consequences attached. Some examples include:
- Your boss telling you to improve your work or you’ll be fired
- Your partner tells you that she will leave you if you don’t quit drinking
- Your mother telling you to stop being annoying or else you’ll be sent to your room
The common theme with instructional external motivators is the forced decision you have to make, i.e. Should I change, or do I just accept the negative consequences of staying the same? For this situation I recommend that you complete the Costs vs. benefitsexercise to determine what action you will take, which we will cover later.
If your decision is to change, then try including the person who has given you the instruction when you are setting your goals. They will appreciate you showing evidence that you are willing to take action, and they might reduce the pressure to make immediate changes a bit due to your expressed commitment.
You may also decide you want to change but feel that you are unable to. We will explore this in much more detail in Barriers to Change chapter.
Some people are living in a situation that is currently beyond their perceived ability to control or change. Situations like this are highly demotivating because it makes you feel helpless and unfairly punished. These may include:
- Having children to take care of; feeling like you do not have the luxury of time to pursue career choices
- Being in an unsatisfying relationship that you cannot end due to barriers like fear, children, or cultural constraints
- Having health issues that the gym/sports and healthy eating cannot fix, such as permanent disabilities or a chronic illness
- Being in prison
Before you make the assumption that your circumstances are preventing you from making positive changes, make sure to read the chapter on Barriers to change. Most barriers that we see as unmovable are actually made up of fears that we have attached to some external restriction. These fears can be systematically removed (which feels fantastic by the way!)
Using the examples above, here are the possible fears that may be behind them:
- Possibly not being able to provide for your children may make you feel that you cannot risk quitting your job: Fear of Scarcity (not enough resources for all)
- Your family potentially disowning you may make you feel like you must tolerate an abusive relationship: Fear of Abandonment
- Fear of being mocked about your wheelchair may keep you out of the gym: Fear of Rejection
- Fear of failure, caused by a many years in the Justice system, may make you feel like you’d be wasting your time trying to get a qualification: Fear of Unworthiness
I recommend that if you are in these or similar situations, you should definitely still set goals to improve your life. Later on in the chapter Goal Setting we will explore how you can set goals that take into account the limits of your environment. But there’s something else too: for every forced situation, there is someone out there who has overcome it to succeed. I promise you that there is almost no problem you have which has not been dealt with by someone else before you.
I know a guy who is in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down in a terrible motorcycle accident – he is now a champion speedway motorbike racer. He can handle a bike better than most of the fully able-bodied people I know. He simply wanted it very much and that strong desire was ultimately all he needed.
Start putting some time aside to research others who may have experienced similar obstacles to the ones you face, to see what they did. Not only is this a great general source of inspiration, over time it will help you accumulate evidence that anything is possible if you want it bad enough. This belief system will be able to drive you past any barrier.
The overall success of the human race comes down to, in my opinion, one unique characteristic: our ability to learn the strategies used by those who came before us, and then to adapt them to be more effective. Sometimes this is called “standing on the shoulders of giants”. I see too many people struggling to overcome a barrier which many people before them have already conquered. There is no need to learn from scratch, to do so can be ineffective and often painful.
Use the Internet or libraries to research articles and books from people in similar situations. Try Google-searching “success” followed by whatever you consider your barrier to be e.g. “success story prisoner” or “success from poverty”. Every time I have a problem I can’t fix, I simply go onto Google and search for “how to… [solve the problem I’m having]” and I always find the answer, e.g. “how to write a business plan”. At my website www.TheInspirationalLifestyle.com you can find a list of personal development books that I have tried and tested that deal with specific problems Check them out here: https://theinspirationallifestyle.com/top-10-self-development-books-of-2013/.
And of course, email me any questions and I will do my best to help you, or put you in touch with the relevant experts for your specific needs: firstname.lastname@example.org
Long term exposure
You probably know someone who was stuck in the same job for a long time and then suddenly, out of nowhere, they developed an interest in making a career change. Or maybe you know someone who was in a mundane, unloving or abusive relationship who one day mustered up the courage to end it. These examples may even describe you right now.
Often people experience an unexpected surge of motivation regarding something which was a normal part of their life for a long time. They might not be able to explain why they suddenly have a new enthusiasm for it. It just seems like they finally saw the light, like they just had enough of it.
When this happens you do not need to question it, you need to take advantage of the brief boost in motivation and make the best of the situation. This especially applies to a situation you may have become too comfortable with. This is opportunity time, and the window will close with fear, comfort and doubt if you leave it too long.
Rather than waiting for long-term frustration to motivate after years of building up a situation you are going to regret later, it is important to constantly re-evaluate the situations that have been part of your everyday life for a long time. This is one of the reasons why I choose the health, wealth and relationships areas of my life to constantly re-focus on. These three areas are often full of many long term routines and activities that make up my everyday life.
In order to ensure that your current status quo is actually what you genuinely want to be doing, complete the following exercise. Note that you can also do this exercise in a more specific way, by choosing a single area of your life (e.g. health) rather than your whole life in general.
This exercise could be a wake-up call for you!
Exercise: Challenging the status quo
Firstly, list the 10 activities that take up the majority of your time during an average week. This does not include basic survival activities like eating and sleeping, and you can exclude insignificant activities like transport unless they take up large amounts of your time.
Try to rank them according to how much time they take up from highest to lowest (i.e. the activity you spend the most time and energy doing should be number 1). Alternatively, you could rank them from most likely to least likely to occur if that makes more sense to you.
After you have completed this exercise I will show you an example using a fictional character “Dave”. If you find it difficult to do this exercise, try reading Dave’s version first.
List one: activities that take up the most of your time
List two: activities you are most skilled at
Now list your 5 top skills, including skills that you do not get to put to use very often, i.e. what are you best at? These do not have to also appear in the first list (though they can if you do them often enough), and they may not be things you get to do very often. They should be measurable activities – things that other people could observe you doing (rather than knowledge which is in your head).
Note: this has nothing to do with other people; it’s not about what you do better than others, it’s about what you are best at compared to other things you can do.
List three: activities you enjoy the most:
List the 5 top activities that give you the most enjoyment. Feel free to list activities that you do not often do, including one-off experiences that you really enjoyed. They do not need to be things that you are skilled at, or related to anything in particular e.g. career. Put it this way: if there was nothing stopping you, if you were a billionaire with no obligations, what would you do with your time?
You have now listed 20 activities, and for most of you there will be some that repeat in more than one list. Now go back to List One: the activities that take up the most of your time.
- For each activity in this list that also appears in either the Skills or Enjoyment lists, put a tick next to it.
- For each activity in the first list which appears in both Skills and Enjoyment, draw a smiley face next to it.
- For each of the activities on the first list that do not appear in either of the others, put a frowny face or an X next to it.
This exercise should give you a clear indication of whether or not your current lifestyle matches your skills and favorite activities. If the top five or more are smiley faces, then you are probably living a very enjoyable and satisfying lifestyle.
Note that everyone has some activities they have to be involved in that they don’t like. This exercise is more about spending a majority of your time doing great things, trying to get a balance between what you need to do for long term pleasure with what gives you immediate satisfaction.
If you find that you spend very little time overall doing things which you both are skilled at and enjoy, then you may be involved in a long term exposure situation. It could take quite some time for this situation to inspire you to change, so you best take action NOW rather than waiting for frustration to finally drive you crazy enough to change.
The Dreams – Your Ideal Self chapter of this book will help you find daily activities which are a source of both satisfaction and pleasure. This exercise should also give you inspiration and guidance for goal-setting, as your future could be made up of activities that you enjoy and excel at.
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Below is an example of how your list of activities might change over time if you apply planning and goal setting towards your ideal lifestyle. For this we’ll use a fictional character who I’ll call Dave.
Dave’s a pretty standard middle-aged guy who has a job as a legal copywriter at an automotive firm. He started with the company as an assistant when he got out of high school, and through time-served he has been gradually promoted. He has been in his current position for eight years. Dave is married to the love of his life Jeanette whom he met through work. They have two children less than 10 years of age; both have recently started school.
Let’s say Dave started with a list that looks like this:
- Copywriting (work)
- Emails (work)
- Chores around the house
- Watching TV
- Browsing the internet
- Taking the children somewhere fun
- Quality time with Jeanette
- Exercise, usually riding my bike
- Reading books
Dave feels that the quality of his relationship with his partner and children is going downhill, because he often works late and is too tired for much else when he gets home. He also feels like he is becoming less attractive to his partner, as he has developed a beer-gut and has bags under his eyes most days. Most importantly, he feels less of a man as time passes, due to a fear that he is not doing anything important with his life.
Let’s see what happens when Dave writes lists of what he is good at and what he enjoys most.
- Stand-up comedy
- Website design
This list details all of the top skills that Dave has picked up during his life. Note how only two of them appear on his first list: copywriting and golf. Apart from copywriting, these skills are all so neglected that he spends more time doing chores around the house than any of these.
Dave’s most enjoyed activities:
- Quality time with Jeanette
- Going on adventures with the children____
- Stand-up comedy
Like most people, Dave also enjoys some activities which he does not actually consider himself to be very skilled at (or does not recognize his skill), such as snowboarding. Dave also obviously places high value on time with family and friends, as demonstrated by the top three.
Now let’s go back to the original list to see which of his most-skilled and most-enjoyed activities appear there. You can see I’ve written GOOD! next to activities that appear on two lists:
- Copywriting (work) GOOD!
- Emails (work) X
- Chores around the house X
- Watching TV X
- Browsing the internet X
- Taking the children somewhere fun GOOD!
- Quality time with Jeanette GOOD!
- Exercise, usually riding my bike X
- Reading books X
- Golf SMILY FACE GOOD!!!
Some of the X activities are actually good life-improving activities, such as exercise. However, if Dave’s doing a form of exercise that he does not enjoy or is particularly good at, how likely is it that he will stick to it? Just because something appears to contribute to your life (by everyone else’s standards) doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for you to be doing.
Dave can now start combining activities so that they capitalize on his skills and are also enjoyable. Dave may end up with some goals like this:
- I will take my family golfing with me every second Saturday and teach my children how to play (combines quality time with Jeanette, quality time with children, and golf).
- I will write a book on how to perform stand-up comedy (combines copywriting skill with stand-up comedy skills and enjoyment).
- I will take one month off in July to travel the country with my family, performing stand-up along the way and capping it off with snowboarding in Aspen (huge amount of quality time and adventure with his family, whilst flexing his old stand-up skill. This will assist him writing his book, and getting a chance to snowboard again).
You can see how writing up lists like these could lead you towards setting goals that break up the monotony of the status quo. In Dave’s case he simply combined activities, and then he added some new ones to get more out of life and spark up his marriage. When I first completed this exercise myself I ended up changing career path and all sorts of other drastic changes. Anything could happen!
We’ve had a good look at some ideas around what may inspire you and kick-start your motivation to change. Next we will look at how you move forward from here, to take action and eventually become ambitious.
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