How Motivated Are You?

Motivation and I have a love-hate relationship. You see, I’m not someone who goes out of the way to set definitive goals. I have an idea in my head, not written down anywhere, mind you, of what I want to do. The problem is, my thoughts are usually too unfocused–in other words, downright nebulous–to write them down. And if I’m unable to articulate an idea, what’s the use of having it? If I have a goal and I can’t explain it to myself, do I even have a goal? This is uncomfortably close to the age-old question: “If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?”

The conclusion I’m forced to draw, rightly or wrongly, is that lack of confidence in myself and therefore any idea I have that’s “inarticulatable”–I just invented that word–renders me paralyzed. And the corollary to this theory, if you will, is that self-confidence and self-motivation are inextricably connected. It turns out that this is not merely a theory, but as we will see further along in this article, there is a scientific basis for this logical relationship.

It’s easy to see the rationale for having a coach, mentor, instructor, or accountability partner to assist with external motivation. That can vary, however, depending on the personalities of both the one craving assistance. Is a good tuchus-kicking required? Finding someone trustworthy to administer the kicks is needed.

I, personally, prefer NOT to be kicked. There’s a bit of mulishness in my nature, apparently, not that I’ve ever been accused of being stubborn. Ahem! (Ducking out of the way of an imminent lightning bolt from the heavens.)

To be perfectly frank, stubbornness has been given a bad rap, in my opinion. Imagine a mountain climber attempting to scale Mt. Everest not having the tenacity to even set foot in the Himalayas. The stakes are a dangerous climb against insurmountable odds, the pay-off, to stand upon a summit where few have succeeded.

For those of you reaching for a thesaurus, let me offer these synonyms. I first looked up tenacity, and at the top of the list is stubbornness, followed by obstinacy, resolve, firmness, persistence, insistence, doggedness, drive, determination, steadfastness, and tenaciousness.

Yet, when I looked up stubbornness, I found two separate lists. In the first group are obstinancy, inflexibility, obduracy, pigheadedness, mulishness, intractability, and willfulness. All are blatantly negative. BUT the second list, by contrast, is topped by persistence, then by tenacity, perseverance, doggedness, stalwartness, and determination. You cannot find many more positive and inspiring traits than these.

All of which begs the question, does a one-size-fits-all strategy for motivation work for everyone and in every situation? Do I hear a resounding “No?” Ah, some of you even said, “Hell, no.” Well done.

How often do you suppose the proverbial “carrot and stick” strategy works? The most truthful answer is, “That depends.” Sorry for the standard attorney response. (Disclaimer: No lawyers were harmed or even consulted in the creation of this article.)

Here’s another question for you. Which do you think is a better, more effective motivation, one that is extrinsic, (motivation from outside of ourselves), or intrinsic (self-motivation)? Here are three resources that delve into motivation scientifically, especially in regard to rewards versus punishment.

  1. First, I want to point you to a Ted Talk on ‘The Puzzle of Motivation,’ (downloaded nearly 19 million times), in which career analyst Dan Pink says, “I spent the last couple of years looking at the science of human motivation, particularly the dynamics of extrinsic motivators and intrinsic motivators….What’s alarming here is…how we motivate people, how we apply our human resources [is] built entirely around these extrinsic motivators, around carrots and sticks….But for 21st century tasks, that mechanistic, reward-and-punishment approach…often doesn’t work, and often does harm.” TED Talk on Motivation
  2. Next, in an article from Harvard Business Review, corporate consultant and coach Lisa Lai says, “There is no stronger motivation for employees than an understanding that their work matters and is relevant to someone or something other than a financial statement.” Motivating Employees Is Not About Carrots or Sticks
  3. Finally, in a TedX Talk at Virginia Tech, Alumni Distinguished Professor E. Scott Geller says that something happens to people who are self-motivated. They become empowered. To determine if someone is empowered, (a child, an employee, ourselves) we need to ask three questions. “Can you do it?” (Education), “Will it work?” (Training), and “Is it worth it?” (Motivation) TedX Virginia Tech

At the beginning of this article, I declared a love-hate relationship with motivation. Based on the excellent information from these three sources, it is finally clear to me that, believe it or not, I have been empowered (self-motivated) in the past in various situations on numerous occasions.

What I hadn’t recognized before was that the opposite condition, which I’d also experienced with distressing frequency, was either the result of rejecting the idea of “the stick,” or of being unable to answer at least one of Professor Geller’s three questions with an unequivocal “Yes.” I particularly am taken by this way of looking at motivation by asking “Is it worth it?”

When it comes to self-motivation specifically for writers, I suspect the lack of impetus more often than not springs from being stuck. Of course it could just as easily be a fear-induced lack of confidence. Fear of failure can affect some people more than others, sometimes in vastly different ways.

Students in Holly’s How To Revise Your Novel workshop learn how to do the hard things, from analyzing and discovering what is broken about a story, all the way to deciding on a plan to fix it, and everything in between. Here is where having someone to talk to, like an accountability partner or a coach, is key to our being able to persevere, to dig through the written rubble to salvage what’s good or useful and to let go of the rest.

After all the devastation in the wake of the 2017 hurricane season, especially with so many images of huge mounds of sheer stuff that must be sifted through or else abandoned to be hauled away, there is an unmistakable parallel that writers in particular can draw here.

Flawed works in progress require major overhauls. Facing that daunting task takes eyes to see clearly what must be done, not to mention the courage to see through to the end the undertakings of such a salvage operation. Rebuilding isn’t easy, whether it’s a home, a neighborhood, an island, or even a novel and the world it encompasses.

It all boils down to motivation and that key question: Is it worth it? Only you can answer that.

Tell A Writer
Deborah Gallardo

Ohio-born transplant to Southern California after living in seven other states, two foreign countries and Puerto Rico, this Authorpreneur has had a varied career history. From education to stage performance to later-in-life, full-time motherhood, to writing and directing to semi-retirement, Deb now is focusing on the nuts and bolts of building a sustainable business as an author of fiction and nonfiction and as an online instructor.