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Motivation is not out there: Look inside

Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one's potential.” –Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee mastered his art to a degree that he could throw grains of rice in the air and catch them mid-flight...with chop sticks, repetitively. Lee is the quintessential example of what can be accomplished with supreme motivation from mastery of your mental state. Lee’s motivational attitude is exemplified by two of his notable quotes; “I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.” And “Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” Very few ever come close to reaching their full potential, but Bruce Lee, although only 5’ 6” and about 145lbs, exploited his physical potential to a degree that he was able to perform implausible physical accomplishments. Lee was renowned for his physical fitness and vigorous, dedicated fitness regimen and he was driven by breaking barriers and seeing what was possible. As Lee stated, he was out to live up to his own expectations, and his motivation came from within. There are two types of motivation that drives someone; intrinsic, or motivation that comes from within yourself, and extrinsic, or motivation coming from an external reward like money or a trophy. True and lasting motivation must be of the intrinsic variety. It is, further, impossible to master your potential over the long term when you are driven by external drivers. Once a trophy is won, you become a millionaire or you reach the top of the mountain, for example, the motivator disappears. Contrarily, the intrinsic motivation to master ones trade never wanes. If the enjoyment was in the hike up the mountain and not in the prize of reaching the summit, your motivational tank stays full for the next time. The biggest hurdle to both forms of motivation is the theory of learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is falsely convincing yourself through past failure that something is not possible so you come to believe that trying is pointless. The key to finding a high level of success in anything, including your workouts and diet, is finding a motivation within yourself, discrediting any learned helplessness you have developed over time, and proving to yourself through action that you can accomplish most anything.

Achieving motivation from within oneself has unique characteristics that don’t exist from external motivations. With any goal you currently have in mind for yourself, use the below four traits to determine if you are truly motivated by the right things.

Enjoyment – If you are to be really successful at any endeavor, it is a necessity that you truly enjoy whatever it is you are doing. If you don’t, look for ways to modify the task or look at it differently in order to really look forward to doing it the next time.

• Autonomy – You must have the independence in what you are doing and be firmly in control of the outcome. This is not to say that you should not take the direction of others, as in almost all cases, you should call on the expertise of someone more experienced than yourself. Rather, it means that you must understand why you are doing what you are doing and it is of your own volition that you are doing it in belief it will have a positive result.

• Belief – The understanding or confidence that you have the tools and ability to do what you are trying to do is a necessity. This can be aided by not looking too far into the future and focusing only on the task at hand. It’s much easier to believe that you can get through this one workout or this one day than it is to belief that you can lose 100lbs over the next year or increase your bench press by 200 pounds.

• Interest in the task, not the outcome – A recent psychological clinical study showed that students who are interested in a topic at school will excel exponentially more than those who are simply interested in getting good grades. The same is true elsewhere. Focus attention on what you are doing, not on how what you are doing could benefit you later.

The alternative to the above is motivation from outside sources. This may be fear (of punishment or ridicule), trying to best a competitor, win a trophy or money, or gain the admiration of others. While these can often be good drivers for the short term, they are not sustainable and will ultimately lead to a sharp decrease in motivation once these are attained (or realization that they won’t be). Further, any external motivation can have a negative impact on your inner motivation through what is called the over justification effect. The over justification effect occurs when an expected external incentive such as money or a trophy decreases a person's intrinsic motivation to do the same activity. The overall effect of offering a reward for a previously unrewarded activity is a shift to extrinsic motivation and can severely decrease any pre-existing intrinsic motivation. An example of this is when a friendly competition or game with friends is escalated by a financial wager. When money comes into play, the enjoyment of focus on the fun of the game itself is gone, and the focus is on winning the money.

The biggest hurdle to both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is when we teach ourselves to behave in a way that we are helpless over a situation, even when opportunity exists to gain positive rewards. For example, this condition is present in a great deal of obese people. They feel they have tried dieting, have tried exercising and they simply were “meant to be fat”. Whereas the reality is, no one is doomed to be obese. They were not successful at their previous attempts for a variety of reasons, most often a lack of understanding about how to lose weight combined with a lack of determination to lose the weight. However, these past ill-fated attempts further sapped their motivation and “taught” them that it is not possible. This is no different than someone trying everything possible to get a broken lawnmower to work and ultimately giving up, thinking it cannot be done. Only for someone else to come along and realize that there was no gas in it, fill the tank up and it starts right away.

The ability to do anything is a result of the motivation to do it. Something must drive you to do something, something as simple as getting up off the couch. It is what motivates and how you are motivated that will make the difference between being ordinary and being great.

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