Motivation: 6 step framework to get and stay motivated
A Powerful Strategy Backed by Research
We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change.
— Sheryl Sandberg, Lean in
Back when I was trying to build my startup, I was on a never-ending hunt for continuous motivation. I thought that if I could find my source of motivation, I would finally be able to give my best.
I recently quit my startup journey. Looking back on it, I’m really grateful for all the lessons I learned from other great entrepreneurs. One of them, is a vital lesson about motivation.
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint hearted. It is hard to imagine an occupation that would would create anxiety amongst more people than working on a project that doesn’t make any sense for anyone except for the founders for multiple years.
And yet, entrepreneurs all around the world do exactly that. For me, each of their stories represents a fascinating perspective on motivation, perseverance, and consistency.
When you don’t have any customers, a lot of financial insecurity, and hear no all the time, how do you stay motivated?
And even more: what can we learn from them?
Start at the root
One of the traits that you’ll recognise in any entrepreneurs, is that they don’t take anything for granted. They write their own rules. They don’t accept reality as it’s supposed to be. They ask questions, get to the root cause of the problem, and have their own vision that they follow as if there’s nothing more important.
The greatest entrepreneurs are problem-solvers at heart. They understand that if we ought to solve something, we first have to understand it. Then if we want to fundamentally understand something, we have to simplify and reduce it, to eventually understand anything at all.
That’s why you really have to start at the core of the problem.
The same holds for motivation. Anyone has been in a situation where they’ve felt demotivated. I myself experienced this over and over when I was working on my startup, and I see a lot of people around me struggling with this question.
And for me, current motivation articles just don’t cut the chase. “Try life hack x and habit y for indestructible motivation”. One week later, you’re back where you started.
If you really want to understand your lack of motivation, you have to get to the core.
“Eliminate all other factors, and the one which remains must be the truth.”
— Sherlock Holmes
See it as if you want to remove weeds from your garden. If you only remove the top, the weeds will grow back within no time. Thus, finding and addressing the core of the issue is essential to effectively solve the problem.
How to get to the root
There’s no silver bullet to getting to the root of your motivational problem. However, a lot of psychological research has found that reflection is one of the most effective ways of actually discovering this.
But reflection is hard. Sitting down to think about your motivation requires a lot of effort.
But what if you could get the handles to be guided along the way?
You can make this reflection a lot more accessible by asking yourself questions.
Questions are the first — and maybe the most important — step towards change.
Socrates used a beautiful series of questions to get to the core of any issue. It’s a disciplined questioning process to uncover truths, reveal underlying assumptions and separate knowledge from ignorance.
Use these to get to the core, and come up with a way to address it.
So get yourself a notebook and start digging.
(After these six steps, I’ve provided you with extra insights about potential causes and solutions. Read on.)
The six steps to the root cause
1. Clarify your thoughts and get clear about the source.
Think more exactly about what you’re thinking about. Try to get behind the concept of your argument. Go deeper. These questions are meant to make sure you get a clearer picture of the problem.
- What happened?
- What’s changed since your motivation decreased?
- What could be the reason of this lack of motivation?
2. Challenge your own assumptions
Think about the presuppositions and unquestioned beliefs on which you are founding your arguments. These questions are about unearthing underlying assumptions and get you to think them through, or at least acknowledge you’re making them.
- How do you know this is the cause?
- What could be the cause behind the cause?
3. Look for evidence.
Dig into the reasoning rather than assuming it as a given. It’s natural for us to use un-thought-through or weakly-understood supports for our arguments. These questions help you understand where you’re coming from and why. These are powerful before delving into a solution.
- How do you know this is true?
- What can you do to prove/falsify your ideas?
4. Consider alternatives?
Diversification is a protection against ignorance.
— Warren Buffet
Most arguments are given from a particular position. Try to change perspectives, and consider other, equally valid, viewpoints.
- What could others think are other alternatives?
- What are all potential causes?
(In the next section, I’ve included some of the best research out there that might help you consider other alternatives.)
5. Look into the consequences and implications
The arguments we give may have logical implications that can be forecasted. Do they make sense? Are they desirable? These questions will help you realise and consider the outcomes of your approach.
- What are the consequences of these causes?
- How can these consequences help me solve my problem?
6. Ask the original question
The universe is so well balanced that the mere fact that you have a problem also serves as a sign that there is a solution”.
— Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
Suppose you answered all questions so far, you have a clear picture of the root cause of your lack of motivation. Now you’re clear about this, you can give all your energy to finding the solution. Bounce the ball back into your own court and ask questions about the original question.
- What can I do differently?
- How is this going to help me?
- If I solve this, will it be enough?
(In the next section, you can read more about potential solutions. Remember: the only way these solutions can be effective, is if they actually solve the root cause of your problem!)
More insights to help you answer the questions
In order to help you on your way with considering alternatives, I did come research. There’s a bunch of very smart people who researched major problems, and this is only a smart proportion of it.
Three fundamental psychological needs according to self-determination theory
Self-determination theory is a stream of psychological research that seeks to identify where motivation comes from. So far, they’ve identified three major needs:
Whenever you are asked if you can do a job, tell ’em, ‘Certainly I can!’ Then get busy and find out how to do it.
— Theodore Roosevelt
Competence is the feeling of being effective in your continuous interactions with your social surroundings, and getting the opportunity to express your capacities. This need for competence motivates you to seek challenges that are optimal for your capacities, and so consequently maintain and improve your skills.
Goldilocks rule says that people experience extreme motivation when they work on tasks that balance on the edge of their current capabilities. So: not too hard, not too easy, exactly right.
- Do you feel that your current challenges are optimal for what you’re capable of? Do you feel that they help you to maintain and develop your skills?
Invisible threads are the strongest ties.
Relatedness is the feeling of being connected to others. This need is not about achieving goals, but about having the feeling of oneness and security that you get from your surroundings. Research has shown that positive feedback, communication and a general feeling of security have strong effects on intrinsic motivation.
- To what extent do you feel connected and supported?
Why do they always teach us that it’s easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It’s the hardest thing in the world — to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want.
— Ayn Rand
Autonomy is about feeling that your actions come from yourself, and so are authentic interests and integrated values. Behaviour is an expression of the self. Actions that originate in yourself lead to more interest, enthusiasm and trust in yourself.
Don’t confuse this with independence: it’s perfectly fine to follow someone else’s directions or opinions, a long as those authentically integrate into your own system of values.
- To what extent are your current actions and work an expression of your own values and interests?
Tony Robbins’ 6 basic needs
According to Robbins, there are six basic, universal needs that drive our behaviour.
Feeling in control and knowing what you’re up against makes us feel safe. This is a survival mechanism that stems from our ancient times. The higher this need is, the less risk you dare to take. At the same time, having insufficient amounts of security will limit the amount of risk you dare to take upon yourself.
- To what extent does your need for security limit the amount of risk you dare to take? Do you feel you have enough security at the moment?
There’s a difference between wanted and unwanted surprises. The first ones are pleasant, the second we call problems. You need those ‘problems’ to develop character.
Reflecting on your own personal growth, has it mostly been through your success or through your failures? Mine are certainly through the last. You can’t grow muscle without having something to push against.
- To what extent do you feel challenged? To what extent do your current activities make you feel insecure?
This is the need to feel important, special, unique and wanted. There are tons of ways to reach this. Some do it by having bigger problems than others. Others do it by excelling in what they do. Others do it in a more spiritual way.
- What makes you feel special, unique and important?
- To what extent do you feel significant?
Connection and love
Love as a union of two soverign alonenesses and a mutual awakening to dormant parts of each self.
— Sam Shepard: Two prospectors
Love is the oxygen of life. It’s what we need the most. If we lose love, the pain is so big that people settle for connection, the crumbs of love, according to Robbins. It’s through conncetion and love that we get extra insights into ourselves.
- To what extent do you feel connection and love?
If you don’t grow, you’re never going to be fulfilled. The reason we grow, according to Robbins, is that it leads us to a point of value where we have something to give.
- To what extent do you feel you’re growing? Is this enough?
Contribute beyond yourself
Life isn’t about ‘me’, it’s about ‘we’. Think back to the first thing you did when you heard good news or something excited. Probably, you called someone you loved and shared it with.
Sharing enhances everything you experience. Life is about creating meaning, and meaning doesn’t come from what you receive, but what you give.
- To what extent do you feel you’re contributing to someone else’s wellbeing?
There’s a fine mix between hard work and happiness. This mix is referred to as flow, a mental state that you experience when you’re so focused on your current task, that the world around you seems to fade.
In order to reach this, you have to work on something challenging enough, and where you get direct feedback from your actions. You need this feedback to figure out how you’re doing in each step.
To see yourself moving forward is incredibly motivating. Your brain needs ways to visualise progress in order to stay motivated, independent upon the way you visualise it.
- How do you measure progress?
- How often are you in flow?
To help you on your way a bit, I’ve looked into the science that’s been done on motivation, and suggest different solutions as well.
People who excel in what they do, realise that their actions are accelerators of their values. Research has shown that people who value a subject because it’s in line with their own values and interest, are more motivated to work for the subject.
Even more: you can synthesize this.
Another study showed that when you reflect on the relationship between what you’re doing and how that relates to your own values, you become more interested in the subject. This is independent of whether the subject is indeed in line with your own values and interests.
- What are your values? To what extent do those come back in your current activities?
- How can you express your values even more in the activities you currently do?
What are your going to measure?
The head of global hospitality and strategy at Airbnb, Chip Conley, says that in order to excel, you must measure three things: survival, success and transformation.
- What ensures your survival? How can you quantify this?
- What ensures your success? How can you quantify this?
- What ensures your transformation? How can you quantify this?
Live quietly in the moment and see the beauty of all before you. The future will take care of itself
— Autobiography of a Yogi
I’m a big fan of meditation and reflection, but don’t take my word for it. Research showed that conscious and authentic attention to the current moment has many positive effects. Amongst them, it’s associated with autonomous motivation and positive psychological results and behavior. This again leads to internal exploration, reflection on our needs and feelings, and the development of an autonomous orientation.
- How can you be more conscious and aware about your activities, and live more in the here and now?
Tell me where I’m going to die, so I won’t go there.
— Charlie Munger
You only have to do a very few things right in your life so long as you don’t do too many things wrong.
— Warren Buffet
Inversion is about inverting what you want to reach. By thinking about the opposite of what you want to reach, and what’s needed to accomplish that, you have a clear list of mistakes you should definitely avoid.
- Imagine in six months from now, you’re very demotivated. What caused your demotivation? Which mistakes did you make?
Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement.
You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing.
To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.
— Bill Watterson
I realized in writing this that this is not the average Medium post. Most of them would give you a quick life hack, so you can continue scrolling. However, this one is different, and I believe it’s a better way to help you with your motivation.
Tony Robbins once said that it’s essential to identify the problem, but that you must give all your energy and power to the solution. I hope this has given you the tools to identify the problem and a potential solution. Now go and kick some motivation butt.