Examine Your Urges
Motivation doesn’t last because it diminishes the moment challenges arise.
Humans are emotional creatures and while we have highly sophisticated forebrains, our actions are dictated by our limbic brain.
Your actions are driven by unconscious desires that dwell deep in your reptilian brain, comprising of the brain stem and cerebellum. Its purpose centres on physical survival and the homoeostasis of your body.
Its primary function is to preserve your survival and control movement, breathing, reproduction and other basic survival needs.
It controls unconscious actions and is resistant to change. Even when starting a new habit, your attempts can be hijacked by the reptilian brain.
The thinking brain accounts for approximately 20% of your decision-making which explains why behavioural change is often met with resistance.
Most people live on autopilot and are dictated by their instincts which means the reptilian brain is in command.
The problem occurs when you give in to gratification instead of engaging the logical mind to examine these urges.
Motivation doesn’t last because it is a fleeting incident repeatedly commandeered by your unconscious desires, even despite your best intentions.
I liken it to having someone place their hand on your back to keep you moving forward. If they remove their hand, you are likely to lose your motivation.
It was the late American motivational speaker Jim Rohn who once said: “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” He knew that motivation alone is not enough to sustain your efforts.
I believe Sound Habits + A Compelling WHY are two important components that will help you achieve your goals and success.
The HOW, the WHAT and the WHY
I’ve coached hundreds of people over the past decade, ranging from athletes to CEOs and the one key factor that often comes up in coaching sessions is the subject of feelings.
People often say they don’t feel motivated to act or commit to a habit because they are responding to their emotional brain and give in to its demands.
I like author and doctor Kyra Bobinet’s perspective in her book Well Designed Life: 10 Lessons In Brain Science & Design Thinking For A Mindful, Healthy, & Purposeful Life: “When people say things like “I need to get motivated,” what I think they really are saying is “I want to feel stronger about doing this, and I hope that will get me to do it.” They are saying motivation, but really, they are talking about emotion.”
So if motivation doesn’t last, what does?
I’m glad you asked.
What is required is a powerful WHY?
According to motivational author Simon Sinek, many people and organisations focus on the HOW and WHAT as their primary motivators.
In his Golden Circle principle, the HOW and WHAT occupy the outer rings of the circle, while the WHY fills the centre.
The WHAT is the role of the neocortex which is responsible for rational, analytical thought and language.
The HOW is governed by the limbic brain, responsible for your feelings, trust and loyalty. It governs human behaviour and decision-making and has no capacity for language.
The WHY is ruled by the limbic brain and handles intuition and decision-making.
What this all means is when you have a commanding WHY you are likely to associate powerful emotions to your actions that leads to a greater chance of success.
Authors Jeff Brown and Mark Fenske explain in The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success how to better manage your emotions instead of allowing them to dictate your life: “The difference between a Winner’s Brain and an average brain is that Winners make a point of directing their emotions in productive ways. They don’t simply spew out emotions in an uncontrolled or thoughtless manner; they are highly sensitive to their emotional responses (even the negative ones) so that emotions can make positive contributions to current and long-term goals.”
To highlight an example, I’m currently working with a young lady who is a woman’s soccer referee. Jane (not her real name) was injured over 12 months ago when she rolled her ankle on a dry section of a soccer pitch during a game.
Whilst her injury did not require surgery, she suffered a grade II tear to the ligaments in her ankle which required twelve months of rehabilitation.
In our first meeting, I asked Jane what she enjoyed about being a soccer referee (WHY?). This was difficult for her to answer, and I had to probe further.
However, by the end of the session she stated her motivation to be a soccer referee stemmed from her childhood memories of going to soccer games with her father. She could recall the smell of the grass and experienced a flood of emotions as she recounted the experience to me.
I could see tears filling up in her eyes and I knew we had found a strong reason to help regain her full health again.
The good news is that Jane has made a full recovery and is now back refereeing because of one simple reason. She associated a compelling WHY that inspired her to show up each week to do the work because she knew it was too important to leave to motivation.
Take The Emotional Journey Into Yourself
I’ve worked with many other similar people and the common theme throughout is helping them to uncover their WHY well before they act.
I’m not saying motivation doesn’t exist or there isn’t a place for it. Based on my experience, a powerful WHY trumps motivation every time because motivation is like a fuse and burns out quickly.
Typically, I will also help my clients establish sound habits to support their goals and draw their awareness to the change cycle.
Motivation alone doesn’t guarantee results, nor can you rely on it because it comes and goes.
Everyone is motivated at the beginning of a new habit, goal or project, yet six months later the individual is unmotivated. This is when life gets in the way or when unexpected challenges arise.
In Jane’s case, four weeks out from her fitness test to qualify as a referee, she developed inflammation in her knee which required scaling back her training program.
Most people would give up, however Jane realised the goal was too important because her WHY meant more to her than the short term setback of an injured knee.
Thankfully, she managed the injury through a refined exercise program instead of giving up.
I appreciate the schools of thought that say: grit, resiliency and a growth mindset is paramount to achieving your goals.
Whilst I agree, if you do not have a convincing WHY, it is unlikely you will achieve success based on these principles alone.
Ask yourself the following questions before undertaking a goal or project to get clear on your primary motivation:
Why is this goal/project important to me?
What will it mean if I achieve this goal/project?
Will I be fulfilled if I achieve this goal/project?
In relation to the first question, when you have answered it, continue asking WHY until you reach an emotional point where you experience tears or are moved by your answer.
This process must be an emotional journey into yourself because you are trying to tap into the limbic brain.
Only then you will discover the real reason you are pursuing a specific goal or action.
After all, if you don’t understand the reason behind your motivation, what use is the goal to you when it is achieved?