Motivation can be hard to find.
But if you’re looking for inspiration and drive this article is for you.
This is nothing but facts: things I wish I’d been told in my teens and 20s when I was often out of work, dejected and feeling left behind by life.
STEP ONE: It’s up to you
Modern life hands us lots of excuses and reasons to believe that our “big break” will come and somebody will finally recognize us and give us the opportunity we deserve.
But it doesn’t work that way.
If you look at those who have achieved greatness, they were only handed opportunities because they worked like hell to get there.
Growing up with a single mom who did a heroic job in taking care of me while also working, I had a lot of sympathy and caring energy around me. Many were from the counterculture generation of the 1960s and also believed a lot in loving everybody and raising kids with a lot of compassion and gentleness.
This obviously has its good points, but it also left me feeling a lack of masculine and demanding influences…
Teachers and friends of my mom told me I was sensitive, smart and special.
They told me to take all the time I needed and dream big. They told me to move at my own pace and not worry about expectations or society.
In fact, many well-meaning mentors, coaches and relatives told me life was about being “happy.”
But what I never had much of was being challenged or held to strict, unmovable standards.
I began to experience loneliness and other challenges in life including bullying and depression.
But instead of using this as fuel for trying harder and finding my own path, I embraced self-pity and became angry at life.
I was sure life owed me and I wanted some person, place or ideology to come and rouse me from my lack of motivation.
As the band Good Charlotte sings in their 2000 single “The Motivation Proclamation”:
“Motivate me, I wanna get myself out of this bed
Captivate me, I want good thoughts inside of my head
If I fall down would you come around
And pick me right up off the ground?”
Sorry to break it to the good lads of Good Charlotte, but nobody’s coming to save you.
But here’s the thing: if you feel uninspired and unmotivated you need to drill this thought into your head completely and accept it as Gospel truth.
Because sooner or later this truth comes for us all and it will reassert itself over and over again in our lives no matter how easy we seem to have it or how many people are cheering us on:
Nobody else is going to do it for you.
STEP TWO: What do you want in life?
The next step after realizing that it’s up to you to set your goals, work hard and find your mission, is to decide what you truly want in life.
This is not about what others want of you, nor is it just about what brings you pleasure momentarily.
It’s about what feeds your soul, the work and activities that make you lose track of time and give of yourself without even thinking of it.
So, what do you want in life?
To answer this question you need to know the core values that are driving you.
Because it’s not so much about what you’re doing or your daily job and responsibilities as it is about why you do those.
We’re all different and we’re motivated by different core values.
I’ve found this free core values checklist extremely helpful in determining my own driving motivations in life.
Led by coach Jeanette Brown of Life Journal, the values exercise helps you find out what motivates you in life and why.
If you’re trying to decide what you want out of life, work and love then I highly recommend the free exercise.
STEP THREE: Make a plan, Stan
When you know what you want out of life, it’s now time to get down to brass tacks and make a plan.
My recommendation is to get an agenda book for the year with a page for each day. In other words, it will have 365 pages along with some additional pages at the beginning and end, or in between for more notes.
At the beginning in the introductory blank pages, write a one year-plan. Then write a five year plan.
The one year plan may include things like:
- Your monetary savings goal for the year
- Your relationship and personal goals
- Fitness and wellness goals
- Beliefs and mentalities you want to cultivate
- Travel or social opportunities you want to do
- Hobbies or activities you wish to learn or do
The five year plan is bigger picture and might include things like:
- Where you want to settle down
- Your housing and financial goals and budget
- What you want your living situation to be
- Any plans to have kids, marry or establish a long term relationship
- Bigger picture plans for finding your life philosophy, religion or spiritual path
- The most important people to you in your life who you want to make a focus on and care for
Feel free to adjust this one year and five year plan! It’s all about what you want and the rules are up to you.
The important thing is to have a longer and shorter-term plan.
STEP FOUR: Practice powerful daily habits
Speaking of a shorter-term plan, you want to get out that agenda and look at the 365 pages.
Write out a daily checklist that you do every day. When you don’t do it, make a penalty for yourself, such as losing something you usually like doing like watching a sports team or eating a favorite food.
Have an accountability partner you can check in with if necessary to keep you on the straight and narrow.
Your daily habits should be leading you towards your goal and should also include habits that are:
Keep one of the days as your rest day, and pencil the rest in.
You want to have a checklist for every single day. It will ease your anxiety and make you feel much more goal-oriented and determined.
You’re no longer just a free agent taking each day as it comes: you’ve got a plan.
STEP FIVE: Let failure feed you
As we go about our daily goals and lives, we’re all going to experience failure.
Some of that failure will be from things in our control, other incidences of that failure will be things out of our control such as illness, the actions of others towards us or accidents and misfortunes.
Failure comes in many forms, but even when it’s out of our control, we have a choice to use it.
Injustice, pain and frustration can cause many of us to fold in on ourselves, focus on our victimization or look for sympathy or a do-over.
But becoming a motivated and inspired adult is about learning to use failure as fuel.
Feel that burn in the gym, in your job, in accepting being alone when you’d really like a partner…
Feel yourself becoming stronger and more mature about your emotions as you accept that the hard times in your life are making you into a stronger and more empowered person…
Because at the end of the day, you often have no choice about some failures. But you do have a choice of what you use them for, whether it’s the pain of a broken relationship, a personal ailment or a business meltdown.
Let that failure move you forward and try even harder. Never take it personally or think that the universe is just conspiring against you, personally.
We all feel that way at times, but we’re in this together.
Speaking of using failure and hard times as your fuel, I encourage you to check out the work of a man named David Goggins.
If you haven’t heard of him, look him up…
STEP SIX: Take the Goggins pill
David Goggins is a retired Navy SEAL (Sea, Air, and Land Teams) member and an ultra marathon runner.
He’s also an author who rocked the world with his 2018 memoir Can’t Hurt Me and 2022 follow-up Never Finished.
Goggins talks about his hard childhood growing up, including being born to a brutally abusive dad, a racist society and low expectations.
It wasn’t until his mom fled and took him to live with his grandfather Sergeant Jack that Goggins discovered what would save his life: discipline.
Instead of pity and finding what made him “happy” or being given sympathy, Goggins was given a lot of hard work and no excuses. The result eventually molded him into the man he became and is a lesson for all of us.
But Goggins’ most powerful image, for me, comes from his first book Can’t Hurt Me.
He says that what tore him up inside during times in life when he wanted to give up was imagining he was dead and being judged by God almighty.
Whether or not you believe in a deity, bear with it for the sake of a metaphor.
The Creator shows Goggins a page. On that page is everything he could have done and all the accomplishments, contributions and greatness he could have achieved in helping others and himself.
When asking himself “why bother?” Goggins thinks of that page. He thinks of all he could be.
Then he ditches the excuses and the self-pity and the inner victim and does his damned best to accomplish his goals, including helping others find motivation.
If you need motivation, imagine a list of the ideal you and what you can do today to start getting there.
STEP SEVEN: Give more than you take
One of my favorite films is the 2003 movie Monsieur Ibrahim directed by François Dupeyron.
The film stars Omar Sharif as a kindly old Muslim man who takes a wayward young Jewish teen under his wing in Paris and mentors him.
“What you give, Momo, is yours forever,” Ibrahim tells the young man. “What you keep is lost for all time.”
What he means is that when you keep something, only you get to enjoy it.
But when you voluntarily give something (love, teaching, encouragement, time, food, assistance) it lasts forever in the impact you make and the chain of causation that it sets in motion.
Your help toward one person might end up indirectly impacting their own great-grandchild or somebody a hundred years for now.
And even if it doesn’t, much of our assistance to others brings a feeling of deep purpose and inner peace.
The truth is that trying too hard to find your own fulfillment and your own happiness can make you very miserable.
Instead, we most often find our true purpose and motivation in relation to others.
Of course we must look after our own needs, too, and codependence or living for the sake of others is (in my view) a very bad idea.
But pursuing your own goals while finding ways for them to also contribute to the lives of others is a commendable and very worthwhile endeavor.
As you strive to hit your own goals and be a net plus to those around you, don’t worry about being a “good” person or perfect.
Focus on your actions and what you do every day. Focus on getting a bit better and more disciplined every day.
None of us will ever be perfect, but if you keep trying and don’t give up you will be among the winners who’s life amounts to something and who feel that glow of satisfaction that many seldom attain.
And once again, do check out the free core values checklist from Jeanette Brown of Life Journal.
When you know what’s driving you in life then you can put together goals that will truly motivate you and keep you going even through the hard times.
Best of success out there, and don’t forget that even failure is just a lesson and fuel for the next victory.