Do you have the motivation to do the things you need to do in your life? Is work fun or obligatory? What would you do if you could do anything- with no need for a paycheck and no obligations?
For many people, that dream is retirement, when they can do whatever they want all day long. I don’t have those dreams. I like work. I am usually a working machine, and I can get lost in work for hours on end. I thrive when I am doing good work, and good, productive work makes me happy. I am up early, eager to grab a cup of coffee and start my day. Motivation is my middle name. I secretly think I will never retire.
Lately, I have been feeling unmotivated. So, I have to ask myself, what’s up? I am fortunate to have many of the things that make for successful work. I am my own boss, get to choose my projects, and have the autonomy to work when and where I want. I’ve purposefully built my work life to involve the things I like to do and that use my strengths.
I’ve been traveling for three of the last four weekends and had several day trips in between. All of those trips were good, but it put me behind. Perhaps I just need to catch up. Or perhaps, there is something more. Maybe I am ill, or even more frightening, maybe I have been wrong about the work I am pursuing and the goals that I have set.
I’ve studied motivation extensively and I’ve taught classes in motivation. I know that deep down, motivation is internal. The best motivation is when you are called, or personally driven to do something. That kind of motivation can’t be bought or achieved through coercion or rewards. I don’t expect my motivation to come from others, I know that it is an inside job.
One of my favorite books of all time is Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He coined the term flow to describe the highest, most satisfying experiences of people’s lives. When you are in flow, you have autonomy. You work with clear goals and with work that is slightly challenging but well matched to your abilities. In flow, you have a deep sense of engagement in work that is purposeful and personally meaningful.
I know flow. I love the feeling of being lost in my work, looking up to find that I missed lunch and it is almost dinner time. It is a state I can easily find myself in, and one that I crave. It has been missing.
After three weeks of being with family and friends, enjoying vacation time with lots of great conversation, I finally had time to spend a couple of quiet hours alone. I had been skipping my morning routine of reading and planning in order to catch up on the work I had missed.
I normally spend a couple of quiet hours by myself early in the morning. I drink coffee and read. It gives me time to think, to reconnect to my purpose. Quiet time alone is when I plan for and visualize my future. When I read, I reengage with the big ideas that drive me, pulling me forward and lighting my motivation.
And there it was.
I was disconnected with the source of my motivation. I have been feeling drained, and I realized that I get energy when I interact with ideas, with great minds, and with people who inspire me. I need that time to dream and to plan. I need that time to reconnect with my vision and to reaffirm my purpose.
Where do you find your energy and your motivation? It is different for different people. My husband needs to connect with nature, whether it is kicking around the backyard or watching the moon. Last night he suggested a walk to the beach. We haven’t had time for that lately, and I realized how much he missed it. It was chilly, and we met a woman who was building a bonfire. She commented, out of the blue, that her life had been hectic lately and she needed to stare into a fire to calm down and take time to reflect.
Maybe you connect to your inner purpose and motivation through prayer, music, or exercise. Perhaps it comes through cooking, or through helping others. Maybe you get inner peace and find your bliss in the mountains, or while puttering around the house. It doesn’t matter, where your get your internal fuel, but it desperately matters that you get it.
If you are feeling unmotivated in your life, go to what lights you up. Spend time in activities that energize and inspire you. Reconnect with what matters and what is meaningful to you. If you can find a way to connect those things with your work, all the better.
Maybe it seems silly, and a little self-indulgent to spend time on our little passion projects while there are bills to be paid and obligations to fulfill. Loving your life, doing what is purposeful and meaningful, and finding the internal motivation to live the life you want to be living isn’t silly.
It’s the definition of happiness.
What helps you to find your inner motivation? I’d love to hear your ideas.
Csiszentmihalyi, M. 1990. Flow: The psychology of optimal experiences. New York: HarperPerennial.