Seeking the True Source of Your Motivation

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The idea of a lifetime? motivation

“This is what I’ll do for the rest of my life!”

I’ve exclaimed the above to my husband on more than one occasion, my eyes brimming with fire, my fingertips tingling with motivation.

“For now,” he chuckles, a gentle and fair response. He knows better than anyone how many of my ideas have simply died out, how many books I own on topics I thought I’d become an expert in but never opened, how many dreams never made it past the incubation stage to manifestation.

You should see me when I get a new creative venture or project in my mind. I nearly burst at the seams with enthusiasm. I am an entrepreneur by nature, having built and run several businesses over the last couple of decades—a traveling yoga business, a yoga center, a healing practice, and most recently, a publishing company.

Once I have a company up and running, then my ideas become how to branch out from my original concept.

When I get fired up like this, I often leap first and look later. I start buying the books, researching the requirements, and asking trusted friends. I begin to imagine a long romance where I’ve nurtured a seed of an idea into a bud that finally bloomed into something extraordinary.

And then sometimes, before the project really gets off the ground, I suddenly lose the motivation to keep it going. Other times, it’s more of a gradual falling out of love. One way or another, I often lose the will or ability to sustain the fire that sources my motivation.

I’ve been through these birth-death cycles enough times to be (a bit) wiser about my approach to new ideas. I might still buy all the books and sign up for courses — but there’s a voice inside me that says, “Hold up a minute. Before you go any further, let’s see where your motivation is coming from.”

Motivation

“The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.”

Think about motivation as the fire that lights up our idea, or the kiln that fires our clay. We need enough fire to sustain us over the long-term, but it has to be a Goldilocks-just-right kind of fire—not too hot, not too cold, not too smoky, not too wet, etc.

Here are some possibilities as to what might be sourcing our fire of motivation. Consider each one and its motivational power in your project.

Ambition

“A strong desire to do or achieve something.”

“An ardent desire for rank, fame, or power.”

I was a runner in my teens, and I knew very well the descriptor “ambitious” was a powerful one. I loved being perceived as ambitious. It lifted my spirits and pride when people called me this.

But, I kept breaking out in hives—my body was literally on fire—both before and after races. I “hit the wall”—a runner’s description for suddenly feeling unable to move, as if we’ve run into a wall. My ambition was fiery and out of my control. It was not sustainable.

These early lessons have served as a metaphor my entire life. Am I burning myself up with ambition? Is my ambition so blind that I keep running into walls?

A few years ago, I found a new definition of ambition, which more closely defined what it acted and felt like in my body. This quote is from Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, by David Whyte.

“Ambition is a word that lacks any real ambition, ambition is frozen desire, the current of a vocational life immobilized and over-concretized to set, unforgiving goals.”

The fire of ambition is simply too hot, too dangerous, and it burns everything around us.

Productivity

“The state or quality of producing something, especially crops.”

Busy, busy, busy. This motivation has little to do with the idea itself and more to do with being perceived as productive by others and ourselves. There’s no space or time for imagining or dreaming. We’ve closed the door to possibility. We don’t value the fruits of silence, space, or stillness. Our only goal is to produce—and production for production’s sake always squeezes out creativity and eventually snuffs motivation.

This fire might seem stable while we’re feeding it log after log, task after task—but at some point, the fire will choke beneath the weight. Too much wood, not enough fuel. While we, of course, collapse in a heap of exhaustion.

Identity & Status

“The fact of being who or what a person or thing is.”

Motivation for a title, label, or some other role has a way of eventually acting as a candle snuffer.

When I was teaching yoga out of rented spaces, I was motivated by my students’ presence, growing friendships, and mutual love of yoga. Once I translated this spark into a brick-and-mortar yoga center, the fire, and subsequently my love of yoga, slowly died out. It turns out that what fueled me were the connections I was making teaching yoga, not the business of yoga.

Obligation

“An act or course of action to which a person is morally or legally bound; a duty or commitment.”

We can’t forget about this particular type of motivation, can we? Is our fire burning because this is something we feel we ought to do? Does the word “should” come into the reasoning? If so, this kind of motivation will not sustain us for long. Logs of obligation are wet and heavy and don’t burn cleanly.

I’ve stayed with businesses and ideas longer than I should have because I felt obligated—usually due to money or time invested. But that money and time are long gone and can never be refunded anyway. Better to leave before the flame that was once nurturing becomes bitter.

Other People’s Expectations

“A belief that someone will or should achieve something.”

A bit like obligation, but perhaps with some pride mixed in, or family dreams, or what our friends tell us we should do or be. This fire is confusing and complicated. It is never sustainable to be working from other people’s expectations. When we need to continually get logs (energy) from others to sustain our fire, we’re not building one by and for ourselves. At some point, this simply can’t go on.

Our friends and family mean well, but they cannot truly know our hearts. Our grades and talents may lie naturally in one direction, but that doesn’t mean that is what we must become.

In choosing where to place our energy each day, our fire should be built from a place much stronger, longer-lasting, and purer than any of the above sources.

Passion

“An intense desire or enthusiasm for something.”

Passion is a fire that burns from within. Unlike some other motivations, passion is sourced from our soul, and it creates a steady, glowing fire that feeds itself. True passion is not cloudy, wet, or heavy. We do not need to gather logs from others’ praise and encouragement. The fire lives and burns within us. It is the purest, truest, and most authentic fire.

“Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.”

~ John Wesley

Know From Where Your Fire Burns

Human motivation will always be sourced from some combination of the above ingredients. A fire built entirely from passion is not humanly possible — after all, we are human beings and nothing is ever so simple.

The key is to understand the combination of what’s feeding us and, if we find that it is heavily weighted with passion, know that our motivational fire will likely last us a long time and bring much joy, light, friendships, and warmth to our lives.

In the future, I will still get ridiculously excited when new ideas come my way. I’ll probably still buy all the books and sign up for all the courses. I’m not asking my essential nature to change—I am an idea-creator in my soul. But, I’ve built enough fires and watched enough them die out to pause and ask myself: “What is the true source of my motivation for this project?”

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