What Makes Motivation?

Whenever we want to accomplish something meaningful, paying effort is inevitably required. This effort is initiated by motivation — something most people struggle to attain.

Sometimes, after hearing stories of the most accomplished people, a surge of mysterious ambition bursts with us — we become immense motivated.

At that moment, we may think about what we can accomplish and we may become. A strong driving force initiates our effort, hence we can begin the most ambitious goals of us. Distractions and criticism do not affect us, because we know what we are doing is valuable, it leads to the life you want to live.

Temporarily, we become mentally immortal.

It would be wonderful if this mental state can be more sustainable — the immense motivation shrinks in a matter of days, or even hours. We are back to our original form. No ambitious goals, no relentless effort.

Is it possible to make motivation controllable? Of course, many self-driven people are hungry to realize their dream — athletes are an obvious example: world-class athletes train in whatever circumstances; whether their physical condition is perfect or not, they are always mentally prepared. No one is there to remind them, they motivate themselves.

But why — why can they motivate themselves while most of us cannot? What causes motivation?

First of all, our mentality when being motivated is unequivocally different from that when we are unmotivated. This is important in finding what causes motivation.

When we are motivated, we focus on the positive side — how do we succeed, not how do we fail. Even if failure comes across our mind when motivated, the word we think of immediately is ‘but’, a word that signals a shift in attitude. ‘Yes, I may fail, but I am going to succeed.’

From a logical viewpoint, this may sound a little bit irrational, but the ultimate message is that ‘I know it is possible to fail, but it worths the risk.’ Our brain thinks it is worthwhile to spend time and effort to do something, hence we become motivated.

On the other hand, we think negatively when we are unmotivated. We focus on how things may develop against our will. Like how substantial effort of us will result in nothing, how we will be criticized, how no one cares about us. We don’t want to act because we don’t think it is likely to produce a positive outcome.

Mindsets like ‘it won’t make a difference anyway’ or ‘it is a waste of time’ are detrimental to motivation, and hence our progress. But they are quite logical — our brain doesn’t want us to waste our energy for no reason, therefore, if our effort doesn’t transform into something beneficial, our brain won’t encourage us.

When we are motivated, we think what we do will cause something desirable to happen. While normally, we may consider our effort meaningless or even excessive. It is all about the perception of control — do we really have control over our lives?

In fancier words, motivation is all about the locus of control. People who have an external locus of control believe their life is greatly influenced by circumstances; while people who have an internal locus of control believe they are the ones in control. This mentality is essential for one to get motivated.

So what makes an internal locus of control? Why do some people believe they are the masters of themselves while others do not? In fact, we are all born with a sense of self-control, but it wears down as we grow up.

In our childhood, what our parents do affects our life considerably; our actions do not lead to a positive outcome unless they are approved by elders. After a long time of seeing how our effort to seek changes fails, we forget our control over life.

As the locus of control moves to the exterior, we form a habit of complaining —we blame the tides for crushing our boat but not ourselves for sailing on a broken ship. The circumstances may not be favorable, but there is something you can do after all.

We may forget this because we do not see an immediate reward for doing something; it takes time for fruits to grow, you can’t complain how you have planted the seeds and they don’t grow. An illusion of effort being unable to affect our lives is formed, consciously or subconsciously.

The moment our locus of control migrates outside, the moment our motivation defunct.

What can we do to relocate the locus of control — how to regain control over our lives?

The locus control can be relocated through practice — by exerting control on things around us. When we become aware that we can affect the outcome by choosing what we do, our sense of control revives.

Rather than merely pressurizing ourselves to work, we should make this a choice — we can choose to cheat ourselves and laid back, or tie our shoes and move closer to a position we want.

Or we may choose how to spend our time, by demanding ourselves to finish certain tasks within a specified time interval: an hour, three hours, a day, a week, or a month. It makes us feel that we are in a way we want, we are the ones in the driver seat.

(This idea of demanding oneself to work on pre-determined tasks in a specified time interval can be referred to as task-table. For detailed introduction of task-table: https://damell.medium.com/an-alternative-to-the-timetable-tasktable-892fe8b673a2)

Even making minor choices like what to eat for dinner helps awaken our internal locus of control. As the habit of choosing and doing things we desire forms, we can act according to our deepest will without drifting away

When we recognize and exercise our control, we realize that the things we do are influential on our lives. Therefore, our minds will no longer consider our effort pointless — we become motivated.

Taking control breeds a sense of control — and that unlocks energy from us. This may be a reason why athletes may look at their fist or do other poses after making a good play, it gives them a sense of ‘I did it, let’s keep it up’

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