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Motivation and Leadership, Part 2

By Randy Hall

Last week I wrote about the ways that we can motivate ourselves consistently and I covered two of the components that are needed for human motivation, “want to” and “know how”.  If you haven’t read that post, you can read it here.

This week I want to cover the third of four components of human motivation.  When we can consistently execute a process to motivate ourselves, we can spend longer periods of time at our best as a leader.

Life is going to happen in waves and cycles, everything does.  And there will be times that we simply aren’t at our best for ourselves or others.  What we are doing here is practicing a set of steps that, if we get better at taking them, will ensure that we spend more time in our most effective place.  If we are leading others, that time gets multiplied because when we are at our best, we also help other people work toward being their best.  Self-leadership is a critical part of leadership.

The third component of human motivation is believing you can.

No matter how much you want something, or even how much you understand the steps it would take to achieve that thing, if you do not believe it’s possible for you to have or become, then you will not trigger the connections in your brain that cause you to move toward it. If you want to run a marathon or climb a mountain, or even just be more organized or be more patient, and you fall into the trap of “yeah but that’s just not me,” or “I would never be able to do that” then there is no motivation to try. 

This is where our brain gets in our way.  It will often, it feels like always, engage in oppositional thinking when we consider a new path or activity or direction.  Some researchers believe that this is the brain trying to keep us safe and alive.  If, as we evolved, we thought “hey, maybe I can fly off this cliff,” or “maybe I can fight that tiger and win” we usually did not get to pass our genetics on.  From the brain’s perspective, doing new things could be dangerous because they have not been proven safe for us yet and the brain isn’t trying to help us be more successful most of the time, it’s just trying to keep us alive.  So self-preservation is its priority, not success. 

We have to know that oppositional thinking is GOING to happen, and we must be ready for it.  We do that by having a plan for it when it shows up.  We can prepare thoughts like “Well, I don’t have to climb the whole mountain yet, but would a little steep hike be possible?”  Or “I know I’m not historically a patient person but is there one thing I could do that might help?”  We simply write down questions ahead of time that help us work past oppositional thinking.  We aren’t trying to compete with it. Let it have its say, but we can still redirect to a smaller and safer start to the new path we are trying to take. As we work through the initial steps of any new path, the brain realizes that it’s not going to kill us and begins to deem it safe for us to try.  The anxiety drops, the fear fades and the reality that this is just a set of new things that I can actually do starts to take its place.

The other thing that is really helpful here is to look at examples of other people who have achieved the things we want.  When we can identify others similar to us, who can do things, it starts to break down that wall of reasons why we can’t.  Maybe we can’t dunk a basketball or win an Olympic gold in swimming because those things do require some genetic advantages maybe.  But we can make improvements in patience, organization, planning, coaching, leading others, influence, communication, and even self-motivation without some set of gifts. And we can find examples of people that make those kinds of improvements all around us.  Even if we want to lose weight, or eat better, or get in shape, or save more money, we can find examples of ordinary people doing those things every day.  And looking for those examples, researching or consciously thinking about them, can also help quiet that “I can’t” or “that’s not me” voice. 

It’s important here to also understand the power of belief.  When we actually believe we can move in a new direction it can be a tremendous boost to motivation because the “I can’t” signals start to slow down for us and the “here’s what I can do next” signals start to emerge.  While the brain doesn’t like to let us take too many risks, once we get it pointed in a direction that feels safe and better for us, it is a powerful motivation machine that can solve problems along the way and keep us moving in the right direction.  We just have to set it up for success with these tools.

Belief is important and we don’t have to just wish we had it or wish we thought that way about ourselves.  We can do things that help us begin to believe we can move forward in almost any direction we choose.  Start small, anyone can take the first step, plan for oppositional thinking and be ready for it, and find examples of others who pursued the path we are considering.  This way we can harness the power of believing we can and take one more critical step toward the motivation we need to accomplish almost anything.  Including becoming the kind of leader that can change the future for yourself and others.

In our next blog post we will complete our series on motivation and cover the final component of human motivation. See you there.

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