Beyond Motivation:
Getting to What Really Drives You

image of carrot dangled as motivation

What drives you to write?

To earn some green-backs and keep the wolves from the door? To earn praise? Create a community?

Or maybe you’re convinced your story will help someone else? Or that you can help other people find important information?

Are you compelled to write because you’ll settle for nothing less than changing the world?

You know how to get to Carnegie Hall, right?

Motivation, man, motivation.

Okay, so I mangled the old joke, but the point remains — you won’t get far unless you’re motivated.

Just any old motivation won’t do either – it has to be the right motivation and you have to be honest about what it is.

If you’re writing to build a business, but your real motivation is attention and validation from peers, you’re going to go off the rails.

Dan Pink, author of the terrific new book Drive, says that real, self-directed motivation is based on three things — autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

When we’re motivated, we achieve all of these things. So why do we think it’s so normal to be unmotivated?

Lack of motivation isn’t normal

Notice when you’re not motivated.

Don’t get used to it and teach yourself that it’s normal. It isn’t.

When your motivation starts to slip, you need to address it immediately. It’s telling you something is wrong with the way you’re thinking about your work.

Maybe you don’t feel like you have autonomy any more. Or that you’re not growing as a writer. Or that your work no longer has purpose.

Let it slide and your declining motivation will strip your confidence until you forget why you ever wanted to write in the first place.

How do you fix motivation that’s starting to slip?

If you’re unmotivated, start by looking back to Pink’s three factors:

1. Give yourself more autonomy

When you’re able to have a say over what you write, how you write it, and when you write it, your work becomes a task you can tackle with creativity and a greater sense of ease.

That may mean you need to make room to work on your own projects, rather than spending all of your time on other people’s deadlines. Or it may just mean that you need to be more conscious of what kind of clients you’re working to attract.

2. Increase your sense of mastery

If you’re able to increase your skills and capability as a result of your writing, then you’re really onto a winner. You get something done and you get better in the process.

Work on your craft. Get passionate about the fine points of whatever kind of writing you do. Push yourself to get better every day.

3. Expand your sense of purpose

If your work means something to you, it feels right, like you’re making a real contribution.

Know that what you do is important. Know how it benefits your clients. Work on projects that support your values, rather than conflicting with them.

But . . . motivation isn’t everything

It’s nice to read about drive and passion. That message is everywhere. And while it might end up making you feel lovely inside, it doesn’t offer you any insight as to why passion and motivation aren’t enough.

See, what Dan Pink didn’t mention is that while congruent motivation and the ability to course-correct are essential parts of success, no amount of motivation can be enough without a supporting belief.

As Bruce Lee once said, water adapts to any container. In other words, your life shapes itself and adapts to the barriers you’ve set. It doesn’t matter if you pour 20,000 gallons or a glass of water into an empty swimming pool, the water is constrained by the dimensions of the pool.

How big is your swimming pool?

You could have all the motivation in the world to build your business, but if you have a belief that says you “can’t” or that you’re “not good enough,” then guess what?

You’ve just built a wall that stops that motivation in its tracks, or at the very least turns it into one hell of a struggle.

Your beliefs about your writing and your ability to build a meaningful business act like the circuit-breaker in your home, shutting down the power when there’s a perceived risk.

But here’s the thing — you don’t need protecting. Those beliefs that limit you and keep you “safe” in your comfort zone aren’t necessary.

If you were a house, you’d be one that can grow and move. You’d be a house that can add, remove, and re-order rooms as it needs to. You’d be a house that can rewire itself on the fly. You’d be a house that can repair itself and strengthen itself. You’d be a sentient house with arms and legs and hair and . . . okay, the house metaphor’s gone too far.

Here’s what it boils down to:

You’re more than a match for any challenge

Your capability is bigger than any problem your business can throw at you. You are designed to take on meaningful challenges and learn what’s necessary to succeed.

You’re great at stuff. Really, you are. But you won’t be able to do any of it until you reset the boundaries of your beliefs so that they allow your motivation to flow where it needs.

Build a pool with no boundaries and what you’ve got is an ocean for your motivation to swim in.

About the Author: As a leading confidence coach with clients around the world, Steve Errey has a reputation for talking sense and getting results. Get more from him at The Confidence Guy.

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  1. Hey Steve,

    I like #2, become good at a skill to increase sense of mastery. This is crucial because when starting out internet marketing everything is so foreign. But when you just focus on one task it could be copywriting and you start working it. Wow…you feel the accomplishment and proud.

    Thanks for sharing this information…
    Josh

  2. What motivates me and keeps me going is the idea that I can do this for a living eventually. I’m working on my first novel while I’m not teaching over the summer, and I know that the time spent treating that project like a job will pay dividends in the future. And so will refining my blogging–by both potentially leading to paid blogging positions (a dream of mine) but also helping build the beginnings of a platform on which I can promote my novel and other fiction as it becomes polished enough to present and publish.

    The motivation comes very much from the idea that I have a goal–a distinct and realistic goal–set for myself and that I am not merely doing this “for fun” or “to pass the time.”

    That makes all the difference in the world for me.

  3. Putting my own projects first makes a major difference in my motivation. If I spend time working on what I call “the projects of my heart,” first thing in the day, I find it far easier to stay motivated all day along. I love the pool with no boundaries concept!

  4. “What drives you to write?”

    The voice in my head telling me I can’t.
    The muse telling me I can.
    And the other voice saying I can do it better than the next guy.

  5. What really jumped out for me was: ‘How big is your pool’

    Thank you for sharing…

  6. Wow. This is very motivating and inspirational.

    I’ve always thought of motivation as a line graph, with its up and down. Therefore, I was focused on ways to bring up my motivation through quotes, posters, and role models.

    Thanks for allowing me to see motivation in a new light. I will definitely be expanding my swimming pool.

  7. Why do I write? Because I have to. What the hell else am I going to do with all these words in my head.

  8. Hey Steve,

    What can I say about this post? It’s really superb and inspiring. I never expect that you will told that ‘lack of motivation isn’t normal’.

    I do agree that all of us has been teach that lack of motivation is normal and we should let it be for some moment until the motivation comes back. But now I realize that, they will never came back unless we took it ourselves.

    I would love to share this empowering story to those my friends. And of course, to myself. Thanks a lot Steve. May god bless you.

    To your success!

  9. Steve,
    Thank you for this great message. I read Dan Pink’s book and loved it but knew something else was missing for me. You filled in the blank. The reason I’ve been stuck and unmotivated is because I’m thinking way too little of myself and my abilities. I’m gluing your last three paragraphs to my forehead til it sinks through my skull. Thanks so much for the insight and encouragement!

  10. Also know in #2 there is simplcity in mastery.

  11. Bruce Lee… he was the man! Another one of his sayings that I enjoy is, “Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do.”

    My motivation comes from understanding the positive change that can come into people’s lives. I have to say though that understanding how to build a bigger pool when you’ve always had a smaller one isn’t always easy. May I recommend writing down the doubts and fears that you have, the things holding you back. Write why they’re holding you back, and then below that, write how you really feel, deep down. Seeing those two side by side helps you understand that just because you’ve always thought that way, doesn’t mean it’s the right way. Break free. Live free.

  12. Excellent Steve,

    You could have substituted ‘writer’ in this piece with any other pursuit and it resonates equally well. Exceptional.

  13. Barbara Plotkin :

    Steve, I didn’t look at who wrote the post before I started reading it. I just read it and nodded my head and said yes a couple thousand times and then saw that you were the author. No surprise! You constantly amaze me with your insightful look at the world and how we can help ourselves achieve our purpose in life. Thanks for a terrific post!

  14. Steve, every word is true. Motivation that springs from your beliefs is the true motivation that will get the things done. I guess if we are aware of our beliefs, and find out what beliefs need to be worked on, everything will fall into place once your beliefs get right.

  15. “Lack of motivation isn’t normal”

    Wow, I love that. This helps me to not accept lack of motivation as OK.

  16. I like the idea of increasing mastery to increase motivation as well. That’s why I keep on going back to university, reading books, reading blogs, talking to mentors, etc.
    Great article!

  17. What a great quote from Bruce Lee! I’m totally using that in a blog post next week. I’m often thinking about motivation and limitations…mostly because I blog about overcoming writing procrastination, but also on a personal level. I am always questioning what drives me and what my motivation is behind the choices I make. I think keeping on top of my reasoning like that helps me make better choices overall.

  18. @Hashim and others, that “lack of motivation is not normal” was striking to me too. So simple, but really important. Thanks Steve!

  19. Our greatest motivators are 1) seeing progress (as determined by a HBR study) and 2) fear.

    This really isn’t arguable, either. So scare the shit out of yourself today!

  20. Love the post. Needed a boost today and you managed it quite nicely. Had to chuckle at the house metaphor, though, because I kept thinking of Stephen King’s Rose Red (one of my favorite mini-series). Thanks for the confidence boost. I’ll be sending readers your way.

  21. Steve,
    Something I started doing is using my phone when an idea hits me. I simply call my Google VM account and start talking. Because the serivce transcribes my VM I already have a rough draft ready to workout when I get the chance to sit down and actually flesh it out. It’s working like a charm so far.

  22. I love the angle that you’ve approached here. You are right motivation isn’t everything. Thanks for sharing!!

  23. I really need to sit down and read Drive.

    Sometimes I tend to want to validate myself and what I’m doing. My husband’s used to it :) I’m signed up for your email on confidence–I’m hoping to increase my confidence so I can DO instead of just sitting back and watching everyone else!

  24. Motivation is one of those interesting subjects which everyone seems to understand the concept but never the implementation.

    How many times have you been told just to “do it”. What real purpose does this have? It’s like saying, “well, if I were you I could”, it’s counter intuitive.

    This article touched on the points which are the real key to motivational drive (no pun, etc etc).

    It comes down to setting aside time for yourself, your own projects. We live in a society which rewards integrating as if you were a machine – pull level, produce widget, get paid, retire.

    If you don’t take the time to work on your own projects, why do you work so hard in the first place? Isn’t it so you can have time to do so?

    My suggestion is to take a day, just for you. This isn’t being selfish, it’s being reasonable. We’re all connected 24 hours a day, we can’t leave our homes without direct contact.

    Think Walden.

    As touched on in #2, learning something new is a fantastic way to inspire and motivate you to try something new.

    But here’s a tip: find one thing and STICK with it.

    How many times do you check your RSS reader or a list of blogs, read through amazing tutorials and thought to yourself “yeah, I’d love to do that!” – but you never do.

    The problem is information overload and it’s killing your motivation.

    I once heard “information overload leads to pattern recognition” – this quote was from an interview during the 60’s!

    We all get caught up with a nonstop barrage of seeing amazing things people accomplish on the net but forget to consider it may have taken years to do so. Take blogging for example, so many of us jump into blogging because we see the success of others but forget to realize it’s taken years (and strokes of luck) for the results.

    Dedicate yourself to one task, only one. Keep with it and you’ll eventually find the motivation to continue. Learn something new, this will give you the kick in the arse to get up and do something.

    Finally, #3.

    Each and everyone of you are special and unique – regardless of what others may tell you. We’re too brainwashed to understand that there is art inside each and every one of us, it’s just waiting to get out.

    The nonstop, soul crushing society we live in wants to take this away from us but you’re not going to let it. No, you’re going to do something great, each and ever day.

    You do have purpose, you do have an amazing character so stop hiding from yourself and others and just show it. We’re not going to judge you, we’ll applaud you!

    Make the world your pool. Gaze upon it with great esteem and realize it’s your domain.

    (Disclaimer: this comment may have been a little long)

  25. What a great and timely post. I needed to be told this as my motivation has been slipping and now I have a little better understanding why that is so.
    Now to work on building that pool without walls and let my creativity soar.
    Thanks.

  26. @Josh: Agreed, but you gotta watch out for the things you do that don’t give room for the other two or that isn’t supported by a belief. Practice will always be an empty struggle without those.

    @Prof Beej: Love it. You have a framework for what you want, and that will help no end. Sometimes these things are a long game though, so be ready to keep on tuning things so that they work for you and so that you don’t get demotivated or so that your belief doesn’t get diminished.

    @Jean: That’s autonomy – being able to make choices about what you do, how you do it and whn you do it. Makes a huge difference doesn’t it?

    @Shane: Awesome, just listen to those last 2 voices and you’ll be just fine :)

    @Athenee: You don’t know how many times I rewrote that whole section!

    @Jon: Thank you. Sure, it does go up and down, the trick is to notice when it’s down and look to do something about it.

    @TFM: Go to it!

    @Aqif: Thanks so much. Really appreciate your comment.

    @jujahju: Exactly! Your beliefs that tell you you’re not good enough will always get in the way of any motivation and create “stuckness”. Let me know how you get on.

    @Darren: Yep, the more mastery you have the simpler and more graceful your actions become. Good point.

    @Chris: Who’d have thought Bruce was so clever?! A good exercise for helping to get clarity – thanks.

    @Dan: Absolutely – it’s universal.

    @Barbara: Hey Barbara :) Thanks for the amazing feedback, keep in touch.

    @Khush: Those beliefs either help or hinder, so yes, getting those aligned with what matters is vital.

    @Hashim: I have no evidence to back things up, other than the fact that human beings are at their best when motivated in a way that matters and is supported by a strong belief.

    @Kathleen: Thanks – seeing that progress is a great feedback mechanism, for sure.

    @Jennifer: Love it, thanks for reading :)

    @Sonia: You’re very welcome hun!

    @Ross: I’m not sure about fear being a motivator, or at least a motivator that contriutes towards an endeavour that’s beyond survival. Sure, if I’m being chased by a tiger I’ll be motivated to get away from the damn thing as soon as I can, but that fear is about survival and being safe – and that’s a motivator that can really limit.

    @Virginia: I had fun with the house metaphor and still have a picture in my head of this big house with limbs and hair, stomping around booming “HOUSE HUNGRY!”

    @Brian: Love it, that’s an awesome service. Thanks for letting me know about it.

    @Jarrod: You’re welcome :)

    @Kari: It’s a great read, but the more I read the more I realised there was something important missing. Let me know how you get on.

    @Murlu: A little long, yes, but a good one! There are a lot of misconceptions and assumptions about motivation that Dan Pink addresses, but I really wanted to point out how important it is to have confidence and trust in that motivation, otherwise it’s for nothing. “Make the world your pool” – thanks for a thoughtful comment.

    @Joe: I think it’s okay to have your motivation slip sometimes, if that’s a way for you to figure out what’s next, what matters and how to re-engage.

  27. Write copy to earn a salary (plus it’s an enjoyable way of earning money ..).
    Write in free time because it’s a good way of disentangling thoughts and relaxing. Also, because it can be inspirational, involves a certain amount of self-discipline, and it can help kick-in a creative frame-of-mind which is good, of course, for work and things in general.

  28. Great article. Poignant and persuasive. As one who has taken up the cause to write and to share my thoughts with a larger audience it is important to know the real motivations behind my desire to write. Thanks for this article. Love the analogy of the swimming pool…

  29. I drive from impact and results, but I seriously like your frame of autonomy, purpose, and mastery.

    I’m a fan of mastering my craft, and flexing my super skill — giving my best where I have my best to give.

  30. Usually, I just write when I have a great idea for a topic. It’s one of those beautiful moments where I think this is such a brilliant idea. Sometimes I’ll specifically sit there waiting for the idea to come. Other times it just happens.

  31. I found this article inspiring. I have started blanking out time in my diary, whole days, when I refuse to be interrupted, I leave the answer phone on and ignore knocks at my door.
    I know I need more self belief. Writing is a lonely place at times.
    As a new blogger I need to dare to leave the paddling pool and learn to swim…

  32. Great article and a good read for anyone who has hit a wall. I like your circuit breaker analogy a lot. It helps explain why so many people with good ideas shy away from execution.

  33. Superb article Steve.

    I like your metaphors. It helps me to understand better. Be motivated create a positive energy that helps you to keep committed to your work.

    You inspired me Steve. Thanks

  34. Hi guys,

    Motivation is the key to your success. Because without it you will fail. Great Blog. Thanks for sharing.

    Kind regards,

    Sam
    X

  35. What a wonderful Bruce Lee quote! I love your development of the idea into a pool with no boundaries.

    I agree that its crucial to pay attention to our motivation level–I’m a big believer in gut feelings. Often our gut, or in this case motivation, will register long before our brain does that we are not happy with a certain situation. In order to achieve success, we have to listen and acknowledge this and actively work to get ourselves back on track.

  36. Expand your sense of purpose. I think this is a big one. It’s not just making money. Usually the people that are just out to make money and don’t have a passion for what they do are short lived.

  37. @Ed: Sounds like you’ve got it sorted. But what if you had a belief that said you’re not good enough to get paid for it? What if you had a belief that said writing needs to be a struggle? You’d have a tiny pool and your experience would be oh so different. Good for you :)

    @Mark: You’re welcome, thanks.

    @J.D. Meier: That’s Dan Pink’s framework (can’t take responsibility for that), I was just adding my two-penneth ;)

    @Tyler: Love it when those ideas emerge. But what are your beliefs about the process you engage with? Do they help or hinder your motivation to write?

    @Linda: That’s a great thing to do, for any meaningful pursuit. Just watch out for those areas where you confine yourself and your motivation articificially, then make a deliberate choice about what to do.

    @Steve: The circuit breaker analogy occurred to me after reading The Talent Code. I got Daniel Coyle’s feedback and am working on an article on that very subject.

    @Shaz: You’re welcome, keep on trucking. (Did I really just say that?)

    @Samantha: Motivation yes, but as I say in the article, motivation is worth nothing without a belief that supports it. Otherwise you’ll always struggle.

    @Michelle: Gut feelings rock. Your intuition always tells you what you need to know, you just gotta listen to it.

    @Jared: Exactly, it’s finding personal relevance/resonance in what you’re doing that makes meaningful success. An article about that coming up here in a week or two ;)

  38. Steve, I experimented today by imagining how my life would change if I could take a magic pill for instant total confidence and belief in myself. What in the world is it like to have that?? I started a list of what I would do differently and I quickly found myself in a strange new paradise that shifted the energy in my whole body. I wrote a very long and exciting list I plan to keep adding on to every day. I think this is a version of “Fake it til you make it” and I’m learning!

  39. Really enjoyed this post. Will keep it in mind.