Motivation is an important aspect of our lives. In fact we could say that there is hardly anything that we think, say or do without a particular reason or goal, without a particular and subjective answer to the question “Why?” It makes no difference whether it is about our behavior at work or at home, the way we communicate with people around us or any other form of activity you might think of. Motivation is always in the background even when we are not consciously aware of it.
Motivation as a drive to act works on multiple levels and by definition having a single motive is only temporary condition. We are constantly and often automatically shifting the perspective as we switch between different activities. For instance, it is obvious that we wake up in the morning and go to the office with the implicit notion of earning a living. Then, in the evening we go out and have a beer with a friend motivated by the need for a nice talk. If we could imagine a complete interruption of our conscious and subconscious motives we would find ourselves into an inactive, static state of being. In reality, however, it almost never happens.
If we stick to above explanations, it is logical to expect that by default there would be perfect alignment between motive and act i.e. if the motive is there the act should also take place. Unfortunately, it is not always that simple. I am sure that everybody can think of a conscious goal or desired result (i.e. the motive is there) which however is not backed up by any form of act towards its achievement. We can speculate that maybe the relationship between act and motivation is one-directional, that each act has an underlying motive but each motive does not necessary instigate an act. A more logical explanation, however, would be that the only reason not to act out a motive is that there is another and stronger motive to the opposite effect. This goes back to the multiple levels of motivation already mentioned and the overlaying of different motives which depending on their intensity produces a “net effect” and determines whether to act or not. A conflict arises between the wish to reach a goal and the lack of will to act upon it. It might come disguised in any form, a typical one being to find all types of “good reasons” to delay it day after day. Although formally relieved by having an excuse, as long as the desired result remains with us we keep on having the inner conflict of knowing we are not getting any closer to it.
Above said, we come to a more practical question. How should we motivate ourselves enough to act upon a desired result? One possible approach would be to try to discover and cancel motives that are counter-productive to our goal and end up with a positive “net motivation” that would give us the necessary push. This approach, however, seems not so easy. First of all, as already mentioned, there are conscious and unconscious motives, the latter being not so easily uncovered. Secondly, the potential multitude of offsetting motives makes it uncertain how many of them we shall be able to uncover. With all these complexities, we might look for a different solution. Instead of focusing on multitudes of already existent counter-productive motives, we might direct our efforts towards developing or adopting a new motive which is intense enough to produce a positive net result, not by reducing the “minus” side but rather by increasing the “plus” side.
Now, maybe here is the right place to point out that in some cases we do not necessarily have to motivate ourselves to act. That is particularly true when the desired result is external. Thus instead of repairing the fence by yourself, you might have somebody do it for you. Even with respect to external results, however, it is not always possible to skip the personal effort. Finally, when it comes to any form of personal transformation, there is no way out. As far as the wanted result should happen within yourself, nobody and nothing can relieve you from the burden – you either act or you never get it. It is obvious that in the latter case, you are facing a problem of strengthening your motivation.
Even though motivational mechanism works on an inner level its trigger might come (and actually this is what happens most of the time) from the external world. A good example might be your choice to go to the gym instead of exercising your body at home. If you have ever tried both ways you would likely agree that one of the benefits of the gym is that its overall atmosphere and the people sweating around in physical effort subconsciously act as stimuli to your own practice. On the other hand, at home it is much more difficult to stay focused as you find good excuses in all kind of minor details to surrender to your laziness.
When targeting for any kind of personal change, the proper incentive to motivate you enough might still come from the outside world. A person having a problem with alcohol might be motivated to resolve it by the risk of losing his/her loved one. Where the proper incentive is not right in front of your eyes, you can always look around. There are many approaches, many ways and many incentives out there that suit different types of character. Some might suggest step-by-step guidance by a mentor, others might put emphasis on the “the carrot and the stick” leaving it up to you to figure out the details. Finally, there are completely unconventional approaches like the one described on a website which explore the problem from the perspective of “do not miss to get the benefit you paid for”. Still it is always up to you to choose one that would work best for your personal situation.