The Three Motivators

How do you determine what motivates you? Fred Smith discusses three interesting elements.

By Fred Smith

Getting the engine started in the morning isn't always automatic; the spark plugs don't always fire immediately! In moving myself to action I employ the art of self-motivation. I see three elements that measure whether something is worth doing: it is enjoyable, it matters and it is needful. Since I have covered doing what we enjoy in other writings let me summarize it by saying when we are young we try to enjoy what other people think we ought to enjoy. It is part of staying in the peer group. As we mature, we can accept "enjoyment" as one reason for doing things, but not the only reason. When we decide to avoid doing anything that we don't enjoy, then we end up totally selfish. However, we do, as individuals, have the right --- even the responsibility --- to decide to do what we healthily enjoy.

All of us are limited in the things we do that really matter. Much of what we do ultimately has very little meaning; and when we accept this, then we're able to move to the things that do matter like impacting the people close to us, the promoting causes that are important, and accomplishing out of our unique talent and building into the lives of others.

So much of our personal motivation is routine or habitual. The more we are selective, using "it matters" as one of the criteria, the more nearly we will feel a genuine fulfillment. Viktor Frankl writes of "Man's Search for Meaning." His theory of Logotherapy is premised on the idea that we seek meaning more than pleasure or power.

Katherine Graham of the Washington Post Companies once remarked, "to do what you love and to know it makes a difference, how can anything be more fun?"

Things and circumstances that matter change in our lives. For example, creating the right size estate for us may be crucial at one time in our life and then moves to maintenance as the standard. Likewise, reaching a certain social level or business prominence might be extremely important to our self-image, but after we achieve that position we realize that getting more of the same just doesn't matter. One of the secrets of self-motivation is the realization that when something does not satisfy, then more of it will definitely not satisfy. This doesn't seem to be grasped by those people who get hung-up on money or fame. Even though they're not satisfied with what they have, they seem to think that more will satisfy them — but it won't. How much is enough? "Just a little bit more."

We face a test of our honesty when we start saying what we do that really matter to others. Since we have a tremendous need to be needed, sometimes we will cripple others in order to make them need us more. In this case it matters that we do not, rather than do.

Needful refers to disciplines. For example, I believe it's needful that we do something every day that we don't want to do, simply to continue the development of our willpower. Will is a muscle. It is probably the most important muscle in our life, and it must exercised so that it is strong when we need it. Those who fail to "work-out" this muscle are often failed by it when needed. Inactivity creates atrophy and flabbiness in our willpower just as with any other muscle. No one attains permanent "washboard wills" — work is constantly required. I once said to a Sunday School class, "You who didn't want to come this morning did exactly the right thing, because there are times when you simply tell yourself what to do because you need to do it." Think of the times that you took action because it was the right thing. That was like doing 50 will crunches.

Another exercise is taking time with people from whom you get absolutely nothing. Your entire motivation is to simply be human. This willingness is a discipline and must be practiced. We are often caught up in "what can you do for me" thinking and lose much of our humaneness. Other examples of self-motivation through discipline are diet and exercise programs. They are needful.

Ridding ourselves of negative emotions is part of the needful motivation. The farmer chops away the weeds, not just because he dislikes weeds but because they use moisture and food from the soil in which he is growing his profitable crops. Always have your mental machete ready for action against negativism. Let the profitable thoughts grow unhindered.

Knowing what we enjoy healthily, what really matters, and what is needful for maintaining our capability is the heart of the matter. Self-motivation is the system that allows us to make our unique contribution.