Meaningful Motivation: Ask Why
Most of us have clear enough goals for ourselves: to find fulfilling work, have a happier marriage, or build a closer bond with our children. Often these goals remain in the abstract while the days and years pass us by and we never find ourselves any closer to them. Why? Because our actions are not aligned with our goals.
When I began preparing to earn a spot on the National Karate Team in 2013 after a long hiatus from the sport, I went through a brutal physical and mental training regimen. My muscles ached constantly. I was emotionally drained, but each moment of it was joyful. My short term pain was the trade-off for a higher goal, and this made it deeply meaningful.
It can be hard to make the connection between our smallest actions and our biggest dreams, but once we see it, it’s astoundingly powerful. First, you have to determine whether your goal is truly meaningful to you. It’s easy enough to throw out resolutions like: “I’m going to lose weight” or “I’m going to live a more balanced life,” but unless you’ve determined why this means so much to you to do in the first place, you’ll never have the discipline to make it happen.
To get to the bottom of what’s truly motivating my clients, I encourage them to “regress their whys.” Say a client begins with the goal to lose twenty pounds. I ask him why. “To be healthier.” Why? “To live a longer and happier life.” Why? “So that I can see my kids grow up and keep living an active life with my spouse.” As you can see, the more you regress your whys, the more meaningful your motivations become. “Lose twenty pounds” is an easy goal to forgo in the moment when it’s been a long day and someone brings brownies to the office. However, if you connect the dots to the long-term payoff, you’ll feel more motivated and committed.
This is where meditation, journaling, and similar daily practices can really help. Determine what’s really meaningful to you, and then keep it at the forefront of your mind. It will make enduring the short-term pain in service of the long-term gain much for meaningful.
The Native American legend of the two wolves illustrates this concept perfectly. The legend says that there is a fight going on in all of us between a good wolf and an evil wolf. The wolf who wins is the one who gets fed. Your daily habits are always feeding one wolf or the other, bringing you closer to the life you want, or pushing it ever farther away.
Consider this: Dig deep to find your true motivation and support it with your daily habits.