Recently, I’ve been thinking about how we motivate ourselves in life. Throughout these long weeks of lockdown, I’ve seen so many posts from people questioning their own methods of motivation, struggling to beat distractions and fighting off the urge to procrastinate whilst working from home. With so much around us to keep us entertained, from our phones to the internet to other people, motivating ourselves to work can often feel like an impossible task.
There are also so many different types of motivation to consider. Are we finishing this task to please ourselves, are we on a deadline, do we need the money? Sometimes our motivation can come in the form of boredom, or sudden inspiration. We can feel motivated by jealousy, of someone else’s success, or greed for more power within our industry.
In today’s blog post, I’m going to explore the different ways in which we motivate ourselves, and try to determine which one is the most effective for getting the work done well.
Envy as Motivation
We’ve all been there. We’re scrolling through our Instagram feeds, absent-mindedly catching up on someone else’s day when we see a sudden achievement from one of our friends. They’ve been promoted at work, or they’ve just signed a major contract. They’ve finished a beautiful painting or launched a new business in an industry you love. The green-eyed monster soon takes over, and we’re left feeling inadequate and annoyed all at the same time. So, to make ourselves feel worthy again, we throw ourselves into our work – pushing harder and harder to reach our own personal success. We get impatient at the slow results and so we keep working and working and working in the vain hope that we too might reach the same goal.
The Disadvantages of Envy
When our motivation is born out of envy, we tend to lose sight of our own passion and interest in reaching our success. We’re not working for a greater purpose, or out of enjoyment or fun. We’re working to beat someone, to be better than someone else and to make them feel as bad as we did. It’s not an honest form of motivation and can make you rush your work in your hurry for completion. This can lead to bitter mistakes and can even impact your personal relationships along the way. There’s no room for questioning your work or thorough checks or detailed reflection when you’re simply trying to gain more prestige than a rival. It’s just working for the sake of work.
What to do instead
It’s natural to feel envious when a friend or a peer does well in their career. Jealousy is one of the most common emotions a human can experience, and when we feel this way, our instincts are to beat that feeling into submission through work. Instead, take the time to process why you feel this way. People have professional successes all over the world, so why was this person or this achievement in particular that affected you. Was it the age of the person, their gender or their lifestyle that makes you feel so envious? How does it impact your life? Does it actually prevent you from completing any of your own goals in your own time?
Your work is always going to belong to you. There’s no rush and there’s no pressure to beat others to the top when your own mountain is so much different to theirs. Let yourself be inspired, rather than envious. Pull apart their success by the steps that encourage you, rather than anger you and let them push you gently into positive motivation.
Gluttony as Motivation
Gluttony, by definition, describes the process of overindulgence. Typically used when defining over-eating or drinking in excess, gluttony becomes a form of motivation when we are only using motivation to feel our own narcissism. When we are motivated by the need to inflate our ego, to indulge ourselves in the knowledge that we are working hard, that we are amazing for doing this task, that we are so obnoxiously important for completing this job. We are cramming ourselves full of self-praise to the point of bursting and that feeling so is addictive it motivates us to keep working until we explode.
Disadvantages of Gluttony
As with every example of gluttony, there will come a point where it consumes and overwhelms you. When the praise is too much, when the glow of your work wears off and when your ego is brought crashing to earth with the realisation that you might not be as successful as you hoped you were. A gluttonous approach to motivation is dangerous in the way that it isolates those around you, makes you unpleasant to work alongside and can affect the overall impact of your work. With too much self-belief comes arrogance, to the point where you forget to check for mistakes, you forget to humble yourself into proofreading and editing, where you rely too heavily on your own confidence and forget about teamwork and overall achievement. If you are only motivating yourself to make you feel good, rather than to do work well, much like Icarus, your wax wings will soon be burnt too close to the sun.
What to do instead
First, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate the quality of your work at every stage of a project. This isn’t necessarily a bad process or an upsetting task, it simply means taking an objective eye to your progress. But when it comes to motivating yourself, it’s important to understand that you are not working for your own ego – but to get the work done. You can puff yourself up about a job well done once the work is actually complete, not before. So save the self-praise and the self-gratification celebration until you’ve finished the project, and try to find a more neutral way to motivate yourself in the meantime.
Pride as Motivation
Using pride as a way to motivate yourself into working is an interesting approach, as typically, pride relates to the judgement of other people. In this sense, you would simply be working to maintain your own reputation in the eyes of other people around you. You wouldn’t be working out of any real purpose, but rather out of the fear that you might be judged for taking a day off or for getting something wrong. Pride can become a pitfall in this way, as it can lead to burn out and exhaustion, as well as ignorance and underappreciation of the efforts around you. Your pride can hinder your progress by turning genuine motivation into a boasting competition, into a self-marketing campaign to make yourself look good. But does your reputation really matter if the work itself is poor?
Disadvantages of Pride
Often pride can make us selfish, and we put our own object of desire before other essential things in our lives. If working will make us look good, then we will choose to work over other, more important things instead. We would rather post pictures of our workspace on Instagram then spend time with our families. When using that rush of self-pride as a way to motivate ourselves into doing work, we are failing to get any genuine joy out of the task – whether it’s a personal hobby, a professional task or a serious requirement. When we are prideful, we often don’t notice the hard work that others are putting in around us. We fail to see the support of other people, their efforts on a shared project, their impact in the larger industry. We only see ourselves, and how we imagine others will see us too.
What to do instead
It’s always useful to distance yourself from your work at times and to take a look at the work carried out by those in similar positions. Noticing their achievements can be a good way to motivate yourself without feeling the need to beat them or brag about it afterwards. Reflecting on your work as part of a much larger project or achievement is another useful way to help you reconnect with the community around you. Pride, in small doses, doesn’t always have to be a sin. But pride is excess becomes spiteful and arrogant, and so try to take your compliments where you can without letting them consume you completely.
Wrath as motivation
Honestly, this is probably the sin I am the most guilty of. When we use wrath to motivate ourselves, often we are simply working to spite those who said we couldn’t. We are putting in so much effort to prove them wrong or to change something we don’t like or just because we are angry, rather than for any positive reason at all. Wrath clouds judgement and the red mist that settles is not a great lens to start seeing through. Wrath also makes you single-minded, and so if we are working on a project we were once accused of failing, it leaves little room to explore other opportunities. It produces high expectations and frustrating results, with very little payoff.
Disadvantages of Wrath
Almost everything done out of anger will be led by the heart, rather than the head. We are working with our fists, rather than our minds and this can cause mistakes and misjudgment and misunderstandings. We become defensive and frustrated with ourselves for not being enough to soothe our own anger. Wrath as a motivator is very hard to impress, and so we face self-confidence issues and low self-esteem, and mass self-hatred for not being more successful. Plus, wrath is fleeting. Anger doesn’t remain constant and it ebbs and flows within us, so it’s a very unreliable motivator. One day we might be so angry that work is all we can stomach. On another, we might be so tired of being angry that work is a long, slow drag.
What to do instead
The best way to handle your anger as motivation is to try and keep it simple. Focus on one goal that you want to achieve, and let your anger guide you to it slowly and firmly. Don’t let it get out of control, don’t waste all of your time simmering in the wrath unproductive. Set yourself a task, and stick to it. Treat your wrath like a small boost of energy, rather than an overwhelming force and top it up when you need to it. But don’t let it become you, as it’s hard to work normally again after you do.
Lust as motivation
Lust is often seen as the epitome of desire. When we crave something completely, we don’t stop pursuing it until we have it. To use lust as a motivator means to seek a goal so passionately that it becomes an impossible dream that you never finish hunting. Think of Gatsby and the green light, Road Runner, Tom and Jerry, The American Dream. We chase things and pine for them and we want them so much that we forget to focus on anything else. But lust can often be an escape or a distraction. It motivates us to work, to procrastinate doing something else – something we probably don’t want to do or think about.
Disadvantages of Lust
Passion is always going to be a great way to motivate yourself. Pushing yourself to work, create and move on an emotive journey is something that many people aspire to do, however it does come with its risks. Too much passion can lead to overexertion, clumsiness and lack of foresight. We’re so driven by our feelings that we struggle to find logic and reason amidst them. We can’t plan ahead because we’re so busy chasing the right emotions and the right pleasures that come with whatever task we’re completing.
What to do instead
Sometimes, when we’re dealing with a motivation of lust, it’s ok to ask for someone else to step in and help. Share your ideas and your inspiration with other people, whether it be your colleagues, your family or your friends and ask for some logical advice and feedback. Allow yourself to take on board other people’s rational opinions and find a new way to integrate them into your project. It isn’t wrong to have passion for your work, but it’s also ok to have logic and fact on your side as well.
Greed as motivation
When we want something, and we want it all completely to be ours, we are using greed as a source of motivation. We might desire more money, and work impossibly hard to get it. We might want power and let this motivate us into screwing over other people or fighting our way to the top. We can want prestige and trophies and awards and notoriety, and greed will encourage us to do whatever it takes to get them.
Disadvantages of Greed
Greed is a very poor motivator. Greed can make you selfish, aggressive, ignorant and oblivious. It controls your working impulses and makes you cruel and self-centred. Whilst it is normal to want paying for a job well done, to forgoe everything else that comes with work just for the money is a risky move. You can lose your self-awareness, you can be driven by nothing but possessiveness. You will be running on desire without passion.
What to do instead
Instead of prioritising the material gains of your work, try to see the work as a single task in a larger project. Focus your energies on doing a good job for your own mental rewards, rather than the physical ones. Pre-emptively acknowledge that even if you don’t get a pay rise or a promotion for this task, you can still be proud of yourself and the effort you put in. Be proud of others too, who work to help people, rather than take from them. Greed also comes from the desire to have what we don’t already possess, so try and figure out what exactly more money, more power or more success will truly bring to your life, and what else could you do to be happy.
Sloth as Motivation
Somehow this seems like an impossibly ironic combination. But yes, sloth can be a motivator – even if they do a pretty bad job of it. Sloth is usually the sneaky, alter-ego of procrastination. It makes us lazy, it makes us put off important jobs, and it kills so much of our time motivating us to do meaningless errands instead of actual work. How many times have we woken up with a huge to-do list and spent the day re-organising the kitchen cupboards instead? How many hours are spent putting off filling in that form, by writing your novel or starting a blog or planning your new business venture? Sloth works on instant gratification rather than long term success and is perhaps one of the most dangerous motivators of them all.
Disadvantages of Sloth
Whilst Sloth does actually keep us motivated, it’s never for the right tasks. Sloth leads to unanswered emails, unwritten letters, missed deadlines and angry bosses. Sloth leads to poor results, but excellent doodles. Unfortunately, Sloth doesn’t make us money, doesn’t improve our life, doesn’t help us to achieve our goals and doesn’t point us in a productive direction.
What to do instead
Make a list of all the jobs you NEED to do. The make a list of all of the things you WANT to do. Work out a schedule that helps you get the benefits of both lists – both giving you an activity to look forward to, and a task to complete. Fill your time with productivity and inspiration and fun, as well as hard work and dedication to the job. Learn how to maintain your focus, and examine when your distractions are occurring more often. These are usually the times when sloth will try to tempt you away. Stand your ground and ignore it. The fun will come later.
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s blog post on the seven deadly sins of motivation! This was a lot of fun to write and even helped me to identify some of my own worst habits of productivity too.
Thanks for reading