Finding Motivation

by Rob Stam

I was having a discussion the other day with a group of people about exercise and working out. I made the statement that I don’t like working out and someone responded, “But isn’t losing weight motivating enough to get you to work out?” It was a logical assumption. Do I value my physique enough to make the sacrifice to do something I don’t really like? At first, my reaction was, “Sure, I suppose.” But as I thought about that idea more, I switched my response. No, I don’t value that enough to do something I really don’t enjoy, at least not every day. My time is more valuable than that.

I do love being active; I just don’t always love it in the form of working out. I much prefer biking, playing tennis, hiking, etc. Those things motivate me because the actual act of them is motivating, not just the result of them. Those things represent how I want to spend my time.

Looking at pictures of me from several years ago when I weighed 60 pounds more than I do today quickly motivates me to stay active, and I’ll even work out if I have to. But my mountain bike really motivates me because it’s something I’m passionate about, and it secondarily contributes to the other value of being healthy.

Do you ever struggle to become, or stay motivated? To effectively address that question, I believe we must start with a basic premise that I alluded to in that previous story: Every decision a human makes is based on value.

From the time we wake up in the morning, to what we eat, to the car we drive, to the vacations we take, to the person we marry, to whether or not we work out—all of those decisions are based on what we value.

This means that by observing your daily routines, relationships, and habits, I can determine what you value with a pretty high level of accuracy. By knowing what you value, I can therefore determine what will probably motivate you.

There’s a point of distinction to this topic though. There is a difference between value and values. The things you value are defined by what you will sacrifice to obtain, achieve, or experience them. Your values, on the other hand, are based on your conclusions about various topics or circumstances. Don’t confuse the two because they often contradict.

For example, I may make a statement of my values by saying I am for limited government and the reduction of entitlement programs. Yet, if my world crashes and I am broke, I am more than willing to accept a government-funded health insurance program for my child. I value my child’s well-being over my political values and am therefore motivated to make sure he’s taken care of, regardless of what I thought I believed. Does that make me a hypocrite? Perhaps. Or perhaps our values are often driven by a limited perspective, whereas value is only realized when circumstance demands a motivated action on our part.

Therefore to find motivation, we must first discover what we truly value.

This simplest way to do this is to begin by asking yourself how you’d like to spend your time. Time, after all, is our most valuable and non-renewable asset. What we do with it is by far the greatest indicator of what we really value. By putting value in the context of time, we can trigger our inner motivation do use that time on things we value.

Time / Value = Motivation.

Transitioning this to business, income can be a motivator just like losing weight. Fancy vacations, nice cars, etc. all appear to be motivators. But are they really? I used to think so until I went from having those things to losing them. The ironic thing was that I didn’t care when they were gone; What I cared about was what to do with my time.

For my career, what I want to spend my time doing is teaching. Teaching a person or group of people about business is the career version of my mountain bike. Sure, I like making money—the more the better—but ultimately it is not as valuable as spending time doing something I love. The hours for dollars trade-off will only sustain and motivate for so long. I will sacrifice income to do something I love, whether it be doing what I love for a career or having the time to do what I love as a hobby. Unfortunately, too many of us don’t make that sacrifice. We chase the dollar over the hours.

Of course, that’s not a simple problem to fix. What you value doesn’t necessarily mean that the market will value it and pay you to do it. So not only is there a struggle finding out what motivates you, but once you figure that out, you have to discover how to make those passions work with a career. Just like aligning biking and being in shape, we have to create a correlation between what we truly value (how we really want to spend our time), and what people will actually pay for.

Maybe your career will never align completely with your passion. But can it provide for your passion? For many of us, that’s the best option. Go to work for something bigger than the work itself. Remind yourself every day of what you value and how your career allows that to be part of your life. Do you have a career or does a career have you? Do you own a business or does the business own you?

Next time someone asks you what you do, try answering with your favorite hobby and watch their reaction. More importantly, see how you feel. Makes you a bit more motivated to go to work to support that hobby now doesn’t it?

What do you do Rob? I bike, hike, boat, and scuba dive, and I spend time with my wife and son.