By Anna Svedberg – an intern with Hult Labs. Currently pursuing a Masters in International Business at Hult International Business School.
“Get going. Move forward. Aim High. Plan a takeoff. Don’t just sit on the runway and hope someone will come along and push the airplane. It simply won’t happen. Change your attitude and gain some altitude. Believe me, you’ll love it up here.” – Donald Trump
With just about six weeks left of a highly intensive year, it’s easy to drift off and lose focus. You want to enjoy your remaining time in the city you are currently in as much as possible, and are also probably in the process of finding a job, or figuring out where to go next. All of a sudden, schoolwork just dropped a few spots on your top ten list of priorities…and so did your motivation.
But apart from wanting to spend more time outside of the classroom because graduation is around the corner, feeling the pressure to perform well due to external validations can be another reason for demotivation. You might feel pressure to perform at a high level because you think that’s what’s expected from your peers and family. Or, because you believe that having a high GPA is the only way to land your dream job. If these are factors that demotivate you, rather than help you boost your willingness to work hard, it’s important to be aware of what actions you can take in order to rejuvenate yourself and get back on track.
So what is it then that actually motivates us? David Pink, author of the best selling book Drive, in which he explores exactly what motivates people, claims that true motivation consists of the following elements: “1) autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives, 2) mastery, the desire to continually improve at something that matters, and 3) purpose, the desire to do things in service of something larger than ourselves.” Pink argues that people are no longer motivated by external rewards, such as money, but rather by the three elements above due to many economic reasons. One of those being the fact that societies around the world are moving more towards creative, conceptual work, as opposed to routine, rules-based work. This means that employees are looking for incentives beyond pay; they want to feel that their work matters and that they are constantly improving in what they are doing.
So what are some concrete activities you can do to spark your motivation? In her blog post, “14 Things Successful People Do on Weekends,” Jacquelyn Smith gives some great advice on how to ensure that your weekends are spent recovering from an intense week (because here’s one thing we know for sure; working too hard for too long leads to a drop in motivation). For one thing, spend time with friends and family. For those who hardly see their loved ones during the week, this is especially important. Because with who else would you rather share and celebrate your successes? Pursuing a passion is another way to boost your motivation. Let me give you an example on this one. When I was in high school I was a competitive horse rider. I would get up at 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning in order to get ready for a competition in some random town outside of the city where I lived. And I didn’t mind it at all. Horse riding has been one of my great passions for as long as I can remember and it is a great way to relieve stress and find new energy. And despite many hours spent in the stable every week, I still managed to graduate from high school with top grades. Spending time in the stable was a way for me to revitalize and become more focused and productive – even if it meant less time spent on my schoolwork. Because it’s not about spending 10 to 12 hours every day by your desk without letting yourself take a breather. That’s not being productive. The key is to work smartly by using your time wisely.
What else? Volunteer work, networking, meditation, and avoiding chores are a few other things that you can do during weekends in order to start a new week fully energized, since they allow you to disconnect from your weekly “must do’s” and solely focus on things that enable you to relax and find new inspiration. According to Laura Venderkan, author of “What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast” and “What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend,” successful people are aware of the fact that weekends are the secret weapon in professional success. “You need to hit Monday ready to go,” she says. “To do that, you need weekends that rejuvenate you, rather than exhaust or disappoint you. Cross-training makes you a better athlete, and likewise, exercise, volunteer work, spiritual activities, and hands-on parenting make you a better worker than if you just worked all the time.”
And here’s another interesting piece on motivation by David Stephens, who attempts to answer the question: “How do we motivate people who have no incentive to learn?” According to Stephens, trying to motivate people is everything but the right approach. For example, students are not motivated by external rewards or validation, but when they are learning for the joy of learning itself. That is, students need support in building the self-motivation to learn. And there are certainly ways to do this. For one thing, it helps to give students control over their education; they should be writing learning journals where they set daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Another good approach is to create peer review boards, where students get a chance to share their learning goals, which creates a system of peer accountability. Overall, these approaches help emphasize the importance of learning for learning’s sake rather than focusing on external pressures.
Stephens further highlights the significance of inspiring students to pursue their interests: “What most teachers don’t realize is that it’s their job to encourage students to pursue their own interests. It shouldn’t be their job to force a particular subject on a student who clearly has no desire to learn it. As students pursue their own interests, the need to expand their knowledge arises naturally. Teachers should be there to help, not discourage.” And doesn’t this go well in hand with Pink’s assertion that to continually improve on something that matters is part of what motivate us?
Overall, my message to you is this: take the time to do something that you love. Whether it’s writing, playing an instrument, cooking, hanging out with your best friends, going for a run, or watching your favorite TV show. But don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that attending school is a big demotivation altogether, but there will always be a subject or two that is not within your range of interest. Or, the pressure to perform might just be too much to handle. So whatever you love doing, use that as a tool to motivate yourself whenever you feel like you’re about to hit a downturn. And I’m not alone in dispensing this advice. Consider Google, where some employees get to work on any project they are passionate about 20% of their work time. So, perhaps you should consider making sure that 20% of your week is spent on doing exactly what you feel like doing. You might just find yourself happier…and more motivated.
Photo courtesy of Dainis Matisons.