Achieving the Impossible Dream (by Getting Motivated)

“The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.” ~ Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan

In the business world, some people seem able to accomplish every task they set for themselves, while others struggle to meet basic requirements. We generally all fall somewhere along the motivation continuum, and we may have specific areas where we feel especially unmotivated—or those where we have boundless energy.


As a learning solutions company, we know motivation is a key factor in training—the less you want to learn what we have to teach you, the harder the situation becomes for us all. Our job is to develop courses that interest and inspire you, even when the topic is not one you might choose for yourself. We’re taking a closer look at how we can motivate ourselves and others, how to tell if we’re burned out and what we can do about it, and how shifting our approach to a process or task, even when we really don’t want to do it, can effect sustainable change.

What Is Motivation?

At its core, motivation is the desire to expend effort toward something—learning a new skill, changing a behavior, accomplishing a task. The level of effort we give arises from many internal and external factors such as:

  • The feeling of personal satisfaction we experience when we’ve completed an errand;

  • Financial incentives like a pay raise for taking a class or becoming certified in a new skill;

  • Peer pressure to achieve an expected competency like learning to drive.

Many psychological theories exist around motivation, and they all try to explain why we behave the way we do: what moves us, what makes us get out of bed in the morning. Our level of satisfaction with why we do what we do is a critical factor for helping us sustain and increase our commitment to our work and our lives.

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How Bad Do You Want It?

Sometimes it’s enough to know you’ll get in trouble if you don’t do something—like pay your taxes or come to work on time—to inspire you to accomplish a task. However, fear’s power to motivate you only goes so far and can lose its effectiveness over time.

Similarly, just wanting to do something isn’t quite enough either, but it is a start. Once you have a goal, whether you set it for yourself or someone sets it for you, three elements will affect your ability to achieve it: activation, persistence, and intensity.

Activation includes the actions you take toward your goal, such as scheduling time in your calendar to participate in a training exercise. Some ways to activate yourself include:

  • Start a task—any task that can lead to your goal—and let the momentum of action rev up your motivation. Like pushing a car to help get the engine to catch, simply starting somewhere can help your motivation catch fire.

  • Do one item for a very short time. For example, if cleaning your desk seems overwhelming, start small by spending no more than two or three minutes on one specific area. Breaking the task into tiny steps can help you overcome inertia.

  • Play music that revs you up or do something strenuous and enjoyable, and use that seeming distraction to get moving on to your goal-oriented task. Like a magician who uses misdirection to accomplish a trick, unrelated stimulation can create momentum you can harness toward other activities.

Demonstrate persistence by overcoming obstacles to ensure you continue to take action—for example, don’t overschedule yourself so you miss a training exercise. Some ways to help you maintain or refocus on your goals include:

  • Look for inspiring stories or encouraging quotations that underscore the value of persistence to help you stay inspired. Drawing on other people’s experiences reduces your sense of isolation as you strive toward a goal.

  • If you have a setback, be kind to yourself first, and then look for constructive feedback. Recognizing that failures offer you valuable information can help you move past feeling discouraged to become excited about trying another approach.

  • Remind yourself what you hope to accomplish. Whether you’re overwhelmed or just uninspired, taking a few moments to write down three reasons why you’re working toward your goal can refocus your energy—especially if you keep your list where you can see it often.

Reflect your intensity in how much time and interest you invest toward working on your goals; for example, do you look at your phone throughout a training exercise, or do you concentrate on the material? Some methods for increasing and maintaining your intensity include:

  • Schedule breaks. While it may feel counterintuitive to stop working, taking a few moments to rest or do something else before returning to a task can increase your focus and energy for it.

  • Do some research before starting. Reading about others’ success and any obstacles they encountered immerses you in possibilities while increasing your awareness of problems before they occur.

  • Make a plan and stick to it. Use your research to help you develop a realistic timeline that you can commit to working on every day. Knowing the tasks that you need to accomplish and seeing how they lead toward your goal will help you navigate challenges and avoid becoming discouraged.

Activation, persistence, and intensity remain constantly in play as you pursue any goal, driving all the individual components that lead to success or failure.

Do or Do Not; There Is No Try

When you undertake any goal, examining your personal level of motivation helps your progress. For example, identifying real obstacles versus those you’re creating to avoid working toward your goal can give you insight for making different choices. You might even discover the goal you originally set isn’t the right one for you—and hopefully, you can then choose something that fits your desires better.

We consider this self-reflection and insight a primary building block toward motivating yourself. Do you? We’d like to hear from you about ways you get yourself motivated and when and how those methods work for you. We look forward to your feedback, and next time, we’ll talk more about how to motivate other people.

Download a tip sheet to help you tap into motivation and achieve your not-so-impossible dreams!