According to the research of Dr. Anders Ericsson, motivation is the most significant predictor of success. In simple terms, Dr. Ericsson found that experts in many walks of life, whether sport, music, chess, dance, or business, had put in the most hours at their craft. He coined the phrase, "It takes 10 years and 10,000 hours to become an expert." Other research has shown that the longer someone is in a career, the less important innate ability (i.e., intelligence) is and the more important motivation becomes. In other words, the most successful people just keep plugging away longer than others. Why is the relationship between motivation and success so robust? Because high motivation will ensure total preparation which will, in turn, ensure maximum performance and results.
This same concept of motivation applies to making changes in your life. The reality is that change is difficult because, in all likelihood, you have been the way you currently are for a long time and your habits are deeply ingrained. Your ability to find and maintain your motivation for meaningful and long-lasting change will ultimately determine whether you're able to break long-standing habits and patterns.
Let's first consider what motivation is in very practical terms. Motivation can be defined in the following ways:
- An internal or external drive that prompts a person to action
- The ability to initiate and persist toward a chosen objective
- Putting 100 percent of your time, effort, energy and focus into your goal attainment
- Being able to pursue change in the face of obstacles, boredom, fatigue, stress and the desire to do other things
- The determination to resist ingrained and unhealthy patterns and habits
- Doing everything you can to make the changes you want in your life
Impact of Motivation
But it's one thing to say you are motivated to make changes and achieve your goals; it's another entirely different thing to have that motivation translate into actual action toward those goals. Motivation is so important because it impacts every aspect of your efforts at change:
- Preparation to make the changes
- Patience in giving yourself time for the changes to occur
- Persistence when old habits and patterns resist your efforts
- Perseverance in overcoming obstacles and setbacks
- Lifestyle that supports the changes
- Ultimate achievement of the desired changes
For every person, there is a different motivation that drives them toward their change goals. The "motivation matrix" breaks down motivation along two dimensions: internal vs. external and positive vs. negative. The resulting four quadrants can each provide motivation but will produce different experiences and outcomes.
- Internal-positive: Challenge, desire, passion, satisfaction, self-validation. (Likely outcome: successful change, fulfillment).
- External-positive: Recognition and appreciation from others, financial rewards. (Likely outcome: some change, partial fulfillment, dependent on others for continued change and good feelings).
- Internal-negative: Threat, fear of failure, inadequacy, insecurity. (Likely outcome: some change, possible relapse).
- External-negative: Fear of loss of job or relationship, insufficient respect from others, financial or social pressures, pressure from significant others, unstable life. (Likely outcome: some success, high risk of relapse).
Obviously, the ideal type of motivation is internal-positive because the motivation is coming from a place of strength and security. At the same time, research that has shown that many successful people are driven to achieve their goals by insecurity, suggesting that an internal-negative or external-negative motivation can lead to change (though rarely happiness). Which quadrant do you think you belong to? If you are not in the internal-positive quadrant, you might want to reevaluate your motivations and work toward that place in the matrix.
Effort vs. Goals
All else being equal, whatever you put into your change efforts is what you will get out of them. A problem I see among many people who say they want to change is a disconnect between their efforts and their goals. People say they really want to change, but their efforts don't reflect that stated motivation. What this tells me is that there is often a gap between the goals many people have and the effort they are putting into those goals. It's easy to say that you want to change. It is much more difficult to actually make that happen. If you have this kind of disconnect, you have two choices. You can either lower your change goals to match your efforts or you can raise your efforts to match your goals. There is no right choice. But if you're truly motivated to change, you better make sure you're doing the work necessary to achieve your goals.
The difficult nature of making changes means that you will likely be putting in effort that will take you far beyond the point at which it is inspiring or fun. This junction is what I call "the grind," which starts when actions necessary to produce meaningful change become stressful, tiring and tedious. The grind is also the point at which your efforts toward change really count. The grind is what separates those who are able to change from those who are not. Many people who reach this point in the process of change either ease up or give up because change is just too darned hard. But truly motivated people reach the grind and keep on going.
Many self-help gurus will say that you have to love the grind. I say that, except for a very few hyper-motivated people, love isn't in the cards because there's not much to love in the grind. But how you respond to the grind lies along a continuum. Loving the grind is rare. At the other end of the continuum is "I hate the grind." If you feel this way, you are not likely to stay motivated to change. I suggest that you neither love nor hate the grind; simply accept it as part of the deal in striving toward a better you. The grind may not feel very good, but what does feel good is seeing your efforts pay off with the changes you want.
Finding the Motivation
Finding the motivation to change means maintaining your efforts consistently when it would be easy to give up. It involves doing everything possible to achieve your change goals.
Motivation to change begins with what I call the three Ds. The first D stands for direction. Before you can begin the process of change, you must first consider the different directions you can go in your life. You could continue your life as it is now, make immediate and dramatic changes or take a slower route to change.
The second D represents decision. With these three choices of direction, you must decide on one direction in which to go. None of these directions is necessarily right or wrong, better or worse, they're simply your options. Your choice will dictate whether you make changes in your life and the amount of time and effort you put into those changes.
The third D stands for dedication. Once you've made your decision, you must dedicate yourself to it. If your decision is to makes significant changes in your life, whether quickly or slowly, then this last step will determine whether those changes are realized. Your decision to change will then become a top priority in your life. Only by being completely dedicated to your direction and decision will you ensure that you have the motivation you will need to achieve your change goals.
For more by Jim Taylor, click here.
For more on success and motivation, click here.
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more