06/27/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How to Be Determined and Not Exhausted

When determination is a strong insistence to achieve something, it often leads to success. This occurs because determination often focuses attention, dedicates energy to priorities and constantly tells your brain to hold onto the goal no matter what the distraction. But on it's own, determination can also be exhausting, especially when obstacles are hitting you in the face. You feel as though you are swimming in molasses and somehow being determined is not quite as interesting as it once might have seemed. What are the different types of determination and how can you convert easily from one to the other?

Uphill determination is what I just described. It is a well-intentioned desire to achieve a difficult task despite numerous blocks that stand in the way of reaching your desired goal. Examples of this include a single parent dealing with household chores and work, or a person who feels exhausted but trudges through daily struggles anyway. It is often a well-intended, brawny approach, using strength of conviction and a "win at all costs" mentality. Uphill determination is great when you have lost all inspiration, or when you need to move past an obstacle that has just arisen. But it has side effects too. It can be draining, and if it is the only type of determination you have, it eventually is challenging to even the most ardent practitioner. It is almost never a good idea for this to be the mode of determination. It is most helpful as a fall-back mechanism -- like a generator when the power is out.

Downhill determination is also another type of determination. On the surface is sounds great -- it feels as though there is little resistance. But when this happens, you have to watch out to make sure that it is the path you want. Examples of this are the person who has just started a new business and travels to make connections but is not really pulling in a profit over too long a time. This type of person also often turns to temporary relief mechanisms and always chooses the path of least resistance. This type of person will sculpt out life goals based on what is easiest rather than what is best. The problem is that even though goals are reached, they are seldom the most desired goals.

Coasting determination is the third type of determination. It involves an efficient use of determination that is combination of brains and brawn. Examples of this include someone who delays short-term gratification for long-term gains. Or someone who has self-discipline that is inspired rather than effortful. With coasting or seamless determination, determination is not a reaction; it is an action. The person with coasting determination does the work upfront and then watches the determination ship sail. I call this breathing the life of intelligence into an idea so that the idea can survive on its own.
In life, all three types of termination often interchange. I would recommend using seamless determination as the baseline method and switching to one of the other two when necessary. How do you do this? Here are some suggestions:

1. Examine your strongest desires most deeply: If you decide on a path to action, understand deeply what you truly want out of it. The more deeply you understand this, the more data your brain has to work with. Want to make more money? Why? Just to have fun? Donate? Abstract visions of fancy hotels and airplanes? This is not that useful to the brain that longs for deeper thinking on such issues. You could ask yourself: how exactly can you sketch your path to happiness from having more money? What does money truly mean to you? Having this depth really lubricates the road for your brain's ideas and determination.

2. Plan ahead: Plan means that you punch in the navigation anchors so that your brain does not have to keep asking: where to next? Planning also creates order, and this order will help sketch the shortest distance between two points as a destination so that your determined brain does not keep living in the energy sapping states of the unknown. Having said that, see 3. Below.

3. Accepting unknowns as opportunities: Even with the best planning, unknowns arise. Rather than seeing unknowns as threats, see them as blank canvases or dark roads. In the unknown, you can paint on your own hopes and dreams and develop hypothetical plans. Like being on a dark road, you can make a plan to walk and slowly feel the ground as you experiment with moving in the direction of light. While this is scary, it is also an action that is more likely to get you to your goal than going nowhere.

4. Balance your determination with re-energizing tools: Listen to music you love, exercise, form connections with friends. Seamless determination requires breaks. In fact, the breaks are part of seamless determination, much like silent spaces between beats are in music.

Overall, I am writing this so that you can ask yourself: Am I a determined person? Which type of determination do I most use? How can I become more efficient in my use of determination, and if so, what changes do I need to make to my life?