Had someone told me ten or more years ago that today I would be writing this article, and more importantly that I would be writing it based on my own personal experience and development, I wouldn't have believed them. I was so far from my present reality that it would have been inconceivable for me to predict it.
About fourteen years ago I discovered that I had a talent for running, but at the time my life had nothing to do with sports, healthy lifestyle, or mental strength. On the contrary – I had spent the years since university going from one failure to another. I had no clear path ahead of me, little or no self-confidence and was emotionally in a very dark place. Circumstances, and what I can only describe as an innate inner strength which I didn't even realise I had, lead me to a decision four years later. I decided to finally respect what my inner voice was telling me, and decided to follow my innate talents as an athlete. I still had a few more disappointments along the way as I began to make my way on this path – obstacles and disappointments are part and parcel of any challenging project. Barring the odd exception, I was winning most of the races I participated in.
Still following my gut feelings, at the end of 2007 I decided to dedicate one year of my running to bring charity sports to Spain, where I was living at the time. I had been running extreme distances for two years, and so I decided to invent extreme solo challenges for that charity year. I launched myself headlong into the project with gusto. Halfway through the second challenge, I realised that this was not going to be a one-year project, but was in fact going to be my running career. People told me I was crazy, that this wasn't even a career, but for the first time in my life, I listened to what my gut was telling me. That was almost eight years ago, and since the start I have achieved every single one of my challenges without a single abandonment or injury. I have run distances, which few people on the planet are capable of. More importantly I have changed my life, my career, my attitudes and so much more. Running was the vehicle for me to challenge myself sufficiently to turn my life around.
The triumphs, recognition, the prizes and athletic development has been wonderful, but the true value of what I have achieved comes not in the form of any glory or anything tangible – it comes in the form of all I have learned along the way. The tools, values, and philosophies I have learned or developed have enabled me to overcome all manner of obstacles, physical, mental, logistical, or interpersonal in a way that few others have done. I realised quite early on that all these tools that I was using to help me face and solve each problem as it arose with the right attitude, were not only applicable to sports but were, more importantly, applicable in any area of life – personal or professional. I started to study and develop all that I was using, and began teaching it first in the form of talks and sessions and later in development programs. Most of my work is with executives and corporate groups, though a highly enriching part is with individuals seeking personal development.
I have learned much – but what underlies all other key messages is one. We alone are responsible for our decisions and we alone are the main driver of any initiative we take on. What drives us; what leads us to success or failure?
Motivation is one of the key factors in achieving professional success – or any success for that matter. Lack of it is one of the principal causes of failure to achieve your goals and objectives. There are of course many other factors at play – solutions and answers in life are rarely just one simple issue or topic, but in my work with executives and members of their teams, with athletes, and with individuals seeking personal development, I have found that one of the most common problems people face is lack of motivation.
Too often we look outside ourselves for motivation – we expect others to motivate us. Having worked in depth with many people, I have learned that this tendency to solely look outside oneself is what leads to problems with motivation at an individual level. The workforce expects to be motivated by the management, mid-level management teams expect to be motivated by the top level managers, who in turn look to the directors for this. But who motivates the directors?
We have become accustomed to look to others for our inspiration. Of course motivators and their teachings can be extremely powerful, but more is needed for people to find a drive strong enough to keep going when times are tough. This may seem ironic coming from a motivational speaker, but it’s true. Actually, although my talks or presentations may be motivational and inspire many, there is always a strong take away message involved, something more than just pure motivation. A motivational talk or activity is a useful and inspirational tool that can help to kick-start individuals who are in a rut, but used alone it will not serve to solve the problem.
As with so many areas in our development as individuals, the solution lies in our own hands. We are the key to our own motivation, we are the only ones who can know what truly inspires us and what will give us the drive to keep going even when the outcome looks bleak.
Many companies attempt to motivate from the top down, but I suggest that primary motivation needs to come from each one of us individually. This then radiates out and affects others. Of course we still need leaders, who motivate us, and we can still benefit from highly inspirational individuals, but it is when this is coupled with our own personal motivation that we can truly soar.
In my career as a solo extreme endurance runner, motivation was obviously fundamental to my achieving all thirteen of my solo challenges. Had I waited for others to inspire me into action I probably wouldn't have even got through the second challenge. Powerful self-motivation was fundamental to my success. At first I was unaware of exactly how I was developing this iron will and drive, but as the years and challenges went by, I began to analyse my own process.
For those who are naturally driven, it probably wouldn’t occur to them to analyse this process, but I wasn't naturally driven. I have developed all these aspects of my character, processes, and attitudes to life and work. Anyone can change, anyone can develop and anyone can achieve more than they imagined possible if they decide they can do it and if they are driven enough – all that is needed is motivation.
So how do we do it? There are a few key steps that I recommend. First, we need to analyse what drives us, what we are passionate about, and what are our deepest desires. No one else can tell us what these things are. No one can tell us what deep-set drives or needs are stronger than all others, no one except ourselves. Sometimes it’s obvious – we are driven by a desire for money, promotion, recognition or a host of other goals. At other times, often when a project or a job is not one that inspires us in itself, we have to look further within ourselves. If you love your job it’s easier but if you don't, it needs a bit more effort to find motivation.
The truth is that if we are truly dissatisfied at work, we should change our job, if at all possible, or even make a career change. We spend far too much time at the workplace to waste ourselves on something that gives us no satisfaction, either directly or indirectly. Assuming though we are relatively or very satisfied with our job, then we need to be aware of several things. When approaching a new goal or project, particularly one that promises to be challenging, we need to ask ourselves why we are taking it on. We need to look at ourselves and at the task, before we take it on. We need to self-analyse before we launch into a new project or phase of our work. If we wait till the obstacles appear it may be too late.
There are many factors that motivate us - the project at hand may gain us the promotion we have been working towards, or it may give us the financial reward to allow us to pursue the lifestyle we want. The factors that motivate us may be related to our work, or to our personal satisfaction, but either way these factors exist. They exist in each one of us, and we just need to look inwards to recognise them.
A stronger desire to succeed will mean that you are more likely to thrive, not just in the easy times, but also when difficulties arise. The secret is to recognise what motivates you, to find as many things as you can, and then to always keep them at the forefront of your mind. This way, when the going gets tough, you’ll have the drive you need to keep fighting regardless of what you find before you. Your possibilities of achieving your goals will be increased enormously.
Don't wait for others to motivate you – motivate yourself!