By Jamuna Rangachari
The secret behind the world’s high achievers is that they are aligned to their why – to the purpose of their life. Here’s how you can increase your motivation by looking for your why.
Mrs Bedi (name changed) was the wife of a busy, successful executive and had everything a woman of her age could dream of – a big well-furnished bungalow, a chauffeur-driven car solely for herself, children well-settled in US and everything but a wish away. And yet, the void in her life was growing with every passing day, and her interest in life was steadily dipping.
Many of us go through similar troughs that swamp us and rob us of our zeal, initiative, drive – in short, motivation. What then, is motivation? There are many definitions, but perhaps the best way to get an insight would be through the word’s origin. Motivation is derived from the word ‘motive’ which means reason. By extension, motivation means the reason why we engage in any activity.
Most of us are not aware of our ‘whys’. We do things out of sheer habit. We read the paper, go to work, check our mail (electronic or otherwise), firefight issues, chat with friends, go back home, watch television, complete our household chores, eat and sleep. Not all of our routines are so monotonous of course, but by and large, most of us work and live mechanically. Sure, we have many dissatisfiers or de-motivators – train or bus late, salary delayed, grumpy boss, uncooperative colleagues, maid not turned up and so on – but hardly any true ‘motivators’.
With such an attitude, it is no wonder that we seldom put in our best efforts.
Motivation is a vital issue that affects not just the individual but also families and organizations, and has been extensively studied by organisational gurus. Managers are constantly trying to drive their staff to do better, just as parents goad their child to perform better. The methods used are either downright punitive (‘do this or else’) or progressive (reward, recognize, appreciate). Most motivational theories do recognize that progressive methods are better and that when people are treated well, performance tends to be better. Positive methods are certainly better than punitive ones, though they turn counter-productive when used to excess. We have all seen children agreeing to study, sing or perform any activity only when bribed with the promise of a treat or a movie. In many organizations, staff members only think of benefits and not duty. As Dr Sanjay Chugh, a leading psychiatrist in Delhi, says, ‘Caution should be exercised in using external rewards when they are not absolutely necessary. Their use may be followed by a decline in internal motivation.’
Internal motivation – a person driven from within – is every manager and parent’s dream. Identifying and understanding how to promote this attitude is no mean task. Most of us don’t know what drives us, let alone another.
Sad, because how we do anything depends greatly on the why. The more aligned we are to the ‘why’, the more aligned we are to the activity we are doing, and therefore, the better the quality of our work would be.
Working in Synergy
What is it that drives some people to strive relentlessly, irrespective of external rewards? Abraham Maslow made an attempt to provide this much-needed answer through his breakthrough theory of motivation, in which human needs are considered at various levels. Though he did not call it as such, they really correspond to body, mind and spirit.
The lowest level (Level 1) comprises of the basic survival needs of the body such as food, shelter and clothing. Like a hungry lion in pursuit of prey, man goes to any extent to meet the physical needs of himself and his family.
The moment the basic needs are met, the needs of the mind arise; these are more complex and therefore, elusive.
‘I am all right now but will I have enough for tomorrow?’ is the first mind-created need, which Maslow terms as Level 2, the need for safety. Responding to this need to a reasonable length is wise, but it can take over our life until we find ourselves saving for five generations down the line. Fulfilling this need could become a bottomless pit, if not checked.
Level 3 relates to social needs such as the need for love, for family, for belonging. Social needs can only be met through our interaction with others, and they are therefore avenues for generating stress, for we have little control over how others view us.
Level 4 refers to the need for self-esteem, achievement, mastery, independence, status, and respect. While some of the components such as self-esteem or achievement is inner driven, the value that society places on us, or what we do, can make us externally dependent. The company’s whiz kid or the public’s favorite hero is uneasily aware of the precariousness of their position. One hears of top executives having heart attacks when the next general body meeting is scheduled, top stars having nervous breakdowns or in extreme cases, even committing suicide, when a new star emerges on the horizon and they find their ‘position’ threatened.
At the highest level (Level 5), which is that of self-actualization, one works because one’s spirit wishes to express itself. When we work at this level, driven from within, we fulfil our life’s purpose, co-creating something beautiful with God. Painters are known to have painted on continuously without eating or sleeping, fired with passion. Musicians sing and compose for hours together, lost in their pursuit, unmindful of hunger, thirst or sleep.
Arjuna, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, M S Subbalakshmi are just a few examples from mythology and history, of people who have worked at this level and reached pinnacles of excellence.
Robert Frost, the poet, wrote ‘My object in living is to unite my avocation and my vocation ….
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.’
It is this inner satisfaction that drives all great artists. In the movie, Abhimaan, the hero, a playback singer, explains to the heroine that he sings certain songs because the public wants them even though he doesn’t really like them. The heroine responds, ‘So, you sing for the public, not for yourself?’ Taken aback, he realizes that the beauty of her music is because she sings solely for inner joy.
Find a Purpose and Keep Going
Not all of us are fortunate enough to find and fulfill the unique purpose we are born for.
As Anil Bhatnagar, author and trainer on motivation, says, ‘Nature sends each one of us here on a heroic purpose and hence it is quite unnatural for one not to feel motivated. But the ways of the world are such that it is a challenge to preserve one’s natural motivation.’
We could, of course, discover our calling at any age and pursue it. But, in many cases, we may not be able to do so.The next best thing to do is to try and express our Self in whatever we do. An everyday task such as the cooking of a simple meal could be for survival (Body – Level 1), for appreciation and recognition (Mind – level 2-4) or creative self-actualization (Self – level 5).
The French writer, Francoise Rene Auguste Chateaubriand said, ‘A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.’
Indeed, highly realized souls know that in every act there lies the potential for self-expression.
Often, even great achievers fall prey to burnout. ‘When high levels of motivation and corresponding high efforts do not yield expected results, the motivation levels do take a beating,’ says Dr Chugh. As it is highly probable that one will definitely encounter such a situation in life, the best approach is to work for the sake of working, not for rewards or recognition. As Lord Krishna, one of the most original motivational speakers said to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita, ‘You have a right to work, but not to the fruits thereof.’ Difficult but not impossible, particularly when you are aligned to the why. Mr Bhatnagar recommends:
Keeping the company of highly motivated and successful people, if only through their books, articles and cassettes.
Keeping a safe distance (without losing love, empathy and compassion) from pessimistic, complaining kind of people who don’t take responsibility for their lives.
Keeping a journal to record and acknowledge with appreciation one’s past achievements and keeping an inventory of goals still to be accomplished.
Above all, listen to your inner voice – which will always guide you in the right direction. There are bound to be ups and downs in your journey. Take it in your stride. Keep giving your best to your work. There is always a why that can be found. Victor Frankl, holocaust survivor and famous author/ psychoanalyst, was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps, separated from his family and witnessed the destruction of his precious manuscript. He did not despair. He made it the purpose of his life to research on what kept people going, even under extremely difficult conditions. He persevered, writing his observations on little bits of paper he picked up in the camp. After the war, he went on to found a new theory of psychology called logotherapy, based on man’s need for meaning in suffering. He also authored many books and lectured extensively.
Coming back to Mrs Bedi, she consulted Mr Bhatnagar, who helped her direct her energies to helping people less privileged than her. With a few friends, she now runs a free school for children from slums during daytime and for illiterate adults in the evening. The zest for living has returned in her life and even her relationships with her family are far better.
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl says:
‘…everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’
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