You’re cruising along, well on your way to getting things done, when all of a sudden it sneaks up: a hole as big as the great abyss. It stops you suddenly, completely, and seems impassable. It may be that you’re suffering a temporary lack of motivation. What’s gone wrong? Whatever happened to your achievement-oriented temperament? And what do you do to get beyond the abyss?
Psychologist and philosopher Abraham Maslow developed the basis of motivational theory. We’re all motivated by need, of being dissatisfied by the normal state of things. And that dissatisfaction has the possibility of leading us to answering that need, of the state of fulfillment. At least, that’s what Maslow said. He developed a hierarchy of needs, usually depicted as a triangle with five sections. They begin with the most basic of needs and advance upward to mental, intellectual, and social needs.
Our most basic needs, the bottom of the triangle, are those everyone needs in roughly equal measure: air, water, food, and shelter. The second-highest need is that of safety, of eliminating anxiety, fear, and chaos. These needs are answered with security and law and order. Beyond that is our need for love and belonging. Fourth is our need for self-esteem and self-respect and the corresponding recognition, respect for and from others, and our need for achievement. The top of the pyramid relates to our drive for self-actualization: being able to fulfill our talents and abilities, and our existential need to know ourselves and our higher purpose. Not everyone has these needs equally – some may feel the need to emphasize the basic two or three; others exist primarily in the middle range of needs, while some spend quite a bit of time living and being at the tip of the triangle.
Escaping the doldrums
Knowing what the five needs are and also where you stand on the continuum, cannot in itself motivate you. When you feel that lack of inspiration for doing something, anything, follow Nike’s slogan to “Just do it.” Just begin doing something. Anything. But make sure you start with something you can actually do. Through struggling too much, we’re liable to thwart our progress.
Start a journal entry of things you’d like to do by the end of this year, this month, this week. Prioritize them by level of importance. Using the SMART method, make a plan for accomplishing the top one thing. Take that first step toward accomplishing it. Not acquainted with the SMART method of goal achievement? It’s a motivational acronym for working your way out of that big hole and indicates specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound:
- Specific: Make your goal so clear that you can easily state exactly what you want. Rather than saying, “I want to be successful,” define exactly what success will look like for you. Try, “I want to make enough money with my business to not only pay my expenses, but also to allow for charitable contributions.”
- Measurable: Take your specific goal and add a quantifiable statement. Rather than saying, “I want to make a lot of money,” you might say, “I’m going to earn $25,000.”
- Attainable: Formulate your goal as something that’s within your power to achieve. Becoming richer than Bill and Melinda Gates may not be likely, so make sure it’s something you can do. It’s ok if it’s beyond your comfort zone – it should be if it’s genuine growth and achievement you’re after – but it shouldn’t be so far-reaching that you’re setting yourself up for failure.
- Relevant: Craft your goal so that it gets you closer to your purpose. If you have a mission statement, it should relate to that.
- Time-bound: Give yourself an end date: “I’m going to earn $25,000 by the end of December this year.
Be willing to fail before you make it
Perhaps you can become inspired by learning of famous people who failed before they flew:
- Oprah Winfrey was fired from an early job as a television anchor.
- Thomas Edison made 1,000 tries before developing a working light bulb.
- Actor Sidney Poitier was told by a director that he should get a job as a dishwasher.
- Theodore Geisel, better known and loved by children as Dr. Suess, was rejected nearly 30 times before a publisher picked up his first book.
- J.K. Rowling was on welfare when she came up with Harry Potter.
- Lady Gaga’s first record label dropped her.
If there’s one thing that all of these people shared on their road to fame, it would probably be perseverance. And they might agree the hardships were worth it. If they can overcome early failures and go on to find success, then so can you.
What a sweet experience it is to achieve a long-sought goal, one into which you’ve put all your time and energy.
Still feeling at loss to find your next goal or continue on the one you’ve already set? Ponder the words of Oprah: “Do the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment. Own it.”