How do my inner voice and external sources of inspiration impact my motivation?

Motivation is a function of how you build yourself up or knock yourself down

Thank you all for the terrific feedback from last week’s post. Before we jump into today’s grid, I wanted to share the highlights from an interesting conversation I had with a reader about two aspects Gridology #2.

The first point was around the nuances between the x and y-axis. The reader called out that the y-axis feels like an objective measure (you have a specific level of EQ that can be measured… check out all these EQ tests) vs. the x-axis, which is a more subjective measure as it’s your opinion whether someone is “confused” or “gets it.” On this point, the differences between the types of values are okay. To me, this grid—at its core—is directional. Using it can help you map your relationships and better manage any conflict that arises successfully.

The second point was around the naming convention of “confused” and “get it” on the x-axis. This reader thought that simplifying the x-axis to be “similar core values to your own” (rather than “get it”) and “different core values to your own” (rather than “confused”) would allow for a more objective measure. On this point, I agree. You could simplify it down to a friend having similar or different values than you. I personally like the “get it” and “confused” naming labels because it keeps the categorization looser. In my view, it’s impossible to know if you and your friends are 100% on the same page across every possible belief. The “confused” and “get it” labels allow you the extra wiggle room to feel it out. Both work options work. Use the option you prefer.

Now to this week’s Gridology!

6-min read

Today, I’m writing about how your mindset and who you surround yourself with can influence your motivation. After three weeks of social distancing, I’ve personally gone through bursts of productivity and others of apathy. This got me thinking about how I (and we all) can better motivate ourselves during this uncertain and bizarre time.

The question I’m looking to answer this week is about understanding motivation from two sources that you can readily change while we are all self-distancing:

How do my inner voice and external sources of inspiration impact my motivation?

In my eyes, there are two types of people who can inspire you:

  1. Yourself: What does your inner voice tell you?

  2. Everyone Else: How do your role models and idols affect your perspective?

Let’s talk about both dimensions in terms of examples.

Dimension 1: Yourself

To understand how you are able to motivate yourself, let’s look at a fictional example of two people looking to learn data science.

Tony: Tony already has technical experience and thus feels courageous and confident to take an online class, scroll through forums and complete a data science project on his own. He feels committed to add data science to his technical toolkit and résumé, certain it will improve his career prospects. Trying new things and believing in the mantra of “I can do anything I set my mind to” is second nature to him.

Ray: On the other hand, Ray has no experience in math or coding, but wants to try something new. After struggling through his first online class, anxiety strikes. He becomes filled with fear. “What if I fail,” he thinks. The desire to give up creeps in. The social repercussions of failing and having his friends and family call him a quitter take hold.

Tony is feeling brave and committed. Ray is feeling fearful and uncertain. Understanding the tone of your inner voice is key to understanding your ability to self-motivate. What narrative is being played in your head? Deep down are you telling yourself “I can do this” or are you quietly doubting yourself?

This is the x-axis on today’s grid: What’s your inner voice saying? Does it build you up or knock you down?

Dimension 2: Everyone Else

To understand the second dimension of external inspiration, let’s use the example of two people who want to complete a marathon.

Anita: Anita is a avid runner who tries to run at least 10 or so miles every week. However, she’s never run an official race. After watching the Nike Breaking2 documentary, she comes to admire Eliud Kipchoge (the world’s fastest marathoner). Eliud’s passion for running and his desire to push the limits of what’s humanly possible resonates with and inspires Anita. Perhaps she will now sign up for a race.

Janice: Janice is a casual runner who has always dreamed about running a marathon. This fall, on Instagram, she sees that a few of her friends she went to college with completed the New York City Marathon. She’s filled with jealousy. “These friends just started running and they already completed a marathon,” Janice thinks to herself. She’s angry. Maybe it’s time for her to finally sign up for a race. If they can do it, why can’t she?

Anita is full of admiration and regard. Janice is full of jealousy and resentment. Anita looked to an expert or icon to help pull her in the direction she wanted to go. Janice, on the other hand, had the experience of her friends push her to finally say enough is enough.

This is the y-axis on today’s grid: In which way do the people around you motivate you? In what form is your external inspiration: a push or a pull?

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Understanding the Grid

To use this grid effectively, first pick a goal you’d like to achieve. It could be as simple as wanting to read a new book or as lofty as making a career pivot.

Second, ask yourself the question: When I think about achieving this goal, what’s my instant reaction? Name the first three to six emotions that come to mind. A rough average of these feelings should give you a gauge for where this goal will fall on the x-axis.

Third, start thinking about role models, connections, friends or family that impact this project. Which names come to mind first? Do those people fill you with jealousy or admiration? Do they force or inspire you to take action? Taking a rough average of how these people make you feel should give you a gauge for where this goal will fall on the y-axis.

Ultimately, which quadrant you land in can help you understand:

  1. Why you are currently pursuing goals the way you do.

  2. How to properly motivate yourself to start/finish goals.

  3. How to pick the right external inspiration to fuel your success.

A Personal Example: Starting this Newsletter

The personal emotions that rose to the surface: excitement, curiosity, fear, anxiety, determination, absorption.

People that came to mind: a few friends who have started podcasts, Scott Galloway, Shane Parrish.

How those people made me feel: inspired, hopeful, optimistic, comfortable, a bit jealous (if we are being honest, which we are).

Based on the fact that I was feeling more excited and curious than I was fearful and anxious and that the people I considered role models in thought leadership filled me with more admiration than jealousy, I predict I was somewhere right around here (below) on this grid. It’s not an exact science, but directionally accurate:

More about the specific quadrants below:

Motivated Go-Getter

Your inner voice builds you up. Your external motivation inspires you and pulls you toward your goals. Goals in this quadrant are often fun, exciting and feel effortless to work on. You can easily get lost in a state of “flow.” The people around you, generally, support your endeavor. This creates a self-fulfilling cycle: you enjoy working on the project and your external motivators continually inspire you along the way. You tend to finish these projects.

Reactionary Pursuits

Your inner voice builds you up. Your external motivators make you feel jealous and force you into your goals. Goals in this quadrant generally feel as if the stakes are higher. At times, you can feel like you are playing for your own self-worth or dignity. You’re determined to realize success, but the way in which you do feels inauthentic. The external factors that push you towards your goals feel exhausting. Projects that fall within this quadrant can get abandoned before they get finished. Generally, I find people are more likely to succeed when they are feeling pulled towards something vs. feeling as if they are forced into it, so try finding different motivators that inspire you rather than make you jealous.

Growth Mindset

Your inner voice knocks you down, but your external motivators inspire you to achieve your goals. Goals in the quadrant feel like big extensions outside of your comfort zone (i.e. traveling abroad by yourself, learning a new technical skill, starting a company). Despite being unsure of yourself, you’ve properly selected the right role models to help you feel like you can rise above your self-doubt. Your external motivation works to help (slowly) adjust your inner voice. Over time, instead of doubting yourself, you change the narrative from “I can’t do this” to “let’s make small progress day by day.” Sometimes, depending on who your role models are, you can leverage them in real life for support and guidance.

Frustrated Observer

Your inner voice knocks you down and your external motivators make you feel jealous, resentful and forced into achieving your goal. Goals in this quadrant feel like you are trapped. You tell yourself that you can’t (or don’t want to) achieve what you want to go out of do. The people who surround you also bring you down and fill you with resentment. Imagine this: you struggle with eating healthy and all of your close friends have fantastic metabolisms and can eat whatever they want without gaining a pound. You’re angry at your friends for the success they have and fundamentally believe that you can’t change your habits. You stay in place, observing those around you without knowing how to make real progress towards your goal.

Grid Shortcomings

There a three shortcomings with this grid:

  1. The grid assumes you can be honest with yourself to know when you’re feeling jealousy or admiration. Jealousy and admiration are quite similar, but in my view, jealousy leaves you with resentful thoughts of “I can’t believe Person X did this and I can’t.” On the other hand, admiration leaves you with positive thoughts of “Person X did this, and I know I can do it, too.”

  2. The grid assumes that how you feel about your goals is fixed. This is obviously not true. Your mood and the narrative you tell yourself can change daily. Noticing how you feel each day is important for capitalizing on waves of strong motivation and staying positive when the confidence isn’t there.

  3. The grid assumes your sources of external inspiration remain constant. This also isn’t true as we’re always reading, learning, and exploring. The more you can keep an open mind, the more you can try to find role models who you admire rather than ones who fill you with jealousy. Try to be pulled in directions that excite you, rather than pushed into things.

Ultimately, this grid should be used as often as you need it. It will change day to day. If the story in your head isn’t a positive one, maybe try again tomorrow, or pursue activities (meditation, exercise, clean eating, yoga, etc) that have been proven to help change your mood.

How does this grid land with you? At its core, it’s about understanding your inner voice and external sources of inspiration. As always, please remember that if you have feedback or an idea for a post, please shoot me a note. I’d love to hear from you.

Life’s only as confusing as you let it be,

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