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Motivation is the Only Currency You Need: 5 Ways to Self-Motivate Towards Your Dreams

Most people do not want to be told what to do, yet we all take orders from people everyday.

I remember receiving a notice from my previous manager.

“Hey Nifemi, you’d have to go to the site next week. Your colleague has an emergency and we need one person in front of the customer at this stage of the project” He said over the call.

“No problem.” I responded. “I’ll book my ticket now.” I hung up the phone.

It was Friday afternoon and I was about to head home for the weekend.

Deep down, the narrative in my head was “Damn, for real. You’re really going to tell me this on Friday. What emergency? Can’t we just tell the client, we’ll be there the week after. What’s with the pandering?”

Those thoughts didn’t stop me from booking the mid-afternoon flight through the trusted American express corporate travel site. 

My mind was telling me on thing: “They can’t just call you up at any time to tell you to be wherever they want you to be” 

But my body…my body was doing the right thing: “you better get to that site quick, if you want to keep making this paycheck. Oh yeah, that green card too, you best get moving.”

I booked that ticket faster than Usain Bolt on race night.

The motivation was clear. 

Keep the boss happy.
Be a team player.
Don’t jeopardize the income.
Get your green card (where my immigrants at?)

Elephant in the room

But motivation without the external push is not always clear. 

Outside of work, a lot of us do not know how to self-motivate. 

Most of us are used to the management style of motivation. We are trained in the education-corporate reward system based solely on extrinsic motivators. 

Everytime a new title, salary, position is accomplished, we soon recalibrate and feel unfulfilled, looking for the next thing that will drive us forward.

A lot of us are now knowledge-workers, no longer widget-pushers on the manufacturing line. 

Our jobs are not as straight-forward. We have to bring in some creativity and problem-solving skills to work every day to thrive.

How should I respond to this email?
What input is needed from me to make the team more effective?
What variables and assumptions do we need for this model?

When you punch the clock these days, you are not just tapping buttons and following instructions, you are actually thinking on the spot.

Why is this important? 

The motivation models have not advanced since the industrial age. The “give them more money and status, to motivate them” mantra is no longer as effective.

In fact, there is evidence that shows that the higher the reward, the lower your performance on conceptual work.

It’s no surprise that higher management is usually filled with…(hmm…nevermind)

When you are not properly motivated, you can feel defeated, purposeless, and actually guilty for getting paid and not being happy about your work.

Perhaps you should switch the way you think about motivation and develop your own self-motivating approach.

Five Things To Help You Self-Motivate

Fast forward about 12 years after I got that call from my manager. 

I was far removed from a structured corporate environment. I had strived to get an MBA, and then chase out the entrepreneurial dream. The promises of both are still a fading oasis in the scorching Sahara desert.

However, I’ve spent the last 9 years learning about how to consistently chase down my goals.

I have developed my rhythm but finding ways to constantly stay motivated is challenging. So I’ve been on the lookout for some research-backed findings about motivation and the results are eye-opening. 

With the proper amount of motivation across a time period, you can supercharge your growth and streamline your path to achieving some of those mighty dreams that you have. 

Learning how to self-motivate will become a secret super power that you have. 

You will understand the importance of becoming more competent at what you do. You will be more intentional about how you spend your time. You will feel less guilty about not being motivated by the “old-fashion motivators.” You will feel more aligned with your purpose.

You’ll be able to tap into peak productivity. But not productivity in the economic sense of being more efficient but in a personal and self-fulfilling way of “I can accomplish the things I intend to”

Here are the five things to build up your self-motivating toolset.

1. Understand Dopamine

Dopamine is the single most important currency in the world.

Read that again.

It’s not dollars. It’s not ETH. It’s definitely not Naira (sorry to my Naija folks).

It’s a chemical in your brain that helps you strive to get or create other currencies. 

Simply put, dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that makes you feel good. It is the greatest motivator. 

It’s what we have developed to make us strive for things beyond the confines of our bodies – food, sex, money, territory, influence, drugs, sugar. You name it. It’s all linked to this feel-good chemical.

“So when I say “Dopamine is the universal currency of everything.” What I mean is that it’s driving the motivation to develop new currencies”

~ Andrew Huberman, Neuroscientist & Professor, Stanford University

Dopamine is crucial to your motivation. 

Not as a reward to attain a goal as previously thought but more as a craving to achieve the goal.

It’s not about achieving the goal but more about the journey and the desire you build towards achieving the goal that matters. 

Don’t fall for the trap that when you achieve something, you will feel great. A lot of times you’ll be left more disappointed than a new voter trusting every word of a politician.

Self-regulating your dopamine production is key. 

The desire and the “striving for” is more important than the actual outcome. Stay motivated by doing things in small steps, focusing on the process, and understanding how dopamine works.

2. Assess Consequence 

Your happiness depends on how wild your imagination is.

Your happiness is linked to how much your expectations match reality. We tend to be unhappy when we don’t reach the reality we expected. This is called the expectation gap. The bigger the gap, the more demotivated you become. 

There are three types of expectation gaps: imaginary, interpersonal, and intertemporal.

The Imaginary gap is when the infinite scale of your imagination does not meet the bounds of reality. Interpersonal gap is when you expect your reality to be better than others while the intertemporal gap is when you expect your present to be better than your past.

Sometimes our wild imagination fails us. 

We expect too much from something because we actually don’t know what lies on the other side. The isolated success of others glamorizes our expectations. 

I do believe anything is possible but it might just take several attempts to get there even though you thought all you needed was one shot. 

Don’t let your imagination fail you.

Become more realistic with your expectations. Do this by practicing and taking steps towards your goals and seeing the feedback you get with each step to calibrate expectations.  

Your motivation to keep doing things depends on how happy you are with the results you get from your action. Properly assess consequences and set better expectations. 

3. Develop Competence

Self motivation begins with empowerment.

Your answer to these three questions,

  • Can I do it? (Your competence)
  • Will it work? (Learning about consequence mentioned above)
  • Is it worthwhile? (We’ll talk about this next)

determines your level of self motivation. 

In whatever you are doing, according to Scott Geller (Professor of Applied Behavior Systems at Virginia Tech), if you answered yes to all three questions, “you feel competent to do worthwhile work” and motivated.

This sense of self-empowerment is the internal motivation you need to keep going.

When I wrote Press Play (my first published book), I was not sure whether I should sign up for a writing class that would help me publish the book. 

“Is it worth it?” I asked. 

Once I admitted I was stuck because I was not competent enough to get my book across the finish line (without help), my motivation to join the writing class was clear.

I wanted to learn and get better at publishing stories. 

Framing it as an opportunity to learn and develop competency drove my motivation.

We all crave mastery – to get better at doing something. Self-motivation requires being humble to keep learning. Being open to feedback to gauge competency level. 

How are you training yourself or the people around you to become more competent? 

Develop a healthy feedback loop from the people around you to reinforce your competency around the work you do. Keep practicing your craft on the path to mastery.

4. Determine Worthwhileness

“Do you wake up to an alarm clock or an opportunity clock”

~ Scott Geller

Self motivation starts with “you can do it” and ends in “we can do it together.”

Although motivation all starts from within and wanting to improve yourself, you still want to contribute. 

You want to lead with a purpose that the tasks you do serve a need that is beyond yourself. 

At the office, home, or social events, the recognition of what we do is very important. (I’m looking at you bosses that are not properly recognizing the effort of your employees)

As we develop skill competency and get a better grip of the consequences (rewards) for taking action, we need the final piece of the puzzle to drive us – purpose.

Purpose usually lies at the intersections of your interests, what you’re skilled at, and what the community (world) needs more of. 

Without that third piece of interconnectedness and shared purpose with others, you can begin to feel isolated in your work. Gradually leading you down the demotivating valley to a dry creek of unfulfilled bones.

Spend some time understanding whether what you are working on is worthwhile. Does it serve a purpose beyond yourself? Use that clarity to remain motivated. 

Also bake in some recognition for the people around you that make your life worthwhile.

5. Prioritize Autonomy

“Traditional notions of Management are great if you want compliance. But if you want engagement, self direction works better.”

~ Daniel Pink

When the pandemic hit, companies had no choice but to allow people to work from home. 

I had been working from home for 4 years before that. 

I had heard all sorts of questions from friends about my productivity:
are you really working? How can you get anything done? Really! can your business be that serious if you’re doing it from home – in your PJs?

BOOM. 2020 came around and voila – everyone was working from home (in their PJs too). 

Surprisingly, people enjoyed the freedom and still delivered results. 

We tend to be motivated when we can direct our actions. 

I can personally tell you that the best part of being an entrepreneur is having equity. But not equity in my company or ownership of stocks of another company, but having a good amount of equity of my time and ownership of how I choose to use it. 

Having autonomy in this era is almost non-negotiable to your motivation.

Perhaps more money or higher status shouldn’t be your only driver as you approach your next opportunity. 

More time and flexibility to drive your decisions and choices is a key ingredient to self-motivate. 

Strive for autonomy and freedom to choose what to do with your time.

Final Thoughts

You can develop the capacity to be motivated from within.

This is an untouchable force that will drive you and can build on itself. 

You can do this by getting clarity on what’s worthwhile, developing your interests into competence, assessing real consequences, prioritizing more autonomy, understanding how your reward system is wired, and building up your desire to attain something over attaining the goal itself.

You got it.
Now go get it.

Yours truly,

Who is Nifemi?

Hey I’m Nifemi of NapoRepublic

I help busy people fit in a creative practice to bring to bring order to their reality and help them live a more meaningful life through writing and reflection.

Sculpt your story

Know thyself, build a second brain, and unleash your creativity with writing. All in one journaling, note-taking, and dots-connection method that fits into your busy life.