I began a second or third career as a motivational business speaker about 26 years ago. Several times a month, I have the privilege of speaking to a Fortune 1,000 company, offering business advice and inspiring stories to stir people to capitalize on their abilities and reach their full potential.
I love this part of my job. I've met thousands of people who are looking for help getting started -- a little extra motivation. But what they perhaps don't understand is that while I may be a good storyteller and enthusiastic cheerleader, the motivation doesn't actually come from me. It's the "fire in the belly" of the listeners that will eventually determine whether they achieve more than they thought they could.
That's right -- motivation must come from within. You have to ignite your own passion. Otherwise, how do you explain that in a roomful of people who hear the same message, some will just go back to the office, grateful for the break, while others go on to accomplish great things.
I am fascinated with the science of what makes people tick. Let me share an example from a pioneering thinker in the field of workplace motivation, David McClelland, who developed many of his theories in the 1950s and '60s.
With no stipulated rules, volunteers were asked to throw rings over pegs just like in the carnival game. Most people seemed to throw from arbitrary, random distances, sometimes close, sometimes farther away. But a small group of volunteers, who McClelland suggested were strongly achievement-motivated, carefully measured and tested distances that would produce a challenge that was not too easy, but not impossible.
McClelland identified the need for a "balanced challenge" in the approach of achievement-motivated people. People with strong achievement motivation need to set themselves challenging but realistic goals.
That makes perfect sense to me. I have an easier time getting motivated to sell to an account that I have a reasonable expectation of landing, even if it takes several -- or many -- calls. I can talk myself into going back again and again if I want it bad enough, and if I think I have a chance of success.
As humorist Oscar Wilde put it, "My great mistake, the fault for which I cannot forgive myself, is that one day I ceased my obstinate pursuit of my own individuality." In other words, the day he lost motivation to be his best self.
My friend Brendon Burchard has set out a plan that demonstrates how to avoid that trap. His new book, "The Motivation Manifesto: 9 Declarations to Claim Your Personal Power," is based on the theory that "a vibrant, genuine, and purposeful life is the right of all humankind. ... Humankind's main motivation is to seek and experience personal freedom."
Personal freedom, he says, is important because "when controlled by others, life loses its flair, and we are cast into melancholy and mediocrity."
That sounds to me like the opposite of motivation. So we need to be free to be motivated. But, Burchard says, that presents a difficult choice, "between the comforts of fitting in and pleasing others and our higher motive for personal freedom."
He says: "To achieve personal freedom, we must dedicate ourselves to self-mastery; we must determine and discipline our own motivations to stay true to our sense of self, to our own path."
Overcoming fear -- specifically fear of failure -- is essential to freedom. Burchard encourages readers to repeat this mantra: "Fear wins or freedom wins, and I choose freedom."
And perhaps his boldest statement is this: "Our entire human value system rests on motivation. None of the great human values that keep us and society in check -- kindness, love, honesty, fairness, unity, tolerance, respect, responsibility -- would flourish if we were not motivated to bring them to life."
Sustaining motivation requires real effort. In order to claim the personal power required for motivation, Burchard presents and expands on these nine declarations:
-- We Shall Meet Life with Full Presence and Power
-- We Shall Reclaim Our Agenda
-- We Shall Defeat Our Demons
-- We Shall Advance with Abandon
-- We Shall Practice Joy and Gratitude
-- We Shall Not Break Integrity
-- We Shall Amplify Love
-- We Shall Inspire Greatness
-- We Shall Slow Time
Motivation is a daily challenge. But understanding the rewards makes the effort worthwhile.
Mackay's Moral: (with thanks to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu) "When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be."