How to sustain motivation levels all year long — some reflections ahead of 2020

Photo : Ryan Wong on Unsplash

I've been on a self improvement journey since 2016-17, roughly around the time I turned 25 and had myself a quarter life crisis(!)Yeah it's a thing.

Like most people, I started off reading about goal setting and willpower and consistency. I merged my practice of Stoicism to the exercise of going after internalized goals and tracking them meticulously while journal-ing at the end of each day.

And this approach got me results — I was doing a lot more in a single day and it helped tremendously with my anxieties of not doing anything meaningful with my life. The first year was the best. Now for year two I started off with what I couldn’t achieve in year 1; rehashed the goals and went a it again, except this time I was a little disenchanted with the whole process

I tried to reason why and hypothesized that it was probably because the goals weren't stretching me enough. So I went ahead and stretched the goals massively to see if that would excite me.

While I was excited for a short while and worked painstakingly hard on these stretch goals, there was something missing — I’d done a good job and even met a good number of them at the end of the year!

I should've been happy.
Except I wasn't!

I was still drowning in that familiar feeling of ambiguous discontent. I’d done everything right and yet somehow I started to feel like I got it wrong.

Eventually, I began working with a life coach to amplify my self improvement journey and after a few sessions, we sat down to do a goal setting meeting together.

I rattled off my usual spiel to show the coach I knew what I was doing when it came to goal setting.

However, he asked me a question that I couldn’t answer.

"What's your vision?"

Huh?

"What's your vision or purpose for life?". He smiled

I didn't know.

To be honest it isn't like I hadn't ever been asked that question during my self improvement journey. I just always thought it was a vague question. And more than that, I always saw it as a question that would limit what I could / should do with my life.

Something about it felt like it was imposing restrictions upon me that I didn't really want.

The coach explained that the purpose or vision statement is something that needs to be sufficiently broad based to ensure it doesn’t limit me in any way

“Great, a vague question with a vague answer”, is what I thought.

He said defining a purpose or vision would help me reduce the discontent I was feeling around setting and achieving goals. Right now my goals seemed arbitrary and that’s why it was hard to give a damn after about a year or so. I simply ran out of motivation.

I hated that.

So, I set out to find my purpose

Something broad.
Something personal to me.
Something that makes me feel powerful.
Something that I want to use my time on this planet to do
Something that can't ever be achieved perfectly, only worked towards… unattainable and yet tantalizingly desirable.

I thought about it and looked at my coach's example purpose statement.

"My purpose is to add value"

It fits all the criteria.

The coach also explained that when the purpose is clear, staying motivated becomes easy.

For instance, someone whose purpose is to add value will have no difficulty staying motivated to read everyday and read extensively because everything they read will enable them to live out a brighter, deeper manifestation of their purpose.

Likewise, they will work out not just to lose weight or look good but to be more physically able to add value to whatever project they take on. Old age or physical limitations are made less severe by sticking to the goal of exercising every day or at least being more consistent with their workout routines.

It all clicked together.

I needed to find something like this for myself so that every action or inaction would propel me towards or away from this glorious purpose.

And so, I began searching inwards for this purpose or vision statement.

Rummaging through my childhood memories and all the lessons I’d learned recently, I landed on this:

“My purpose is to create, refine and improve things”

Once I had this worked out, I tied all my goals to the purpose statement like the coach had taught me.

These were the goals I wrote for myself:

  • Being more vulnerable
  • Exercising regularly
  • Travelling
  • Writing more
  • Taking on new challenges at work

Here’s how I linked these goals back to my purpose:

Being vulnerable is important to my purpose because it frees up my mind from worrying about judgment and lets me show the world my authentic self. I can use the freed up mental capacity to work on more creative projects.

Exercising regularly will help me stay fit physically and also aid in brain functions being more agile. Furthermore, investing time to take care of my physical health now will ensure my mobility isn't impaired because of old age. I get to create things even when I get old.

Travelling introduces me to new experiences and exposes me to new inputs which I can use to create complex things and combine ideas in various ways.

Writing more lets me practice my skills and in bringing my ideas to life. Writing itself is a creative activity and doing it is the most direct way of living my purpose. It makes me feel alive.

Taking on new challenges at work would force me to come up with solutions to problems that I wouldn't normally encounter if I stuck to the duties listed in the job description. Stretching myself deliberately ensures that I learn a lot, get to think on my feet and make a meaningful contribution at work, all while knowing that all of this is just me living out my purpose.

Suddenly, everything seemed to come alive again!

How could I have missed this critical link when going about setting goals.

Not only have the goals started to make more sense and have a deeply personal touch to them, I am also motivated to go above and beyond on some days. All because I am sure that all of this benefits me and helps me live meaningfully.

That's what I've been looking for all along. To feel like there's some meaning to what I do and to have some positive impact on the world.

To see it magically come together like pieces of a puzzle was an a-ha moment for me.

I've held on to it and have gone from

not working out for more than 2 days in a week and abandoning workout routines

to

making sure I get 5-6 days each week on average, even when work is a B!tch

From writing one article per month

to

posting every week!

Reading a book a month

to

reading nearly 3 in a month and retaining all that I've read too.

It’s a simple mindset shift that works wonders.

For me specifically, the purpose statement offers an infinite playing ground with a finite number of rules that all exist solely to enable me find meaning and my extension happiness.

Quite the opposite from what I had perceived it to be. I don’t have to feel guilty about learning a new language for the sake of it, or feel confused if I am wasting time if I read fiction because everything is fuel for the purpose I have set out for my life. I can dial up or dial down any activity based on what I’m focusing on in a particular year/ month / week, but nothing is off bounds.

It's a wildly empowering feeling.

As you sit down to set your goals for this year, infuse your purpose into each one.

Your results are likely to be amplified in ways you never thought they could be!

Leave a note telling me what your purpose is! Have a great 2020.

Much love,

A

With thanks to Vivek Ishwar

Author of 'How to be a Lighthouse'. I write for those pursuing excellence and meaning.

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