You arrive again at a familiar point in life. You are faced with evidence that says, “Learn something new, practice new skills, and change your habits.”
We’ve all been there before at the precipice of something new and better for us. It’s a moment we will experience again and again in different quests to reach for things that are good. We usually read more about motivation than inspiration. Somehow, motives seem tangible while inspiration seems like divine gardens.
We strive to learn how to motivate ourselves. We sincerely want to learn how to get ourselves to do what it takes to reach our goals, fill out paperwork, follow a sales process, be better parents, or grow spiritually. But in the doing, we miss the inspiration that motivates.
Motivating People by Our Own Efforts
From earliest recorded history to the present, teachers have addressed the subject of motivating people. In the 20th century, theories from B.F. Skinner and Pavlov’s dogs swept our culture. Ring a bell and the dog salivates if it has been conditioned to do so. The dogs did, and so will people.
While animals and people do make conditioned responses, people are at times unpredictable because of the human spirit residing deep within them. They make decisions based on that spirit, and you can’t control them.
Just remember Victor Frankel’s words from Man’s Search for Meaning: “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me.” The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance. Those are inspiring words from a prisoner in one of Germany’s concentration camps in World War Two.
Motivation often involves using incentives, or it means striving to stimulate others into wanting to do something. It eventually turns into attempts at control—how to control another person, even oneself. This notion that we can control others is an illusion, and it leads to a dictatorship, not motivation.
Control is an Illusion
When you get a chance to see Anthony Hopkins, as anthropologist Ethan Powell, and Cuba Gooding Jr. in the movie Instinct, look for the scene where Ethan Powell, in prison for murder, teaches Cuba, the young psychologist Dr. Theo Calder, that control is an illusion. When Ethan gets Dr. Calder in a life threatening position, it becomes apparent that the prisoner understands freedom better, despite his jailed circumstances, than the seemingly free psychiatrist who is actually in bondage to what others think of him. One is inspired from his heart by personal ideals and motives while the other is motivated by an outside world that controls him.
By the end of the movie, the teacher becomes the student. The psychiatrist learns that control restricts inspiration and freedom. It does this by withholding or providing rewards as a means of personal measurement or to confirm a person’s identity.
We need to understand Inspiration for one very important reason. It is to learn how to set up and maintain an environment in which we, and those we lead, can learn, grow, and thrive because of wise decisions. We want to discover an important cause or obligation that makes a lasting impression upon our hearts—one that motivates us, and those around us, to pay attention to important duties and goal achievement.
There’s a nobler impact from inspiration as well. For a lasting effect, we need to inspire ourselves into greater efforts, enthusiasm and creativity. To do this, we need to find purpose in what we do to make things better for others. We must understand how our personal responsibilities contribute to improving lives, and we need to know how to help achieve results that are important for the people we serve.
As we open our eyes to the life we live, the adventure we are on, the battles we fight, and who we strive to rescue, inspiration increases. We begin to also understand and fight for the valuable role we play in the health of a company or in our family. Then, goals take on a greater significance, and we are inspired.
Greatness Lies in What Inspires
For Steve, my business partner, working in the Alabama potato fields as a young child created a desire and motivation for a different future. When he stepped out of college, he stepped into a position with Northwestern Mutual at full commission and no salary. When those in leadership told him to do something, he did it. He made the calls, and he learned to manage his activity. He did not want to go back to the Alabama fields.
Steve managed his activity and listened to advice from sales management for his own reasons, not theirs. He motivated himself and found inspiration by envisioning a better life for his family. Sometimes we all need help in finding inspiration in our lives. We motivate ourselves to do what others want done. We march in the direction they tell us. They ring a bell, and we salivate.
Our families, often broken and limited in parental direction, do not help us with purposeful adult maturity—especially if we’ve been allowed to float. We are not all given potato fields of our own that inspire us with lasting motive. Do you need motivation? Real motivation? Where do you find the inspiration that creates lasting motivation? Where do you find reasons for sticking with something until you see it through? How do you mature to the point that you get up to fight a good fight every day for something that’s important to your life and of benefit to other people?
I realize that many of you may not be inspired to work toward greatness. For now, you may just want to move away from survival and get some breathing room between yourself and failure. But greatness, if it comes from inspiring motives, can’t be compared to the achievement of others. In other words, greatness, if truly found in things that inspire, will have a different substance in one person than in another. What will set one person free will merely be a stepping stone to someone else. Greatness lies in progress away from the things that bind and block us. It’s relative to the individual, and to him or her alone.
Out of Inspiration Springs Motivation
Do you need motivation? Remember my business partner Steve and his potato fields? Newly married and just out of college, Steve was only four years removed from backbreaking labor. Imagine a tractor pulling a plow, while a conveyor belt moves, as potatoes are lifted and dropped to the ground. As a young man, Steve picked up the potatoes and put them in baskets placed in the field. He received 25 cents for each basket for $2.25 an hour. Steve carried the baskets to the truck, and, later, he moved them from the truck to the washing barn.
That experience was motivating. Yes, the money was important to a young man going to college, but was it inspiring? He found inspiration believing in a promising career that would provide a future very different from his past. The discipline required to reach it brought him and his family freedom from the potato fields.
So again, do you need motivation? Real motivation? I’m sure the answer is, “Yes.” It might be pressed down under years of following and taking orders, but it is there. Desire lies in the genes waiting to be released. That’s what I believe.
Get started and be inspired by forming a strong purpose for your work. Out of it will spring reasons for bringing accountability and new forms of discipline to your sales actions. Commit. Burn the boats of bondage. Take the new land, the new life, and the better lifestyle. Work for it. Really work for it. Don’t count the hours.
What is it about movies like Lord of the Rings or Gladiator that bring in billions of dollars? People love experiencing purpose, standards, an adventure, battles, and a cause. People who pay to see these movies find life in the purposeful actions of the characters. And I believe there’s something else. The character’s struggles are tough and not easy. We love to watch stories of perseverance where someone makes it through and beats the odds. We love to watch others overcome difficulties and win. This is because we are born to take on challenges. Their tough moments help put meaning into our lives.
We can make our lives meaningful with budget numbers to achieve, sales to close, children to put through school, and homes to make better. We fight against inflation, deflation, bad transmissions, and credit card debt. We work to get in front of prospects, fill the needs of customers, and manage cash flow.
Our world is one large movie set, and we’re its main characters with important parts to play. Begin to build an environment in which you make a choice to be inspired. This motivation will naturally drive you to purposeful results. One way to do this is to get around what inspires you. For example, books, movies, plays, and people look for inspiration, and you will find it if it is deep and lasting. It will drive you to do your best for the benefit of others, to strive for perfection, and to achieve important goals. Now go do this. You can.