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How High Achievers Set Themselves up to Win According to Jeff Haden

Motivation is not a spark, it’s the fruit of taking action


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Houssem Sadki

3 years ago | 7 min read

When we’re being unproductive and wasting our time, we like to tell ourselves that what’s missing is motivation, intuitively, we think that to get something done like an essay or working on that project,

we need to summon up some mystical energy, this mental or emotional state, this Motivation that gives us the spark to get started but what if we misunderstood the idea of motivation? what if we could reframe the idea and structure our lives in a way where we never need to worry about motivation ever again.

In the next sections, I’ll break down the ideas broadcasted in “The Motivation Myth” by Jeff Haden and it’s a book that tries to debunk some of the popular myths around motivation hence the title and it talks about how we can kinda restructure our lives in a way that helps us be happier, healthier and more productive which is fantastic in theory but how did he explain this.

Using examples of his own life along with lots of inspirational people that he interviewed during his career, Jeff explains why we’ve all misunderstood motivation and he uses this theory as a springboard to discuss other issues linked to success and happiness and I am quoting from one of his talks in TEDxPaloAlto where he tries to explain .

That motivation is something we are capable of creating ourselves and I am quoting here “By putting effort in something, learning and making progress, that feels good and that will give you enough motivation to carry you to the next day so that you can get up and do whatever it is on your plan”.

Although there are loads of snippets of wisdom in the book, am gonna split this article into three core ideas, we’ll start by looking why motivation is not the spark then we'll look at processes over goals, and finally, why being a jack of all trades is the best way to live life.

Motivation Is Not The Spark

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This is the ultimate motivation myth, it’s the idea that we all have where we think we need Motivation to get something done, If you’re anything like me, you might watch a motivational YouTube video or read a motivational quote or see someone’s topless photo on Instagram and think “Yes, I’m motivated” to get that body, I wanna look like “Zack Effron”, but if you’re anything like me, that motivation never lasts and Jeff actually calls us out in the book very nicely,

he says that for most of us, motivation is a sugar rush that never lasts and instead there is only one recipe for gaining motivation, success, specifically the dopamine hit we get when we observe ourselves making progress,

the main idea is that motivation doesn’t lead to action, instead action leads to success which prompts action which generates more success and more motivation and this creates a positive dopamine-driven feedback loop.

Summing this all up in a nice pithy, tweetable soundbite, motivation isn’t a spark, motivation is the fire that starts burning after you manually, painfully coax into existence and it feeds on the satisfaction of seeing yourself make progress and genuinely this is a life-changing insight on the subject matter,

like for me when I first realized that I didn’t need the Motivation to do something, that I will have to do the thing and motivation will naturally follow, it just opened so many doors for all of the different things I can do in life without relying on motivation.

But that’s all well and good, let’s say we’ve accepted that motivation comes after we start to make progress and that is where the second progress so how do we start making that progress in the first place.

Success Depends on Our Process

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We’re often told that to get the motivation to do something, we should set some kind of goal, the common wisdom is that when we have an end goal, we’ll have something to concentrate on, a motivating force to get us started, but once again, Jeff tells us that this theory is misguided, he says that there is nothing wrong with having a goal but just having a goal isn’t enough, Like for me just having a goal to run a marathon is not gonna get me across the finish line,

instead success depends on our process, when we focus on process, we build the foundations for our success and therefore we generate the momentum and the positive feedback loop that maintains the sustainable fire of motivation, as Jeff says :

“If you dedicate yourself to working your process, you will make progress and then success is inevitable “

If we’re trying to run a marathon, for example, the goal would be “I’m gonna run the marathon” and that’s fine but then we forget about the goal and instead focus on the process, the process of setting day to day goals of things to do to get you to that goal and in the book,

he’s got loads of tips about how we stay on track with the whole process thing, one of my favorite ones is using the power of a language like when we’re doing anything hard or challenging, we’re all gonna be tempted to stray from the process like for me starting on Medium, the process is,

I’m going to write three article a week and it’s very tempting to stray from that because all other things in life come up but actually one way of keeping ourselves on track and the one thing I found very helpful is by changing our language so moving from “I can’t” to “I don’t”.

Photo by Ryan Moreno on Unsplash

So “I can’t” is a decision that we’ve made based on external processes like “I can’t afford a Tesla Model S”, it’s an external reality ,

I physically don’t have enough money to spare to by a Tesla Model S, something totally outside of my control , “I just can’t do it “ and this money example , it might be true and there’s nothing I can do about it for now but actually there is a lot of areas in life where we say we can’t while actually we do have it in our control ,

like for example I might say “I can’t eat that cake because I’m on diet” and that will subtely reinforce that it’s an external thing ,it’s not like an internally generated decision and so inevitably,

I’m gonna end up caving and I’m gonna eat the cake because I’ve said I can’t and the trick that we can do to get over this is to replace “I can’t” with “I don’t” because “I don’t” is much more a personal lifestyle identity type decision rather than an external forces type decision , that is an affirmation of identity, you took off the external factors on the decision making process .

So after reading Books like Motivation Myth and Atomic Habits, the way that I think of goals now is that you set them and you focus on the process instead and you can read the Motivation Myth to get loads of other tips about this.

Now that we talked about the power of processes, the final idea that I’m gonna talk about is how we can turn our process-driven mindset to become as Jeff says, a serial achiever.

Become a Jack of All Trades

Photo by Andreas Klassen on Unsplash

Again, our mate Jeff is being a bit of contrarian here because the conventional wisdom is that we should try and be specialized and get really good at one thing and that tends to be what most traditional metrics of success and accomplishment are defined by,

how good can you be in one specific field but jeff says that we should instead be thinking like generalists rather than specialists, this advice makes me feel pretty good because this idea of becoming a jack of all trades is something I’ve been preaching to myself combining innovation in different fields to serve your goal and in the book, Jeff also says that we should all try and become an “And” person like someone who is the sum of many parts ,”

I am this AND this AND that”, like for example when I lay awake at night in my bed , I love to say that I am an engineer but I love adding that I am a poet AND a writer AND and athlete AND a drummer and I try to sort-stack these ANDs I leaned over the years onto my identity for various different reasons,maybe my ego complex or maybe the need to impress other people

The thing I agree onto with Jeff is that learning multiple things is very rewarding in so many ways, Jeff even uses Venus Williams example, alongside being an absolute legend at tennis, she’s been really successful as an entrepreneur with her activewear brand,

it’s not just some celebrity vanity project cause apparently she is heavily involved in the business and she’s even taken some extra degrees to improve her skill set and to give her something to work on when she retires from tennis.

Photo by Razvan Chisu on Unsplash

What I think About All Of This

That’s all fine, this idea that we should all try and be learning all these different skills and stacking up these different pieces to further build up our identity but to be honest, maybe you’ve got a full-time job, maybe you’re saving lives as your day job and it might be quiet hard to actually make the time to come home from work and then produce an incredibly high-quality life-changing article for example but actually Jeff has got a solution for us,

he says that we don’t have to do all of this at once and this actually great because Jeff says which kinda resonate with me is that you can get pretty good like almost world-class at almost anything in 5 to 7 years so if we kinda split up our lives into these five to seven years segments like I’m 30 now, hopefully,

I will have 11 of these five to seven years segments at least left in my life, that means that for me, I can become really good at another 11 different things.

Personally I think that it’s an interesting thing to live for and it transformed my goals into something more meaningful and made me more productive on so many levels.

By Haucem Sadki on September 8, 2020.

Exported from Medium on December 28, 2020.

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Houssem Sadki

Navy Hydrographic Engineer and GIS Specialist and looking to become adata scientist


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