How Misguided Motivation Can Prevent You from Achieving Excellence

Written on 4/08/2008 by Kevin Geary, author of Change Your Tree.

Motivational posterI’m a martial arts studio owner and instructor by trade. My profession allows me to teach and interact with all ages, races, religions, and both sexes. Even though all of these people are completely different, they share the same common goal; earning their black belt.

On another level, as a business owner, I get to network with many other business owners.

Again, though all of these people are different and trying to make a living in different industries, many of them share the same common goal; more sales.

For school children it’s grades, for employees it’s a raise, for television it’s ratings, and the list goes on. While all of these people are motivated, only a small percentage of them succeed to the level of excellence (or at all). Why? They are plagued with having the wrong type of motivation. Their motivation, in fact, is preventing them from truly achieving. For some, the motivation can actually cause them to fail.

Children in the martial arts really get wrapped up in the belt system. Everything they do is about getting that next belt. Of course, that’s why the belt system was invented. But I always challenge my students with the idea that motivation should be based only on self-improvement, not on things or ideas.

I ask my students the following question; “What would you do if we stopped awarding belts? Would you still come to class?” In other words, “what’s your motivation for doing this?” I think this is a question we should all ask ourselves in regards to many different things we do in our lives.

My best students don’t care about belts. Instead of being motivated by things or ideas, they’re simply motivated by their desire to be better. They want to be faster, they want to be stronger, and they want to be smarter. Their motivation is based on self.

When you are motivated by things, ideas, the future, or other goals, your success is dependent on those things. If students don’t get belts every so often, they drop out. If children don’t get good grades, they get discouraged, and if employees don’t get a raise they get angry or resentful.

The true reason for these people’s failures is misguided motivation
. If you are motivated by a desire to improve yourself or to help others, you will achieve. It’s that simple. Martial arts students who strive to better themselves always reach black belt because their motivation is real. Business owners who strive to better themselves and their business make more sales because their motivation is real. School children who want to learn for the sake of gaining knowledge get good grades because their motivation is real.

Whenever you have a goal, ask yourself what your motivation to achieve that goal is based on. Are you motivated by some reward? Does your motivation rely on someone else? Are you motivated by anything other than a desire for self-improvement or to help others? That’s the million dollar question.

The only real motivation in life comes from the desire we just discussed. All other motivation is simply an illusion, and a dangerous illusion at that.

Let’s think for a minute about self-based motivation vs. object-based motivation. If you are motivated by a desire to improve yourself, you will always be accomplishing—it will be an ongoing process. On the other hand, if you are motivated by a single reward, thing, idea, etc. you may achieve that thing, but unknowingly forsake all others in the process, including yourself. We see this in people who do the minimum required to be rewarded.

Those who are motivated by a desire to improve themselves never accept the minimum because that directly translates to being the minimum. Those who are motivated by objects or ideas can afford to do the minimum because they are happy as long as they meet whatever goal they set out for, regardless of how real that achievement is. This is simply one example, one consequence of misguided motivation.

In the last paragraph I made a statement that many of you probably read over without realizing its depth. I said, “…you may achieve that thing, but unknowingly forsake all others in the process, including yourself.” That’s powerful. What do I mean by “forsaking all others, including yourself?” If you are motivated by something other than a desire to improve yourself or to help others, you may still achieve, but at what cost?

If my goal in business is to increase sales, I can do that in many different ways. I can spend more on marketing, I can gain publicity, or I can scam people. I can increase sales both morally and immorally. I can increase sales while destroying myself in the process. That is the power of misguided motivation.

If instead, I’m motivated simply by a desire to serve my customers and be the best businessman I can be, I will always reach my goals and do so in a healthy manner.

If you want to achieve excellence in everything you do, take a deep look at what motivates you and make sure your motivation is centered only on your desire to improve yourself or to help others; that’s the key to excellence.

-Kevin

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