My best writing happens when I’m writing for myself – when I’m using words on paper as a way to wrestle with something I have between my ears. When I write from this place the end result in inherently grounded, transparent, and real.
It’s when I write from a different place that I get in trouble.
When writing becomes a means to an end for me – writing because I think other people want to read it – that’s when the result is less than desirable. I struggle to force the words, the conclusions become stretches at best, and I don’t receive the innate satisfaction of solving my own problem.
I think this is true for most things in life. When it comes to motivation, we all have internal and external motivating factors.
Internal, or intrinsic motivation, is when we do something for the inherent reward in doing it.
It’s when we write for the enjoyment of writing or for the reward of finishing.
It’s when we start a business to solve a problem we’ve experience and want to solve.
It’s when we create a new habit because of an internal drive to change something about ourselves.
External motivation is doing something for external rewards that are out of our control.
It’s when we write for the social validation of likes and shares.
It’s when we start a business purely as a means to financial or status gain.
It’s when we start a new diet or workout regimen so others will perceive us differently.
I think the reason we so often fail at things we start is because we’re doing them for the wrong reasons. If I were to try and write 500+ words every single day for the social validation of other people, I’d be on a fast track to failure. As soon as an article goes unnoticed or gets negative feedback, my mission would be failing because it didn’t result in the outcome I set out for. But because these 500 words per day are driven from an internal place of wanting to improve my writing and turn pro in the process, the results outside of my control don’t actually matter to me. I succeed every time I press Publish, regardless of anything else. And that’s in my control.
This time of year in particular, with a new digit appended to our calendar and new hopes and goals created for the next 12 months, we should take a step back and start with the why of our intentions. And that why should point back at us, not out at the world.
That’s not to say external motivation doesn’t have its place. Motivators like money, recognition, and control can be powerful. But they’re fleeting and out of our control for the most part. When we shift our internal narrative to doing things for ourselves, the external rewards will still likely come. But they’re lagging indicators of success, and should fall secondary to the internal if we want to produce lasting results and change.
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