Self motivation is the personal drive to move toward goals, to improve upon our skills and to use optimism and initiative to keep ourselves focused on what's important to us. It's an essential component of Emotional Intelligence.
What are your values?
To become skilled at self motivation you must know your values. Values are your ‘why’; the reason you do what you do. It’s incredibly useful to be clear on what your top values are. You can use your values when you make decisions and set goals to make sure that the actions you take are aligned with what’s most deeply important to you.
For example, if your top value is connection with others, working alone for extended periods of time is likely to have you feeling miserable and out of sorts. If security is your most important value, a high risk job will probably stress you out way too much whereas if your top value was adventure, you would love it!
How to clarify your values
Here are four inquiries to help you identify what really motivates you:
Think of a time in your life that you felt most happy. What were you doing? What was it about that experience that matters to you most?
What is ultimately most important to you? If you get an answer such as ‘success’ or ‘family’, ask yourself ‘What does that give me?’ to take it deeper. You can keep asking this question until you can’t go any deeper.
What emotional states do you most want to experience?
Thinking of a time in your life when you felt fulfilled, what needs of yours were being met?
Prioritise what’s most important to you.
Brainstorm a list of values from these questions then prioritise them. Begin comparing the first two and asking ‘If I could have this value or that value, what would I choose?’ Take the winning value and compare it with the next on the list and so on until you have them in order of priority.
Putting your values to work
Once you have your list of top 3-5 values, you can use them whenever you have a choice, decision or goal to set. Even in a heated discussion, you can take a moment to decide how you will proceed by thinking of your values and choosing a strategy that will give you what you really want. Always aim for a win-win solution for yourself and the other.
For example, one of my top values is growth. When I have a decision to make, I can use this self knowledge to choose the options where I will be able to grow rather than choose something just because it’s familiar or fun. Even in a disagreement, I can use my top value of growth to help me make the choice to listen to understand more or to ask questions that will further my knowledge or skill set. This is a better choice for me (and the other person) than falling into the trap of trying to ‘win’ an argument, because winning is much further down my list of priorities than growth is.
Using your values is a sophisticated way of developing your emotional intelligence. When you have a negative emotion arising, it’s a good indicator that your values aren’t being met. You can fire off a knee-jerk reaction in that moment and take the consequences but the more emotionally intelligent response is to notice that emotion, take a pause to regulate yourself then connect with your motivation – your values – and make a choice that is better for you in the long run. With practice, it becomes easier and easier to master yourself in this way.
Values evolve with time
Values also change over time. What was important to you in your twenties is usually different to what you want in your thirties, forties, fifties and beyond. It’s useful to regularly review your values, particularly if you are finding yourself unhappy or unsettled a lot of the time and can’t figure out what’s causing it. It may be that your career and life path are aimed at something that isn’t so important for you anymore.
Values exist (and drive you) whether you are aware of them or not. Becoming aware of your deepest motivations allows you to use them astutely to align yourself with what’s really important to you, keeping you on track for the most success and fulfillment - as defined by you.