Is Motivation Destroying Your Identity?

An outstanding life is NOT about littering your day with lifehacks hoping for that magical transformation to your health, relationships and bank account. Transformation is such a misused word that has somehow become synonymous with ‘instant’. The reality is that it takes much longer than that. It’s a process of becoming WHO you want to be rather than WHAT you want to achieve. This principle not only applies to you as an individual. It also applies to businesses, families, and sports teams.

For example, you will notice that the most outstanding and pioneering companies are not focused on outcomes such as optimal PE ratios or dividend yields. That’s what mediocre companies focus on. They are instead focused on what they stand for, their values and the impact they want to make on the world. Wharton Business School studied these companies and called them “Firms of Endearment”. These were businesses focused on purpose before profit. But what the team at Wharton discovered, stunned everyone. These same companies financially outperformed the S & P 500 by a ratio of 9:1 over a ten-year period. They ironically made the most profit!

This is the way we should live. It is “goal-less” thinking. It is about WHO we want to become as a process of daily refinement where there is no finish line. It is about taking daily action and following a system for conscious living without any attachment to the outcome. And letting the results take care of themselves, slowly over time.

This is certainly how I live in my eight areas of life. For example, when it comes to health, I don’t have goals that sound like this: “I want 6-pack abs” or “I want to go to the gym 3 times a week”. Such outcome-based goals and process-based goals set us up for disappointment. What happens if I don’t get 6 pack abs? What if I miss going to the gym? I end up feeling like a failure and blame myself for not having (wait for the big M word) – MOTIVATION! 

Our addiction to motivation is one of the reasons why there are so many anxiety disorders in our society. Anxiety lives in the gap of where we are in our lives right now versus where we want to be. We have a restless desire to achieve but no system for achieving. Then we start comparing ourselves to ‘successful’ people who have great lives, great businesses (and a great six pack) and say “they must have more motivation, more money, more luck, more opportunity” etc… (when in fact they just have better systems for living). This helpless way of thinking makes us ‘give-up’ and slip back into a default state of mediocrity where we wake and live by old habits, slowly drifting in the direction of our greatest weaknesses; whether that is mindlessly scrolling social media, eating too much, procrastinating, binging on TV or blaming and arguing. If we focus on becoming WHO we want, then we never give up because there is no deadline and no fixed outcome. We are a work-in-progress. When we focus on this identity change, we start to naturally focus on systems for living rather that on motivation.

Hope (motivation) without habit (systems) is hopeless.

Hope without habit will also cause an inevitable identity crisis as you drift from one fad to the next in search of an identity that is not really yours. Therefore, I urge you to start with WHO you want to become in all 8 areas of your life depicted above. This will spark the right kind of motivation: Identity-based motivation. Not results-based. This kind of ‘intrinsic’ motivation can be the spark that starts your quest for behavioural change. BUT to stick it, you need to implement daily systems. It is systems that lead to progress. It is systems you can count on. Bit by bit, day by day, your efforts compound and you reach a tipping point where your life just becomes so much easier. What seems like an overnight success to everybody, really began many months or years before. Just ask any founder of a great business or any athlete what their overnight success looked like. Behind every game are many hours of training. Behind every product launch is a series of workshops with trial, error, research and painstaking review.

I recall that first day in 2008 when I realised that I REALLY wanted to become a runner after ‘attempting’ the Sydney City to Surf. I loved the freedom and the meditative trance of sneakers hitting the pavement. The next week I started ‘trying’ to run. I woke every morning at the same time and walked a bit, ran a bit, puffed out, slowed down and repeated the process. I didn’t give up because I was not focused on a result and therefore no measure to live up to. I was focused on becoming a ‘runner’ and that relaxed me into a state of patience and perseverance. I committed to the process and surrendered to the outcome. That’s the beauty of asking yourself WHO you want to become and not WHAT you want to achieve. My running gaps started getting longer and rest periods shorter. Two years later I ran a half-marathon in 96 minutes, not that I am bragging about that result. It is just to demonstrate what is achievable when you keep going. The outcome is what it is. What I considered impossible two years earlier became WHO I am. Now being ‘a runner’ is part of my identity. It is one part of WHO I am. When you start a new habit that is congruent with who you are, you are more inclined to stick to it. So, don’t try and be something you are not simply because you saw a celebrity doing it or an Instagram model ‘living it’. Be true to yourself and WHO you want to become.

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In the next part 2 of this article I will share with you the brief but powerful “456 System” for living every day as the dawn of a new identity. Day by day, this system will help you build a magnificent life without the need for motivation.