At school or work, finding purpose can create motivation
Have you ever found yourself stuck in a rut? Maybe you’re procrastinating on an important project or you’re overworked and feeling burned out. The fact is, sometimes we all lack the motivation we need to do our best work – but there’s more than one way to break through that wall.
If you need to break out of the motivation trap, though, perhaps the best strategy is to stop thinking in terms of motivation at all. Instead, try adjusting perspective so that you’re focused on purpose instead.
Purpose vs. Motivation
At its core, motivation is a lot like energy; you have it or you don’t, and you can’t summon it out of nowhere. Purpose, however, is a beast of a different color. In the simplest sense, purpose is what you feel when your values align with a role or task, and while you absolutely have a set of values, you may never have done the work to articulate them.
By spending some time thinking about what activities you love to do, who you think of as your inspiration, and what makes you feel excited or focused, you’ll be able to hone in on what your values are and what activities might give you a sense of purpose.
Purpose and motivation are fundamentally different but pursuing tasks that align with your values can make you feel motivated. From a psychological perspective, it’s all about properly directing your energies. Purpose can create motivation, but a lack of alignment between your task and your personal sense of purpose can lead you to procrastinate.
Guided by Goals?
There’s some debate regarding whether how much motivation having a goal can provide. By their nature, goals are short term; once you meet them, you’re back at square one in terms of finding motivation. That being said, some goals are more substantial and more motivating than others – often because they’re aligned with purpose.
For example, most students don’t find doing their homework to be terribly motivating and homework doesn’t really align with anyone’s sense of perfect. But students often find a sense of motivation by looking toward the future, like the biotechnology student who’s focused on their future career options. That’s the sort of big picture goal that’s also aligned with a broader sense of purpose: the purpose found in helping others through a meaningful career. This is also an effective strategy because it combines short-term and long-term goal setting.
Whether you prefer to think in terms of goals or purpose, everyone benefits when we ditch the motivation framework. That’s because, when we focus too much on motivation, we end up feeling frustrated instead of focused.
More importantly, focusing on purpose – whether you’re dealing with your own work or education or supporting someone else – forces us to really understand ourselves and others at a deeper level. This is why offering staff opportunities for education and advancement is often more beneficial than offering a raise; it gives them a chance to chase after opportunity, demonstrate their value, and provides a sense of mission. Money or a fancy title can’t do that, just like good grades won’t necessarily motivate the student who doesn’t know where they’re headed.
Grind culture has created a lot of buzz around motivation, and people with an intrinsic sense of motivation tend to take center stage. These folks are a rare breed, though, and the rest of us need a little more of a push to make headway on tasks. So ditch the pep talks and pressure and put your purpose into perspective. There’s no better way to conquer whatever tasks you’re faced with.