We all admire some people’s ability to concentrate, whether they’re training for the Olympics or solving a great societal problem. These folks with great focus have discovered something very important: If you’re focused on a goal, you have an easier time getting where you’re going. This type of motivation, extrinsic motivation, relies on “if-then” logic. It get the job done when the “then” of a situation is a tangible reward. For daily tasks, particularly those that require habit or ritual or less rewarding tasks, this type of motivation doesn’t cut it. What you need here is intrinsic motivation. And you need to be able to generate at will!
Creating more focus in life
Can you really create focus just by willing yourself to have it? Or is this trait a secondary characteristic of something else? I think so. Broken down, caring about something is the foundation of focus. You can agree that more passion you have about something, the easier it is for you to pay attention to it. To get involved with it. To work with it or through it. Focusing on something that holds no meaning to you can be hard. The other thing is that science has proven it. I am not going to bore you with that but consider the following:
Author Dan Pink, in a TEDtalk and book, describes intrinsic motivation as consisting of three parts: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Quickly, to clarify- 1) Autonomy: is the urge to direct our own lives. 2)Mastery: is the desire to get better and better at something that matters. And 3)Purpose: is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
He talks and summarizes some key studies that show how carrot and sticks type of problems are solved most effectively and efficiently with extrinsic motivation. For example, the faster you fold towels, the more money you make. Easy task; many folded towels. However, real candle problems, are not resolved by extrinsic motivators. In fact, more often, the reward hinders the cognitive ability needed because the motivator limits the field of focus too much. WHAAAAATTT? If you are unsure of the what Duncker’s Candle problem is, click here and learn about it!
How we typically try to motivate others and ourselves is an out-of-sync practice, held over from days or circumstances that have skill-based solutions. I posit that today’s struggles are the other kind. 21st Century problems. Technology has made ABC easier, but I am dealing with XYZ-type challenges. Folks are undermotivated and burnout. That is a candle problem. They require intrinsic motivation. That motivation when all things are said and done, thrive on passion and purpose.
Where there is Passion, there’s a way
Reflect on your accomplishments. I am sure that you will see a trend emerge. The things you cared the most about most likely rank among the tasks most often completed. This isn’t just a coincidence. Passion fuels motivation.
Notice the people you know who really struggle with life. They are not happy with anything. Or they are interested and engaged, but it is short-lived. Dig deeper and you’ll likely find that they haven’t found something to really care about. Or worse, they are not confident enough to lean in–more on that to come! If you’re in this position, you can really suffer. However, when you’re able to open your heart and truly find something you’re passionate about, happiness is the result.
When I first to university, the pressure form my parents to be pre-med was enormous. I had the grades and the scholarship. I was grateful for the chance and really wanted to make my parents happy. I took the classes with energy and fervor. For three weeks. Then I was could not make myself do the assignments. They were not too hard. But they were beyond uninteresting. Except chemistry for some reason. And English class. Needless to say, my parents did not get their doctor (or lawyer). But to this day, I write (and read a lot!). To this day, chemistry and its applications are compelling reads for fun. I spent years floundering, not in touch with my passion (so I could not connect to my purpose) but fortunately, I made mistakes and learned a lot. But only because one of my passions is learning. Caring puts you into the perfect state of mind; you’re stimulated enough to take real action, but not to the point of feeling apprehensive or overwhelmed. In fact, when you truly care, it’s harder to not take action!
Discovering your passion
Let’s look at a simple process that will help you find your passion, your focus, and ultimately, greater happiness:
- Make a list of the things that you’re truly passionate about. These aren’t necessarily the fun little things you like to do when you have some free time, though they might be. These are the things that you consider to be most important, the worldwide challenges you would fix if you were given a wish.
- These should be things that fascinate you so much that you’d gladly spend your life studying them.
- Organize your list. Put the items on your list in order by the amount of emotion you feel when you imagine yourself being part of each one.
- If there is nothing on your list yet that makes you cry, keep writing. Don’t stop until you’ve found the one that does make you cry. You’ll know your passion when you see it.
Using Your List to Your Advantage
Now that you have your list, ask yourself how much discipline would be required to be part of those items. Consider:
- Would you have to force yourself to focus on them? Or does the mere fact that you care about those items so much simply result in focus? Although each item will certainly involve times when you have to enlist some self-discipline, the big ones won’t take much.
- If you feel it’s a challenge to focus on your career, relationship, or any other part of your life, that’s a great sign that something needs to change. Go to your list for ideas and options. Try a new career that fills you with a sense of caring and you’ll never have to “work” another day again.
- Can you continue to focus on the positive aspects of the topic, even if it is hard. Folks do not go the gauntlet in medical school concentrating on the difficult subject matter, long hours, or costs. They focus on their passion of helping others.
- Bonus: If you don’t have the ability to work in your passion, spend time once a week just doing what you love. It will help keep you motivated, boost your productivity, and increase your happiness!
Focusing on your passion will propel you on the days when you need that push. The energy you generate will separate you from most of the people you know in your social circles or in your professional networks.