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Self motivation is an important skill for leaders.

We need to be able to show up at work as our best selves for the majority of the time.

If we don’t, we can fall prey to those weaker moments more often. You know the ones, where you are tired, irritated and maybe don’t quite do the good leadership things you know you should.

In this post, I’m going to provide a few ideas for self motivation, so you can lead the best you can, for most of the time.

Why Does Self Motivation Matter So Much?

First, let’s talk about Emotional Intelligence for a little bit.

Dan Goleman popularised Emotional Intelligence in the 1990s (although there was a lot of research happening well before that, too). Self motivation is one of his five pillars of Emotional Intelligence.

“Who cares?” you might ask.

Well, Emotional Intelligence has been shown to be one of the best predictors of leadership success.

I like to think of Emotional Intelligence as the ability to use emotions as information.

To be aware of them, to manage yourself well in the midst of strong emotions, to be aware of emotions in others and then to work with these people effectively when they are experiencing strong emotions.

It makes a lot of sense really. When you’re a scientist, you might need a high IQ, to be able to do good scientific work.

But let’s say you are promoted to lead a team of scientists. All of a sudden you’re dealing with people, and people have emotions.

Your ability to lead your people is going to rely heavily on how you manage yourself, understand and navigate their emotional responses.

Learn More:  How to Manage Your Emotions For Better Leadership.

Leaders Know What They Should Do, But They Can’t Always Do It

A big part of the leadership puzzle is being able to show up as your best self every day.

That’s hard. I should know, I struggled with it for many years in leadership roles.

Politics, team dynamics, bad bosses and stressful stakeholders can have us feeling pretty low on some days.

But the thing is, I think you can throw a rock in a crowded street and hit someone who will be able to tell you at least some of the characteristics of good leadership.

Top 10 Leadership Characteristics Large

It’s everywhere. People preaching about good leadership characteristics.

But I think many of them are missing the point.

It’s not hard to know what good leadership is.

What’s hard is to be able to show it each day, when you’re under pressure, you feel scared, lack confidence or when you’re struggling for a million other reasons.

That’s why self motivation really matters.

Self Motivation Ideas for Thoughtful Leaders

So let’s get to it.

We need the thoughtful leaders in the world (like you), to be able to lead effectively more often. So here are some ideas of some things you might do to help you show up each day in a way you can be proud of.

1. Understand Your Personal Values

This first one is a foundational step. Insead (a prominent international business school) includes values as a core part of their leadership programs.

This is because your personal values can help you make decisions and arrange your environment so you can feel good about what you do, and how you’re doing it.

I’ve written about the importance of values before, so I won’t repeat it all here.

You can read more about how to determine your own personal values in this post: Why You Need to Know Your Values In Leadership or listen in this podcast episode: Lead Better By Understanding Your Core Values.

Values Blocks

An Example of Values In Action

One of my personal values is Responsibility.

For me, this means showing up on time, delivering what I say I’m going to deliver and taking ownership of my issues and working to solve them.

This value helps me to make decisions about what I will take on, and what I won’t.

I aim to be able to deliver on what I promise, so I:

  • Don’t overbook myself with too much training or coaching work
  • Allow time to prepare for delivering new workshops or training courses (rather than preparing on the weekend, for example); and
  • Arrange most of my weeks so that there is space for rest, reflection, writing and relaxing.

So in this way, the value of Responsibility helps me to hold myself accountable and prevents me from becoming overburdened.

Your own values can do this for you too, in different ways.

2. Align Your Work With Your Energy Level

Next, it’s time to take a look at how your energy levels fluctuate at different times of the day.

“Hustle culture” tells us that we should work harder and longer to get what we want.

I’m suggesting something different. I recommend working, ideally, in alignment with our body’s natural energy ebbs and flows.

How to Work Out Your Energy Levels

Below is a simple activity to try to map out your own energy levels.

For now, let’s put all of your normal work and life routines aside and pretend you have a completely open day, where you can do whatever you want, with no consequences.

Step 1: Consider these four types of activity:

  1. Sleeping or taking a nap
  2. Watching TV or reading a book
  3. Meeting a friend for coffee; or
  4. Exercising, playing with kids or the dog, concentrating hard, solving a tricky problem.

Step 2: For each of these times of the day, select what you most likely would want to be doing from the activities above:

6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, 9pm, midnight. 

Step 3: Draw a simple empty chart, like this:

Empty Chart - Self motivation Large

Step 4: Now, put a dot at the intersection of each time point and the relevant energy level of each activity.

The energy levels are:

  1. Sleeping or taking a nap = Very low
  2. Watching TV or reading a book = Low
  3. Meeting a friend for coffee = Medium
  4. Exercising, playing with kids or the dog, concentrating hard, solving a tricky problem = High

You’ll have a chart like this.

Chart with dots - self motivation Large

Step 5: Connect the dots by drawing a gently curving line. Your final result will look like this:

Completed energy level chart Large

What to Do With Your Energy Levels

Now that you have your energy chart, it’s time to use it.

Ideally, you’ll do your most important work in your medium or high energy level periods.

When you’re in a low energy slump, it’s time to do something a little less important (maybe some admin work). Or perhaps put yourself in an environment which stimulates you.

See if you can arrange some of your work to match your natural energy level.

The match won’t always be perfect or possible, of course, but you may find you gain greater motivation by going along with your energy levels, rather than fighting against them.

Learn More:  Wellbeing at Work: How Leaders Can Support It.

3. Set Goals

Goal setting is a common path to self motivation. However, there are some nuances to be aware of if you’re going to actually pay attention to the goals that you set.

Firstly, I find it’s useful to set goals at different time horizons.

Focus on the goalFor example, I might have a yearly set of goals. But then, I’ll also work on daily goals which are much smaller in scale.

You might use this post for some ideas on how to do this: Setting Team Goals: Tips for Thoughtful Leaders.

Next, I like to consider what the consequences would be if I didn’t achieve the goals.

If I feel a sense of dread, disappointment, failure or regret thinking about not achieving a goal, I’ll consider that to be a worthy goal.

On the other hand, if I don’t really care, that can be a sign that it’s not the right goal.

Personally, I’m quite motivated by avoiding negative outcomes. This is referred to as away-from motivation.

For example, let’s say I’m thinking of having a conversation about a team member’s bad behaviour. I’m not so motivated by resolving the behaviour. But I’m very motivated by making sure it doesn’t get worse!

This is how my mind works, and it’s not uncommon. So think about your goals from different angles, to see whether the goal is right for you.

Write your goals down, and you’ll be more likely to achieve them (research says). Even better, telling someone else about them can make them even more achievable!

4. Create Your Morning Routine

Morning routines have been a big deal over the past 10 years or so.

One of the popular books on this topic is Hal Elrod’s Miracle Morning, which brought this trend into the mainstream.

I don’t subscribe to the idea that you need to get up at 4am and do a million different things to set you up for a good day.

What I do believe is that you should ideally carve out a little me-time before you start your day proper.

Simple morning routine formula - self motivation Medium

This might be as simple as walking the dog or having a cup of coffee. Something that makes you feel good, and puts a space in between waking up and getting to work.

Here’s what I do almost every day:

  1. Wake up at 6:30am
  2. 10 minutes guided meditation with the Waking Up app
  3. Sit outside for breakfast and coffee – no sunglasses (morning sunlight is effective for regulating your sleep patterns)
  4. Smile for 1 minute (sounds weird I know, but there is some good evidence suggesting this is a good thing to do and I feel more positive afterwards)
  5. Take the dog for a walk ~ 15 minutes.

You see, I could get up about 45-minutes later and get straight to work, taking my coffee and breakfast with me.

However, I find this to be much more stressful, and I feel unsettled going into the day.

Everyone is different – so what is your morning routine that will help with your self motivation? Some examples of activities that people often put into their morning routines include:

  • Meditation
  • Exercise (yoga, jog, walk, stretch, whatever)
  • Journalling
  • Walking outside
  • Cold shower; or
  • Listening to favourite music.

What does yours look like?

Self Motivation is One of Your Most Powerful Tools

If you don’t feel good coming to work, it will show in your behaviour.

Leaders are role-models, so it’s important to look and act the part as often as we can.

It’s not hard to know what good leadership is.

It’s hard to keep bringing it every day.

Self motivation will help you show up the way you want to.

Your team will thank you for it.

What do you do to motivate yourself? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know your self motivation tips in the comments below!


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