• Kim F Vaughan

You can't do that! Own your motivation

Motivation is a strange beast. Some days it disappears entirely. Other days, we are plugged in at the mains, focused and clear. Where does motivation come from?


Motivation is an inner resource, derived from desire, need, emotion and a level of selfishness - I want something, and I am motivated to do what it takes to get it. Sometimes it is instantaneous - I want to eat that cake - now - but, often, our motivation has to sustain us over many years.


Someone wanting to become a medical doctor needs to maintain motivation through round after round of exams and testing rotational placements, involving no sleep or personal life.


Sometimes, we are motivated to act not from an inner flame, but by external impulses. What effect does being told ‘You can’t do that’ have on you?


Once upon a time, I was a child. Hard to believe, I know. A child needing guidance to keep me safe. Delivered with authority, instructions not to touch the fire were meaningless until I had, in fact, touched the fire to find out first-hand (literally) what that meant. An immediate Ouch!, followed by a few days with a painful blister. Touching the fire was a bad idea. I was motivated not to do it again.


As we grow up, a simple statement like ‘you can’t do that’ becomes a more complex transaction, with many meanings and nuances.


The emphasis can be put on ‘that’, by parents fed up with dirty clothes scattered around the place and mould growths in old coffee cups stashed under the bed. You can’t do THAT!


The focus on ‘do’ is hurled around to try to eradicate antisocial behaviour, and possibly harm, towards siblings. You can’t DO that!


‘Can’t’ is mostly a straight transaction of Yes/No, relating to parties, festivals, staying over, new clothes ……… pure power play and a call to arms, an invitation to defiance and sneakiness. ‘You CAN’T do that’ can lead to the object of desire becoming irrelevant in the desire to rebel against authority.


The most personal version of the statement puts the focus on ‘you’. This one finds the chinks in your self-esteem. It is just about your failures, weaknesses and not being good enough. ‘YOU can’t do that’ really hurts, and drives some questionable responses. It harms relationships and creates havoc in the self-esteem dynamic. It can break friendships and partnerships, and demotivates teams.


Motivation can’t be applied or worn like cosmetics or a suit of clothes. Young people need to want to pass their own exams and therefore must feel that motivation from within. Parents try to appeal to reason, to entice that inner flame to burn brightly, in the hope of prompting some adult behaviour. Parents can’t do it for their kids, though many try.


Some kids never break the habit of reacting to being told they ‘can’t do that’, even in adulthood. They wear themselves out chasing goals without understanding why. They achieve a lot but it doesn’t necessarily satisfy them or deliver the anticipated results.


Some of the best things I have ever done have been achieved against a chorus of ‘you can’t do that’. Many of those things have been done in a spirit of ‘just watch me, sunshine!’. Small things have been given the same size and strength as the bigger ones, just to prove a point. I have got things done for sure, but have they always been the right things? Have they been the best things?


Motivation is an individual drive. Understanding our motivation helps us to achieve great things for the right reasons, with purpose and confidence.


Don’t say ‘you can’t do that’, to yourself or to anyone else, but ask ‘How will you do that?’ instead.


Ask ‘What will be better when you do that?’ so you begin to understand why you should, or shouldn’t, do something. Use the energy that proving a point can give you, but don’t let it be the only driver.


Own your motivation. Use it to do things that make a positive difference to what you want to achieve. You CAN do that!


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