Last week, two new clients came to me with the same problem.

They both have new businesses they want to grow—one is a physical therapist, and the other is a business consultant. The problem is, while they both love their work, they’re having a hard time staying motivated.

They came to me looking for someone who would hold them accountable and call them to task when they didn’t follow through.

I told both of them what I’ll tell you now.

I’m not one to crack the whip of “accountability.” I love my role as a thought partner, and the supportive container I offer absolutely helps clients stay on track. But, external accountability and motivation can only go so far.

Part of what is holding my clients back is that they have yet to cultivate a deep sense of intrinsic motivation. Until now, they’ve kept themselves motivated with extrinsic motivators such as money, praise, or promotions. But now, they’re pursuing their own big dreams, and no one else is wielding expectations for them. They can no longer rely on external pressures to motivate them.

If you struggle to stay motivated, rather than creating a sense of external pressure, I invite you to consider how you might cultivate a deeper sense of intrinsic motivation.

With intrinsic motivation, your drive to accomplish your goals arises from deep within you.

In his seminal book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink writes that there are three primary intrinsic motivators: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy means engaging with a full sense of choice, as opposed to working to fulfill externally-imposed pressures and demands. Mastery is the “desire to get better and better at something that matters,” Pink writes. And, purpose is a drive to work towards a greater objective, a cause larger than yourself, a clear and important “why.”

Motivation = Autonomy + Mastery + Purpose

Usually, new business owners don’t lack autonomy. In fact, it can feel disorienting to be out there on your own. You might need to learn to love the freedom. However, most new entrepreneurs can benefit from cultivating a deeper sense of mastery and purpose.

Next week, we’ll dive more into mastery. For now, let’s discuss purpose.

When you’re out there, seemingly all alone, trying to get clients or a new job, it’s easy to get lost in worries about not being able to pay the bills. No matter how passionate you are about social change or making a contribution, it’s easy to turn your focus towards making ends meet. As a single mother who struggled for a long time to keep a roof over my family’s heads, I know how easy it can be to get wrapped up in concerns about money.

The problem is, the desire to meet your family’s fundamental needs can only take you so far. Once you meet your financial needs, you need to find a deeper reason that compels you forward.

So, how do you discover a deeper sense of purpose?

I suggest the “Nine Whys” exercise from The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures, by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless. If you want to connect to the deeper purpose behind your efforts, I invite you to get a piece of paper and a pencil and do this exercise now.

    1. Choose an area of your life that’s important to you and that you want to feel more motivated around. For example, this could be marketing your business, applying for jobs, or leading change in your community.
    2. Write a short list of the activities that you engage within that area. In other words— What do you do when you’re working on the area you selected?
    3. Then ask, “Why is that important to you?”
    4. Keep asking, “Why? Why? Why?” Write down whatever comes up, with compassion and without judgment. Make sure to listen for why it is important to you personally and also why it is important to your community.
    5. If you feel stuck, you can also try different ways of asking. For example, you might ask “If last night, while you slept, your dream came true, what would be different when you woke up?” Or, if you get stuck, try asking, “Does a story come to mind?”
    6. Keep going until you ask “Why” nine times or you can go no deeper because you’ve reached the fundamental purpose of your work.

Your purpose is never set in stone.

To keep your sense of purpose and motivation alive, I encourage you to make the “nine whys” a routine practice and to come back to it often.

When you have a deep sense of purpose, you can motivate others to collaborate with you, simply by sharing why it’s so important. You can come back to your purpose as a touchstone when making important decisions, designing your strategy, and evaluating your progress. Rather than being accountable to a boss or a teacher, you can become accountable to the reason why you’re doing the work in the first place.

If you have one or two friends who you think would appreciate a deeper sense of connection to their purpose or motivation, please send this article along to them. Thank you!

And, I’d love to hear from you! What motivates you? What is your big “Why”?

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