And if the traveler is fortunate—that is, if the path is complex and profound enough—the destination is two miles farther away for every mile he or she travels.

—George Leonard, Mastery

Last week, I shared how a new client came to me struggling with motivation.

Well, I continued to dig a bit deeper with her and asked what she thought was contributing to her lack of motivation.

She told me, “Sometimes, I feel like I’m really good at what I do. But other times, I feel like I have no clue what I’m doing. I’m afraid that people will discover that I’m a fraud and that I’m not any good. Then, not only will I lose money, but I’ll lose their respect and my own. Who do I think I am to be putting myself out there?”

Sound familiar?

Fear goes by many names— lack of confidence, self-doubt, self-judgment, shame, you know what I’m talking about.

It sounds like—

“You’re not good enough.”

“Who do you think you are?”

“You don’t know what you’re doing, so you should stop trying.”

In my work, fear is the number one thing I see contributing to a lack of motivation.

No matter how clear you are or how hard you work, you can never predict with certainty what the results of your efforts will be.

In order to stay motivated to work towards what you believe in and earn the trust of potential clients and collaborators, it’s important not to pretend you know what you’re doing at all times. I don’t. You don’t. No one does.

When you encounter fear of failure, you have a choice.

You can choose to beat yourself up for not being perfect right out of the gate—and therefore become far less likely to make it out of the gate at all.

Or, you can choose to become a master, someone who’s devoted to a path of learning not only because they want to succeed, but because they love the learning itself. The more the master learns, the more they realize how much they do not yet know.

Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, writes that there are two opposing views of intelligence. People with a “fixed view” of intelligence believe that intelligence is innate, that each time they fail or need to work hard to succeed, it means there’s something wrong with them. People with a fixed view tend to choose easier goals and avoid challenges because they fear that if they fail, others will think they’re a loser.

On the other hand, people with what Dweck calls a “growth view” of intelligence believe that intelligence is developed, abilities are like muscles, and practice and hard work are what lead to success. People with a growth view choose harder goals despite the risks and approach challenges as opportunities to grow.

To stay motivated and cultivate a mastery mindset, you need to show yourself the same kindness and encouragement you would offer a baby learning to walk.

When you were a baby, you first needed to learn how to hold up your head, then roll over, then crawl, then stand up, before you could finally walk on two feet. Along the way, you fell down many, many times. As an adult, you still need to stumble and fall before you can learn to do anything new well.

According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of the bestselling book, Outliers, it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice before we become a master at anything. That’s a long time.

One key step towards developing a mastery mindset and staying motivated is to learn how to ask the right questions.

Next time you find yourself asking, “Why can’t I…?” or “Why do I keep…?” pay attention. Shift your attention to the solution and ask yourself “How might I…?” instead.

I invite you to try this now. Write down the following questions on the top of a piece of paper—

  • How might I create the change I desire?

Then, set a timer for five minutes, and free-write your response.

If asking yourself, “How might I…?” elicits an immediate and frustrated “I don’t know!” see if you can let go of the need to have an immediate and complete answer.

Zen Buddhist practitioners use koans, paradoxical riddles or questions which confound the rational mind but provoke spiritual transformation. Likewise, we gain the power to create a new future when we focus on the questions, even ones we cannot yet answer.

If you feel incomplete after your first five minutes, let go of finding the right answer, and step into a spirit of curiosity. Then, set the timer for another five minutes and ask yourself—

  • I don’t have the whole answer, but what do I know now?
  • How might I take one next small step towards the change I desire?

Write down whatever comes up, without judgment or censoring.

When things don’t turn out the way you’d hoped—which will happen at times, no matter how skillful you become—stay curious.

Although your inner Judge may say you should have known better, the truth is, if you’d known then what you know now, you probably would have chosen differently. Do your best not to beat yourself up.

Instead, ask yourself what you can learn from the situation and refocus your attention on making the next best decision with the information you have today. Every stumble or breakdown is an opportunity to shine a light on what you need to learn to become a master and fulfill your calling.

If you have a friend who’s feeling stuck on the path towards creating change in their work or life, I invite you to send this article along to them. Thank you!!

And, I’d love to hear from you. What is one small step you can take towards the change you’re envisioning? What are you excited to learn now?


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