The Tao of Innovation

Insights for the modern business samurai

The Anatomy of Entrepreneurial Motivation

Five steps to making a quantum leap to breakthrough motivation and attitude

Entrepreneurs are generally those rare individuals who are blessed with enough internal motivation to get up at dawn, be the first one in the office, work all day to serve as a role model, and usually end up turning off the lights at the office at the end of a work day way past 5 pm. And after they get home, they fret all night about decisions they have to make the next day.

So where do these entrepreneurs get so much motivation? Where does it come from? How come some people always seem to have so much motivation and energy, while others struggle with just getting the first page of a business plan written?

Here's the Science

There are many complex theories of motivation, so to simplify things, let’s just look at some simple but applicable research performed at the School of Human Movement Studies at the University of Queensland, in Australia. In a study performed in 2002, the researchers completed an exhaustive review of the correlates of participation and adherence—to physical exercise. In particular, three findings were pretty compelling and can be applied to the world of entrepreneurship:

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First, social support from a significant other or meaningful friend is highly associated with exercise adherence. The research showed that if you worked out with a spouse, you tended to stick with the exercise program twice as long. Social support for goal reinforcement is a significant factor for increasing motivation and adherence.

Second, the physical environment, in terms of having easy access to exercise facilities enhances adherence. In other words, if the gym is next door, you’re more likely to exercise.

Finally, self-worth is an important factor for exercise adherence. The research indicated that successful exercise adherers demonstrated an ability to create an intrinsic motivation to exercise. In other words, success breeds success. In a later study [Whaley and Schrider (2005)], it was determined that how people view themselves, from past experiences to current reality, will soundly influence their choice for physical activity. Thus, a person’s sense of self-perception plays a major role in whether she/he will start and adhere to an exercise program.

What this means is that if a person has been harshly ordered to exercise “for medical reasons," that person’s negative self-perception may actually impede adherence or even starting up an exercise program. The researchers highlighted that positive feedback that improves a person’s self-perception, and focusing on a person’s future hopes instead of dire consequences, are much better ways to motivate people to exercise.

Accordingly, we can translate these findings to the anatomy of entrepreneurship.

First, to develop the level of motivation required for successful entrepreneurship, you need to spend time with other entrepreneurs and super-motivated individuals. In other words, stop hanging out with your naysaying loser friends, because these boat anchors will drag you down. Find friends who believe in you. Next, you should create a system of “co-accountability” with entrepreneurial partners to drive you toward success. This works for writers who join “writers bootcamps” and it’ll work for entrepreneurs as well.

Second, create a physical environment that supports entrepreneurship. For a business, create a brainstorming room, dedicated to your vision, that serves as a war room for driving your business toward that goal. For an individual, be innovative and design your ideal personal workspace for creativity.

Third, let go of negative thinking. When you find yourself getting stuck in negative thoughts, try viewing your problems as an opportunity for you to grow. Find the gift in it. If you work at shifting the way you look at the experiences of your life, you'll be surprised at how quickly your negative thought patterns will dissolve. It is entirely possible to achieve a state of natural happiness and optimism, and this will give you a whole lot more energy to work with than negativity.

Any time you feel discouraged, take a minute and remember what Thomas Edison said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. Many of life's failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. The most certain way to succeed is to try just one more time.” And remember what Napoleon Hill said, “Most people achieved their greatest success one step beyond what looked like their greatest failure.”

Put some Steel in It

Finally, if you’d like to rev up your motivation, try taking on these five challenges:

1. Stop complaining. For the next 24 hours, notice if you have a reflex to complain about something—how much you hate your boss, why you can't start up that new thing, whatever. Just stop it, and replace it with a quiet inner brainstorm about what you can do to improve things or use that problem to fuel your venture.

2. Gratitude. Stop comparing yourself to others. Instead, search around yourself for the talents, resources and circumstances you may be overlooking—like your health, your friends, your brilliance, your perserverance, your family and the things that inspire you. Use what you love and are grateful for to motivate you.

3. Create a support system. Make it easier to stay on track by getting a lifecoach or joining a mastermind group. And when you do, shift to thinking about outcomes of your daily to-do list, instead of just tasks. This way, an hour of cold calling looks like an opportunity, instead of a chore. And then actively support your team members!

4. Be kind to yourself. Positive motivation requires rewards, so give yourself some rewards for working so hard. Forgetting to do so is a subtle way of sabotaging yourself. So make an appointment to take a breather and reward yourself a little whenever you achieve an incremental success. Be good to yourself and your business will bloom.

5. Jump. Move into the space of action—and sometimes this means to be willing to let go of things. The word “decide” comes from the Latin decidere, which means, literally, “to cut off."  So commit to it, and let go of whatever it is that keeps you from moving forward to a fulfilled life worthy of your talents. This could be the dead end job, a naysaying partner or your own inner negativity.

Heed Richard Branson’s words, “You may wonder if such adventures as space tourism or underwater exploration are appropriate for a man my age—60—which brings me to my last motivational rule: Screw it, let's do it!”

Moses Ma, a partner at Next Gen Ventures, is co-author of the forthcoming book Agile Innovation.

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