Completing a task is as simple as powering through it. Except that this kind of advice is much easier said than done. It’s not that you can’t handle the task at hand; in fact, you know you have all the resources and necessary information at your disposal.
So why, then, can’t you seem to push forward and finish?
Unlocking productive self-motivation has a lot to do with where and how you seek validation. (Validation, in this case, being the recognition and affirmation that what you’re doing is worthwhile and important.)
Turns out there are a few crafty psychological tactics ingrained in your thinking since childhood that can affect your ability to validate yourself—and ultimately the strength of your self-motivation. These tactics exist to stall, stupefy, and sabotage your momentum and confidence.
Let’s dig into what they are and, more importantly, how to stop them.
Do You Have A Fixed Or A Growth Mindset?
One of the most revolutionary theories of modern psychology revolves around the concept of fixed versus growth mindset. Essentially all motivation (or lack thereof) can be traced back to whether a person is operating in fixed or growth thinking.
This distinction dictates whether you constantly need to seek external validation of your own ability, or whether you recognize your own worth.
People operating in a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence is finite, so it is only prudent to pursue endeavors that align with their perceived areas of expertise. On the flipside, they can become anxious about (or avoid entirely) situations where they feel like they will come off as unprepared or ineffective.
Common traits of people in a fixed mindset include:
- Aversion to trying something new
- Being dismissive of useful feedback
- Feeling threatened by the success of others
One of the most significant side effects of operating in a fixed mindset is that such thinkers are constantly seeking external validation as a means to “prove” their worth not just to others, but also to themselves.
People with a growth mindset tend to think of their intelligence as flexible and able to be expanded with knowledge, effort, and practice. While people with a fixed mindset see intelligence within boundaries, those with a growth mindset view their potential as boundless.
Common traits of people with a growth mindset include:
- Believing that mastery is a result of their effort
- Learning from criticism
- Becoming inspired by the success of others
One of the most striking qualities of a growth mindset is the ability to self-validate, thus avoiding the constant need for approval from others.
Learning To Self-Validate
Learning to self-validate is not easy, or common. According to the Objective Leader Assessment survey, 55% of people credit their self-worth to what others think.
It’s normal to move through life performing for others, especially in a professional sense. Seeking approval for a job well done in the form of monetary compensation is good survival sense. Issues arise when you displace your motivation for your own happiness in favor of performing for others. You can still be successful, but you will likely be limiting yourself in one way or another.
According to professional speaker and entrepreneur Geoffrey James, “Your success will depend almost entirely on how well you can motivate yourself. Consider: a self-motivated but otherwise average person always outperforms a genius who can’t get going.”
So how do you tune out the noise of judgement and approval from others and motivate yourself to keep going?
Rely On Mindfulness And... Guesswork
Author, speaker, and psychologist specializing in validation, Karyn Hall, PhD, notes that validation is all about accepting your own experience—the good and the bad. In order to progress, you cannot discount your past or look for justifications in hindsight.
Instead of looking in your internal rearview mirror, you must be present. Understanding your mood and motivations in any current situation helps in creating a plan of action while working. Presence and awareness are both cornerstones of mindfulness practices that have been proven to help with intrinsic satisfaction.
Hall references six levels of self-validation that can be tapped into while being mindful. They range from being present to your emotions when you’re feeling unmotivated or discouraged, to being genuine to who you are in the face of external pressure.
However, what if you’re not sure what the heck you’re feeling? Sometimes that to-do list is just long, and hard, and tiring.
Understanding your own experience can prove to be challenging, which is why it’s okay to effectively guess why you’re experiencing certain emotions. Following a hunch does not mean lying to yourself about your emotional state; rather, it’s an educated hypothesis.
Making a guess in order to learn and improve is an extension of the growth mindset, which uses exploration as inspiration to succeed in the face of adversity.
Taking a few minutes to be mindful in the face of slowing progress or lack of motivation might just be what you need to recenter and move forward.
Find Motivation Outside Of Work
Focusing on life beyond the daily grind is crucial to finding the motivation that will, in turn, validate your professional life. When the only light at the end of a tunnel is more of the same, you may find yourself struggling to continue. After all, being averse to new trying new things is a fixed mindset pitfall.
Geoffrey James writes that he “must simultaneously be doing multiple projects that have nothing to do with work.” For him, this means spending less time on his 9-to-5 and bringing back activities he normally pushed to the side for the sake of work. Doubling down on side projects as a mental health exercise isn’t a new idea. The concept that working less means working better is an increasingly popular idea that is ultimately leaving people more fulfilled both in their work and personal lives.
During your mindful self-reflection, hone in on what brings you joy outside of work. Perhaps it’s travel instead of your morning commute, reading novels instead of research papers, or simply eating your lunch away from your desk.
Having something to look forward to outside of work will motivate you to meet deadlines and perform tasks successfully inside of work. You will bring that positive energy and inspiration back to your work, moving you naturally into a growth-oriented frame of mind.
Be (A Little) Selfish
Brains are powerful organs; they can shift their mode of operation if you will them to. Although you’ve been socialized to think that being selfish is a bad quality, in the case of self-validating, it’s imperative.
Laura Mola, writing on self-esteem, poses the question, “Are you a player in someone else’s movie? Then star in your own.” In order to validate how your feel and your accomplishments, you cannot be a supporting character.
At the heart of self-validation is the self-respect and understanding associated with a growth mindset. The pursuit of self-validation cannot include pushing so hard that you burn out. It is the opposite: Slow down and listen to your emotions, understand why something motivates or discourages you, make an educated guess when you’re at a loss for understanding, and look in the mirror rather than at your peers when you’re in need of a boost. When it comes to how you think, your potential is boundless.