Activate your potential for success! Seize the day! Everything is right there waiting for you! Motivational slogans can be very appealing. They tug at our best selves, suggesting that there’s a positive, productive human being just waiting to break free if we can just coax it out the right way. That sounds great, in theory—but in reality, a lot of this motivational-speak just doesn’t cut it.
Let’s look at some of the bigger motivation myths floating out there that don’t really work as well as they promise.
Myth: All you need is the right motivation!
Motivation is great—it’s also not the only thing. If you want to be more productive and successful in your career, it’s important to make sure you’re building up your skills and experience in addition to doing those mega-positive self-affirmations in the mirror each morning. A positive outlook is great, but you need the goods to back it up if it’s going to propel you to doing great things.
Myth: Just do your best.
This is one we likely all heard as kids. Just try, and you’ll be great. While that works well for little kids, as an adult, it doesn’t do anything to push you beyond your level. As a professional adult, “do your best” is kind of like a participation trophy. If you truly want to motivate yourself, try to go beyond “this is what I think I can do” if you want to build ambition. In theory, you’re doing your best anyway—how does this motivate you to push yourself higher?
Myth: Visualize what you want.
Planning and goal-setting is a great way to get ahead. But if you’re just visualizing the end outcome (you standing on the Olympic podium, singing along with the national anthem), you’re missing out on the process it takes to get there (cut to a training montage of you sweating, swimming, drinking kale smoothies, and running up stairs, Rocky-style).
Myth: You need to reward yourself to achieve your goals.
I will forever defend the idea that a little #treatyoself is a necessary part of life. But you shouldn’t be setting your career goals and working toward them just because of the personal rewards or incentives you attach to them. And there’s the fact that it just doesn’t always work. Look at salespeople—most sales jobs have built-in commissions or incentives to perform well. Yet if rewards were all that are necessary to build motivation to achieve goals, then every salesperson would be performing at top capacity, all the time. Again, your career is a process, and incentives don’t always motivate you to do your best.
Myth: Don’t think about setbacks.
Setbacks are disappointing, but they can also be good motivators. If you understand why things went wrong, and take from it that crucial knowledge about what you can do better or differently the next time, that gives you motivation to make improvements and show that you can bounce back.
The thing about motivation is that it’s totally unique to you—so platitudes only go so far. If you’re doing careful planning and embracing a high level of self-awareness, you’ll find what specifically works for you as you build your career and reach toward your goals.