Do you sail on jubilantly over every obstacle, ‘rejoicing in tribulation’, delighted that God has sent you another challenge and rising buoyantly after every failure? No, thought not. Because I don’t either. My experience of life so far is that the older I get, the more difficult life becomes, and the more challenges I encounter, the trickier it is to recover every time. Every failure is a reminder of previous failures; every loss triggers the shadows of previous losses, and every setback robs me of hope and makes me think that it is time to throw in the towel.
Julian B. Rotter is known for his motivation theory that distinguishes between the external locus of motivation and the internal locus of motivation. In other words, are you totally dependent on your environment, other people, external factors, to compel you to get motivated and achieve anything, or are you the sort of person who will succeed in any environment, who will indeed change the environment around you, because you are internally motivated? For example:
Rotter sees personality, and therefore behavior, as always changeable. Change the way the person thinks, or change the environment the person is responding to, and behavior will change. He does not believe there is a critical period after which personality is set. But, the more life experience you have building up certain sets of beliefs, the more effort and intervention required for change to occur. Rotter conceives of people in an optimistic way. He sees them as being drawn forward by their goals, seeking to maximize their reinforcement, rather than just avoiding punishment.
Are you prepared to delay gratification, knowing that the rewards will be greater when you do so? Indeed, can you live your whole life without seeing rewards, because you know that the reward so staggeringly outweighs any effort that you put in during this lifetime? Paul knew about this before Rotter, when he declared:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
We live a day at a time. What is wonderfully true about each spiritual person on their journey, breathed into by the Holy Spirit, is that we remain always capable of change, until we draw our dying breath. ‘We are not the same any more, a new life has begun.’ We are being made new day by day. Why? We are allowing God to fashion in us the facets of our character that will last for all eternity. Paul says in Romans 8 that the glory of the sons of God will be revealed, and that the whole of creation is waiting for that day.
I do not think I am unusual in that I fluctuate between an external and an internal locus of control. This is probably highly irregular to say this. But in the flesh I am extremely subject to an external locus of control: if I am found out, then I will own up and try to shape up. However, in the Spirit, there is life and peace. Because I know who I am, I allow myself to be tied down to unpalatable tasks: I permit myself to achieve what needs to be achieved. Like Brother Lawrence, I can ‘wash the dishes’ so joyfully that others even come to watch me.
What are some easy ways to get motivated? I think we need to attend to both sides of Rotter’s idea. These are just some personal favourites of mine recognising the pressures on me from other sources…
Ways of identifying external motivation
1. Prioritise the most weighty jobs that are likely to take a long time
2. Prepare for the day the night before and get up early enough to achieve something before or during breakfast
3. Say to someone else (other people write lists) what I am going to achieve, in order to hold myself verbally to this
4. Create a deadline for myself, so that I am in good time for external deadlines and am not right up against them (which could expose me and make me look bad)
5. Use a timer that sits by me while I am working – while it is ticking, I do not leave the task I am on, and I work until it goes down to zero. This way, I know how long jobs have taken me. I also sometimes use it if I need to go on the internet and research something, so that time does not disappear down a black hole.
Ways of identifying internal motivation:
1. Allow myself unstructured time to explore my own interests and follow my instinct, such as reading certain books, writing or thinking, cycling or walking – these create internal motivation that increases my determination. ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish’.
2. Pray and report for duty to God. Every time I do this (every day?!) I receive a re-ordering of what would have been my priorities for the day that is unfailingly highly relevant to the day that I encounter. Often I am drawn to think more of my family and friends, rather than ‘external’ motivating factors such as my pride or my wage packet.
3. Worship and thanksgiving – this can come through appreciating Creation, through listing things to be grateful for, through enjoying someone else’s company. It can come deliberately through singing or through prayerful adoration. It can come through meditation and slow reciting, paying attention to slow breathing and to peacefulness, of Scripture or of devotional words.
When it comes down to getting motivated, I am old enough now to know that I need to deliberately, intentionally set up ways of getting motivated. If I spend time looking through family photographs or videos with my wife, I find a high degree of internal motivation by doing that. I know there will be similar wonderful memories created in the future. If I want to be motivated to build more for the kingdom of God, I study the lives of those who have built spectacularly in the past: I search out what the kingdom of God looks like, and I copy those who are taking heaven by force.
I need to recognise that motivation must last over the long haul, but at the same time, even though I am not as young as I used to be, God is okay with me being extreme, and being motivated by extremes. What is more extreme than the comment I quoted above by Paul? Even more extreme than Paul is the source of all my joy and the ground of my present and eternal salvation:
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.