Cultivating Fire: Keep Your Motivation White Hot

If you want to feel better and get more done, first you need at least one goal. You need something to aim at. Human beings are goal-achieving at their best. This is one of the most basic principles of success, sanity, and mental health.

Once you have something to aim for, you have two things to concern yourself with: Motivation and demoralization. You already know what to do about demoralization: Use the antivirus for your mind. That will prevent setbacks from taking away your motivation. But can anything be done to increase your motivation? Is there anything else besides setbacks that can take away your motivation?

When you first create a goal, you are already motivated. The moment you choose it, you’re highly motivated. You chose the goal in the first place because you’re motivated to accomplish it.

But what happens? Your motivation tends to fade, doesn’t it?


The question has bothered people for centuries. Why does motivation fade? The reason the question is perplexing is that motivation fades for many different reasons. You already know the way you explain setbacks can deflate your motivation, rather quickly. But there are more things that cause demotivation than that.

For example, one very significant reason motivation fades is that you think of new goals, and they seem better somehow. You haven’t gotten bogged down in the details of your new goal yet. The new goal seems clean and pristine and more appealing than the goal you are slogging toward at the moment, full of problems and difficulties (or, if you prefer, challenges and opportunities).

Interruptions and distractions are major forces that can dampen that once-hot-burning fire of desire.

But a more practical way of thinking about the causes of demotivation is that it happens simply because you haven’t tried to keep yourself motivated. Motivation will naturally fade. Motivation doesn’t last. But it can can be renewed and needs to be renewed and refreshed regularly.

When you bathe, your state of cleanliness doesn’t last forever either. You have to bathe again and again if you want to stay clean. And when you exercise, it doesn’t make you permanently fit. You have to exercise again and again to get and stay fit. So what? That’s what it takes, so that’s you do.

You may never have put motivation in the same category, but now that you think about it, I’m sure you can see that it must be in the same category.

The question is, of course, “How can motivation be refreshed?” How can you enhance your own motivation? How can you boost it when it’s sagging?


A feeling of motivation isn’t just nice, it is very powerful and important. The difference between someone motivated and someone unmotivated is like night and day. A motivated person can do far more and is far more capable.

I once worked as a waiter in a new restaurant and the bussers were all high school students from the local area — an upscale, wealthy area. These kids didn’t need the money. In fact, more than one of them only worked because his parents thought it would be “good for him” to have a job.

These kids were not very motivated. They had the potential to do a good job, but without motivation, they didn't come close to fulfilling that potential.

The waiters tipped the bussers. That’s how the bussers made most of their money. The waiters, of course, tried to motivate them by letting them know we’d tip more if they worked harder, but they didn’t really care. They were more interested in just going through the motions of their job, and talking to the opposite sex.

Then the restaurant began to hire illegal immigrants from Mexico for the busser positions. The contrast was astonishing. These Mexicans did about three times the work of the high school students. Why? They weren’t physically healthier or smarter than the high school students. They definitely weren’t more well-rested — most of the Mexicans worked two full-time jobs.

But they were motivated.

When they worked hard, we tipped them more. And the money we gave them was worth a lot more back in Mexico than it was in the U.S. Many of them had a wife and kids, and were often supporting their parents and sisters back home, and they were saving up their money to start a business or buy a house back in Mexico.

They were very motivated and the contrast between them and the well-fed, young, well-rested high school students was sharp and dramatic.

Motivation makes a huge difference. Imagine what a difference it could make to you and your goals.

Whether or not you achieve your goals depends almost entirely on your motivation. Think about that. Let it sink in. It is entirely possible that you will never achieve your goals. But if you do, it was because you were motivated. If you don’t, it was because you weren’t motivated enough.

And it doesn’t really matter if you are motivated right now. Motivation changes constantly, like all feelings. And your feelings of motivation can be cultivated and grow, or they can be neglected and wither. It’s largely up to you.

Tremendous things are possible to someone who is motivated and can stay motivated. And there are people all over the world who accomplish extraordinary things, many of them merely ordinary people with ordinary talents — but with extraordinary motivation. And it's not something they were born with.

Listen to me very carefully. This is important. They weren’t born with motivation. The reason they now have extraordinary motivation is that they're doing certain kinds of things that cultivate their motivation. And they do certain kinds of things that prevent their motivation from withering.

Cultivate is the key word. You don’t cultivate an apple tree once and for all. It’s an ongoing task. If you pull weeds and add water and fertilizer and prune it, the tree can grow robust and healthy.

Let it fend for itself, however, and it will probably become weak. It’ll be choked by weeds. It’ll dry out. It’ll be infested with pests. The leaves will have holes in it, the branches will grow too close together or sprawl so it will produce fewer and smaller apples. It might even wither and die.

Here you are now, with a goal and somewhat motivated. Let’s see what we can do to cultivate your motivation. Let’s see what we can do to make your motivation healthy and robust. What is motivation’s water and fertilizer?

Here are seven of the most potent ways of growing and maintaining a lasting, energizing feeling motivation.

1. Prune your goals.

2. Make a list, put it in order.

3. Keep the level of challenge just right.

4. Measure your progress.

5. Read and listen to motivational material.

6. Take the time to think.

7. Refresh your goals.

I once heard a phrase that has stuck with me ever since. When you make a list or chart your progress or put a motivational slogan on your bathroom mirror, you are creating “a structure of fulfillment.” You’re making your progress easier. You’re making it easier for your goals to be accomplished. You’re making the fulfillment of your desires more likely.

Think of it like a trellis. Many bean plants are vines, and if you just let them grow naturally, they’ll grow along the ground, making them more vulnerable to pests and rot, and they won't get as much sun if there are other plants around. But give them a trellis to climb on, and they will produce more beans. It is literally a structure for it to fulfill its potential yield. It won’t yield as much without that structure. It won’t do as well.

The same is true of you. If you make structures to help you, you can fulfill more of your potential. A good part of cultivating a feeling of motivation is creating structures of fulfillment that make success easier or faster. Success is motivating. Focus is motivating.

The seven principles above give you structures of fulfillment. They will help you keep your motivation high. And your high motivation will help you accomplish your most heartfelt goals.

This article is excerpted from the book, Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot.

Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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