Alan Bean, one of the twelve astronauts who walked on the moon, said he listened to motivational tapes in his car on the way to his NASA training while he was preparing for his space flight.
The Apollo astronauts were the most confident, competent, healthy people on the planet. They had passed severe physical and psychological tests to even qualify for the program, and then were trained intensely. It might seem surprising that Bean would listen to tapes to increase his motivation, but one of the reasons he made it into the space program is that he knew how to keep himself motivated and focused. Listening to motivational material in the car is one very effective way to do that.
Most of us are aware that working toward a big goal is where the fun is, but motivation doesn’t seem to last. People go to seminars and hear motivational speakers and get excited about their goals and their life, but the motivation and excitement fades. What we need is a way to stay motivated — not faking it, not forcing ourselves, but really feeling motivated. Listening to motivational material does the trick.
Motivational material all basically says the same thing: Set goals, concentrate your effort and attention, persist, and make good use of your time. The most important thing they do is make you think about what you want. They put your attention on your goal.
Motivational material often contains stories of people overcoming obstacles to achieve their goals — obstacles much worse than the obstacles you face, and goals much bigger than yours. The result is that you feel you can do it if you apply yourself.
The most important thing you can do for long term success is keep your attention on what you want. This is difficult to do. You naturally think up other goals and you naturally fixate your attention on what is in the way of what you want. But motivational material makes it much easier to keep your attention on what you want. Really, anything you do that helps you stay motivated is good. Motivational material just happens to be specially designed for it.
Your greatest achievements — the things you’ve done in your lifetime that mean the most to you — were difficult. The only reason you did them was that you were sufficiently motivated.
That strong motivation wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t random. You don’t have to wait for that kind of motivation to descend on you at the whim of the gods. You can nurture and cultivate and enhance and heighten your motivation to an astonishing degree. And the most direct way to do it is with motivational material.
A lot of people who become successful attribute their persistence in the face of setbacks to motivational material.
Mary Kay Ash of the Mary Kay cosmetics empire told Zig Ziglar she would never get into her car without a cassette she could listen to while she was driving.
H.L. Hunt, who was worth three billion dollars by the end of his life, was a big fan of motivational tapes.
What I’m saying is as simple as it sounds. If you’ve ever thought, “I’m just not very motivated,” this message is especially for you. You can be as motivated as you want to be. You have not yet explored all the ways you can motivate yourself.
Saying, “I’m not very motivated but I would like to be,” is like saying, “I'm not very dry after a shower but I would like to be.” If somebody said that to you, your first response might be, “Have you tried toweling off?” Because of course if a person wants to towel off, it is obviously completely within their power to do so. All they have to do is try.
Same with motivation. It is completely within your power to be as motivated as you want to be. But of course you have to try.
Just for a little extra motivation to listen to audiobooks while you drive, a study by the University of Southern California found that if you live in a city and drive 12,000 miles a year, you can get the equivalent of a two-year college education every three years by listening to audiobooks while you drive.
One thing they didn’t study is that the listeners are likely to experience less stress or frustration than nonlisteners. Why? Because the listeners are doing something they want to do rather than feeling helpless and frustrated about being stuck in traffic and unable to do what they want to be doing.
It’s easier to learn something really well when you listen to books in your car because you’re more likely to listen to a book several times than you are to read a book several times, and repetition is the key to retaining information. (Even so, reading books is a good use of your time too. Read 26 reasons why this is so.)
In a study on memory, researchers found that when people listened to information they’d never heard before, two weeks later they could only remember two percent of it. But if they listened to it on six consecutive days, they remembered sixty-two percent of it two weeks later. Repeated listening is an effective way to learn.
Wallace Johnson, one of the co-founders of Holiday Inns International, even at eighty years old, still listened to motivational material every day. He was one of the first to do so. Back before they had books recorded by professional readers, he had one of his employees read nonfiction books onto tapes for him.
“The reason many people don’t succeed or are unhappy,” wrote Johnson, “is that they have sour, negative, resentful attitudes.” In his speeches, he always tried to emphasize what he believed was the most important thing in life: “the development of the proper attitude.”
One good way to develop a better attitude is to listen to motivational material in your car.
Motivation fades only if you stop motivating yourself. You can’t get motivated once and expect it to last a lifetime. That would be like being nice to your spouse once and expecting your marriage to be blissful for the rest of your life. It doesn’t work that way. It would be like trying to exercise once and being disappointed you don’t stay in shape. It would be like watering a plant once and wondering why it eventually wilted. You get the idea.
Whether or not you stay motivated is up to you, and it requires as much “work” as any other worthwhile state you’re trying to maintain — a state of harmony between you and your mate, a state of health for your body, a state of ease in your life. They all require sustained action to maintain.
The good news is that it isn’t really “work” because the benefits so far outweigh the cost in terms of effort. You get immediate rewards for your effort to stay motivated: You get to feel motivated, and that’s a wonderful way to go through the day.
The content of your mind determines whether you feel motivated or not, and listening to motivational material is an excellent form of training for what to say to yourself.
Recordings of good motivational speakers can help you learn how to stay motivated and focused on your purposes. For example, when I was going from bookstore to bookstore to convince them to carry my book, I listened to a tape on selling that said, “it doesn’t matter whether this customer buys anything. It is the process of going out and calling on people that does the trick. Any particular call is unimportant.” I used that motivational material in my self-coaching when I was visiting bookstores. Instead of getting anxious about this bookstore and whether or not they’d say yes, instead of feeling depressed if they said no, I relaxed and reminded myself it is the process of going to bookstores that works, regardless of what this bookstore did.
Listen to motivational material for an infusion of motivation, focus, and a reminder of principles. Listen to motivational material enough and certain phrases will become memorized, coming back to you when you need to hear them.
Motivation is nothing to take lightly. The outcome of your goals depends almost entirely on how motivated you are. Here are some motivational programs I recommend:
The Science of Personal Achievement: The 17 Universal Principles of Success by Napoleon Hill
The Psychology of Achievement by Brian Tracy
Lead The Field by Earl Nightingale
Goals: Setting And Achieving Them On Schedule by Zig Ziglar
The Psychology of Winning by Denis Waitley
Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz and Dan Kennedy
They all basically say the same thing: Choose good goals, stay focused on them, imagine the way you want things to go, take plenty of action, and talk to yourself in a way that maintains a strong feeling of motivation and confidence. You can’t hear this enough!
Some give bonus tips. But more important than the information they give you is that while you’re listening, you’re thinking about your goal. That is the most motivating thing you can do. And they tell you stories about people who overcame setbacks. That helps prevent you from becoming demoralized by your own setbacks.
It doesn’t matter that they all say basically the same thing. After listening ten times, you might not want to hear it again. But if you want to keep motivating yourself, you can listen to a book by a different author and even though he may say roughly the same thing, it’s a different voice and he’s saying it in a different way using different illustrations, so you’ll really listen. And it will re-motivate you because it makes you think about your goal.
The fact that many of us spend a considerable amount of time driving alone can be a wonderful opportunity to increase your knowledge and keep yourself motivated. Don’t waste this valuable opportunity.
The content of your mind in the present is all-important. Listening to motivational material is a very easy and direct way to control the contents of your mind in the present.
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.