Here's a simple way to test your motivation.

What would you do in your job, at your company, or even in life if you could complete a given project and earn an easy $1 million? In other words, how would you strive for excellence, manage your time, adjust your priorities, and reduce distractions in order to complete that goal?

It's a good exercise because it helps you determine what is really motivating you.

To achieve any measure of success, you have to look closely at your motivations. It's easy to determine when you are not that motivated. You slump on a chair all day. You eat donuts. You never get anything done. OK, that's obviously bad.

Most of us struggle to find the best motivations. We achieve only marginal goals because we have marginal motivations. Think of it this way: You will only achieve what you are motivated to achieve. That might sound basic, but it's something that plays out in companies on a daily basis. People are stuck in dead-end careers because they have not found the right motivations. Even well-known companies like GoPro achieve massive success, then seem to peter out when they can't find new motivations. Every failure is due to a motivator that didn't work out.

I've thought a lot about this topic over the past few months as I started losing weight. My goal was to lose 30 pounds. But how much motivation did I have? When I started a diet plan about a year ago, I was motivated by only a few things. I wanted to look slimmer in a suit. I wanted to be healthier. I wanted to be able to paddle a kayak without fear of tipping over.

About three months ago, I had stalled out. I couldn't find any new motivators. I was testing a service called Retrofit, and my adviser--who examines my food logs, steps per day, and other data--noticed I wasn't getting anywhere. She told me about how, when a corporate client stalls out using the service, they usually tell that person they will be removed from the program. I'm not sure if this was a pressure tactic, but it doesn't matter: I lost the 30 pounds. I had some brand new motivation (e.g., not getting kicked out of the program) and it worked.

The problem is that we tend to accept whatever work conditions we're in like we're in a non-negotiable jail sentence. We blame others when we can't achieve success. We fall into the same patterns of productivity, using the same old laptop or working in the same old office. In other words, we accept the same old motivations and never change them, and then never find success.

Guess what? The reason success is so elusive is that you haven't figured out how to motivate yourself properly. My example of earning $1 million for completing one project is a good way to think about what is really driving you. Maybe you need to buy the fastest laptop available. Maybe you need to hunker down at Starbucks for a week. Maybe you need to finally hire a data scientist or a marketing guru. The reason you don't? It's because you are totally fine with marginal motivations.

When you reach your hand toward a new goal, stretch your muscles a bit, and extend yourself, you suddenly find a new way to succeed. You look up at the horizon line (finally) and start imagining what your work life would look like if you became suddenly motivated by something that's actually compelling.

Here's my tip: Name one thing you need to get done today. Now, determine whether the motivation related to that project or task is really working. If it isn't, you need to find a different motivation (or ask someone to find a motivation for you). Just one task! Feel free to drop me a note and explain which task you picked and why the motivation isn't quite working.

Published on: Apr 26, 2016