Mastering Self-Motivation: Help Your Nonprofit Reach Its Wildest Dream

Self-motivation, the ability to cajole yourself into doing your most important priorities, is an incredibly valuable tool in your nonprofit success toolkit. When we stop to think, we recognize that what keeps us from doing our priorities is not urgent matters, but a willpower shortage. We need more willpower because most priorities require us to step outside our comfort zone. Without willpower, any excuse will do.

A friend recently told me that my middle name was discipline. While I am not sure that was a compliment or comment on my stubbornness, and while I have tons to learn before I master self-discipline, what a follows is an overview of the tools upon which I depend to self-motivate.

1. Vision Focus. Your vision is your endless source of motivation. When you don’t want to do the next important actions, it helps to remember what you want to create. In other words, step away from your current fear and remember the big picture. What will it be like to stand in the place you envision? What will you see? Smell? Taste? What sounds will your feet make underfoot as you move forward? When you learn to ride a bike, you succeed by looking ahead, not down. Working from inside your vision offers you perspective to help you separate out and balance the urgent from the important. Your vision calls to you and offers you courage.

2. Determine One Key Action. You can’t do everything. You can identify the key action to do now to solve your greatest challenge. This key action must be something you control. For example, one CEO’s key goal is to improve the board. To do so, she needs to get more potential board members into the pipeline. Her key action is contacting busy candidates by email or phone and asking for a meeting with them. For a nonprofit with a long donor list, the vice president of development’s key action is to issue personal invitations that correspond to the next step in a pre-determined moves management plan. Most key actions involve reaching out to people that we believe are reluctant to interact with us—often for reasons we conjure. Some will turn us down.

3. Set The Goal. You have 100 things you can do today. Most of them you should do today. Bad news! You won’t get them all done. To reach your vision, you need to do your key action today. Commit to a reasonable goal for the number of key actions you will take this month. This could be 1, 5, 20, or 200. It depends on the action. Stretch up, but not so far that you fall over. On or before the end of the month, fulfill your commitment to yourself. “Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.” — Abraham Lincoln

4. Do, Measure, Reward, and File. Unfortunately, no vision is as strong as the habits developed to avoid key actions. You need self-motivation. Here is how to get it. In 90-minute time blocks, set aside in advance, take the key actions.  For that 90 minutes, do nothing else. If you find yourself pulled off task, add 5 minutes to the clock. After 90 minutes of progress, tackle the other 99 tasks on your to-do list. You acted. It is sufficient. Repeat next month, and the next. As you work, record the results on a graphic. Give yourself the small joy of seeing a thermometer, or other graphic, fill with progress.

5. Believe. This may even be harder than the “do” step. As a child, Freeman Hrabowski sat in a pew while Martin Luther King, Jr. preached at Hrabowski’s home church. Today, he is president off the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. It would have been hard for the people in his congregation to believe this was even possible. Change is not only possible; change is inevitable. You have taken thoughtful action to move you toward your vision, and you now trust that those actions will provide great return. Avoid pulling up the carrot to check the roots and interfere with its growth. Plant today, tend the crops tomorrow, harvest soon.

6. Tweak With Joy. Fine-tune as you do your work. Think about ways to improve your key action. For instance, you called 20 people last month. All turned down your lunch offer. Did you learn anything? Not really. Moan, Moan, Moan. How can you turn this to your advantage? Tweak it: Offer alternatives such as lunch, coffee, or a meeting in their office. Tweak it more: Before you call, determine to learn something from everyone to whom you speak. For instance, ask how you can improve the nonprofit. Find out if they have seen the new information about an upcoming event? What are their impressions of your work? Are they willing to give you a quote to use in your newsletter column? Tweak like Michelangelo faced with a block of marble, sculpt away what doesn’t work, and reveal what does. When your key action becomes about learning, you gain the joy of learning new skills. By studying and improving, in time you will become a master at what is most important. Your successes will become more consistent.

7. Sugar. Really. Scientists now understand that motivation or self-discipline is finite and it is replenished with sugar and rest. You will be firmer in your resolve if you tackle your key actions, i.e. those telephone calls, early in the day or just after lunch. Work with this energy, not against it. (Note, while glucose has been studied, see, my experience is that the combination of good food and rest work longer than a sugar high.)

Review this list, and pick out one tool to strengthen your self-motivation. As I write, I am inspired to do more of my key action. This is to contact you and let you know the tremendous value I can offer your nonprofit organization to help you reach your income potential and fulfill your mission. Take my call so that together we can help you to achieve your most important priority.

Related Resources:
Davis’ Leadership Activities for Growth
Karen’s Dozen Tips to Enhance Accountability
Ready or Not Time Management Tool
Time Management for Nonprofit Organizations