Self-motivation, the ability to cajole yourself into doing your most important priorities, is a precious tool in your nonprofit success toolkit. When you stop to think, you recognize that what keeps you from doing your priorities is not urgent matters but a willpower shortage. You need more willpower because most priorities require you to step outside your comfort zone. Without willpower, being uncomfortable or any other excuse will do.
A friend recently told me that my middle name was discipline. While I am not sure, that was a compliment or a comment on my stubbornness, and while I have tons to learn before I master self-discipline, what follows is an overview of the top, practical self-motivation top tools.
Your vision is your endless motivation source. Reflect on what you seek to create when you don’t want to do the next important actions. In other words, step away from your current fear and preview 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 walk?
Working from inside your vision offers you perspective. It helps you to separate and balance the urgent and the important. Listen, you can hear your vision calls to you and offer you courage.
You can’t do everything. Practically, you can identify one next action to do now to solve your key challenge. Make your key action 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 and phone and requesting a meeting. For a nonprofit with a long donor list, the vice president of development’s key action is to issue personal invitations that include the next step in a pre-determined moves management plan.
Most key actions involve reaching out to people we believe are reluctant to interact with us—often for reasons we conjure. Some will turn us down, but you can’t know that until you ask.
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, instead of just trying to do everything, step back. Commit to a reasonable goal for the number of key actions you will take this month. This could be one, five, 20, or 200. It depends on the action. Stretch but not so far that you fall over. Once you know how many key actions you need to take in a month, establish a daily number, do those actions first.
“Determine that the thing can and shall be done, and then we shall find the way.” —Abraham Lincoln.
Unfortunately, few visions are as strong as the habits people develop to avoid key actions. So, you need self-motivation, and that’s why you’re reading this list. Here is another way to get it.
Set in advance 90-minute time blocks dedicated to your key actions. For those 90 minutes, do nothing else. If you find yourself pulled off task, add five minutes to the clock. After 90 minutes of progress, tackle the rest of your to-do list.
You acted. It is sufficient. Repeat next week and the next. As you work, record your results. Give yourself the small joy of seeing your progress.
This may even be harder than the “do” steps above. As a child, Freeman Hrabowski sat in a pew while Martin Luther King, Jr. preached at Hrabowski’s home church. Today, he is president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. It would have been hard for the people in his congregation to believe this was even possible. It may be hard for people to believe that your vision is possible. Nonetheless, it is.
Change is not only possible; change is inevitable. When you take thoughtful action to move toward your vision, you trust that those actions will provide a great return.
Fine-tune as you do your work. How can you improve and innovate to achieve your key actions? 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: When you reach out, offer alternatives besides lunch. Try coffee, a zoom meeting, or a meeting in their office.
Then, tweak it more: Before you call, decide to learn something on every call.
For instance, ask how you can improve your nonprofit. Or 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 to reveal what does.
When your key action becomes about learning, you gain new skills and innovate. By studying and improving, in time, you will become a master at what’s most important. Over time, your successes will become more consistent.
Really. Scientists now understand that motivation or self-discipline is finite, and it is replenished with sugar and rest. Both make you firmer in your resolve. Work with this your energy, not against it. (Note, while glucose has been studied, in my experience, a combination of good food and rest work longer than a sugar high, without the empty calories.)
How can you increase your motivation? Review this list. Pick out one tool to use. Let me know how it goes.
Karen Eber Davis provides customized advising and coaching around nonprofit strategy and board development. People leaders hire her to bring clarity to sticky situations, break through barriers that seem insurmountable, and align people for better futures. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.
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