A former copywriting mentor once advised, “When you write sales copy, pretend someone’s pointing a gun to your head saying sell this or die.”
He reasoned that you wouldn’t worry about coming on too strong or trying too hard in a life or death situation. You’d do whatever’s necessary.
The advice never worked. Your brain knows the difference between imagining a gun pointed at your head and the reality of a real one pressed against your temple.
Even though his method failed, his argument rings true. The tension resulting from an urgent sense of desperation motivates us to accomplish goals that would otherwise seem improbable.
Think back to times where you were most ambitious and motivated. Something drove you, perhaps a dwindling bank account, a costly medical procedure, or some other sticky situation where you felt an overwhelming desire to escape.
If you could recreate that tension whenever you need it, you’d achieve ambitious goals with ease. But opposing forces conspire to tame that drive.
Comfort and security.
Many of the comforts we desire most tend to stifle our ambition and motivation. Once we acquire these luxuries, laziness and lethargy ensue. We lack the same urgency that drove us on our way up the ladder. Instead of stampeding forward, we play defense, content with maintaining the status quo even if it’s not what we truly desire.
Five of these comforts prove most burdensome. With a slight change in perspective or habit, you can overcome each one.
A steady paycheck
A favorite quote of mine comes from the 1983 movie, Ghostbusters. “If there’s a steady paycheck involved, I’ll believe anything you say.”
We clamor for that stability. It’s the ultimate security blanket. Sure, it’s a beautiful thing when it’s enough to pay your bills, but I think of a steady paycheck as freedom in a straight jacket. It affords you financial flexibility while hindering the pursuit of other dreams.
Once you’ve landed that security, it’s nearly impossible to give it up unless someone takes it from you.
How to counter it
For decades, a steady paycheck made me lazy. I had always worked hard, if for no other reason than to keep my bi-weekly deposit coming. Fortunately, I did find a way to overcome its most inhibiting aspects.
It began with a hobby, one that stirred my passion. When I turned it into a side business, the beginnings of a second career manifested. Once that first dollar rolled in, the motivation to keep it coming overtook my laziness.
You don’t have to earn enough from a side gig to quit your job, only enough to motivate you to keep pushing your boundaries.
A generous family
Forget the old cliché about the spoiled child of wealthy parents. It’s not just the offspring of the money-bag adults who suffer from a lack of motivation. Children of generous middle-class parents fall prey to sloth too.
A family with money (even a little bit) can act as a backstop, a place to go when faced with bankruptcy and homelessness. It’s one thing to crash on your parents’ couch to get back on your feet. It’s different when you allow your parents to fund your lifestyle even when you believe your life screwups aren’t your fault.
How to counter it
Go ahead and crash with your parents when life falls apart. That’s what family is for, but don’t let them spoil you. Allow them to get you through your rough patch but insist they limit their generosity to the bare minimum. You should feel enough discomfort so that it motivates you to escape from your situation.
A college degree
In 1993, I graduated with a degree in Economics. Not once since then have I worked in a job where that knowledge proved helpful. What a waste. But I consider myself lucky.
Too many people think of their college degrees as a set of virtual handcuffs. If that piece of paper reads “accounting,” they damn well better work as an accountant.
They get wrapped up in sunk cost. I spent four years and $75K on this degree. If I switch careers, that money will have been wasted.
So, instead of finding a career that gives them meaning, they slog away at a job that aligns with a major they chose at the age of twenty.
How to counter it
If you chose the wrong path as a teenager, accept it and move on. The only thing you retain power over is what you choose to do with your time left on earth. That’s the logical reasoning to choose a new path, but it’s not how most of us think.
We follow the sunk cost fallacy — the justification that further resources are warranted because of past investments.
Here’s an analogy that helps explain it. Imagine you’ve been in a ten-year relationship. You no longer love or even like each other., but you agree to keep it going because you’ve already invested ten years.
Absurd, right? It’s the same with a college degree. You’ve already lost the time and money you invested. You can never recover it whether you stick to your career or switch to a new one.
A gluttony of tech
Back during the 2020 election cycle, I fell into a bad habit. I’d lose hours, even entire days scrolling through social media, checking headlines, and obsessing over the latest scandals. It was one of the least productive times of my adult life.
An addiction to tech (even a mild one) steals your attention, saps your will, and restrains your motivation. Hours and days fly by, and you kick yourself for your utter failure to accomplish anything.
How to counter it
It’s nearly impossible to fence off technology from your life. Avoid the crash diet approach. It works just as poorly in tech as it does food. Instead, set boundaries.
There’s no one size fits all solution, but here’s what works for me:
- Keep your phone in a separate room from where you work.
- Limit browser tabs to only what you need to accomplish your work.
- Set pre-determined times for browsing social media.
A group of friends from high school
Ever hear of that old saying, you’re the average of your five best friends? There’s truth to it. Your close friends exert a significant influence on your life. Most of us agree on the importance of having at least one good friend, even if we disagree on the criteria for what makes a good one. Here’s my take.
Some folks get lucky and find a handful of great ones who grow with them, but that’s rare.
If you’re 40 years old and meeting up with your high school buddies every Sunday, getting shit-faced, reliving old glory days, then perhaps you should assess whether those friends serve your best interests.
How to counter it
You don’t need to expel your high-school buddies from your life, but it’s helpful to find friends who encourage you to better yourself and challenge you with new ideas. That tension motivates you to grow.
Seek out a friend or two who comes from a different walk of life with experiences that seem foreign to you.
All you need to know
Some of the comforts we most desire come with a price. They destroy our motivation and tamp down on our ambition. Still, with a few helpful strategies, you can overcome the challenges comfort and security bring.
- A steady paycheck — start a side passion and earn money from it.
- A wealthy family — don’t let parents support your lifestyle during times of struggle.
- A college degree — The money you spent on education is already gone. You can’t recover it by sticking to a career unsuited to your desires.
- A gulttony of tech — Set boundaries and stick with them.
- A group of high school friends — Seek friendships with folks who challenge you to grow.