On Motivation

On Motivation

I’ve been thinking a lot on the subject of motivation – both finding it and maintaining it – lately. So today, I want to go a little “Dr. Phil” on your asses. Hopefully, if you’re struggling to gain traction or maintain momentum on a project, you’ll find the following information helpful.

As many of you know, I was traveling for my day job this past weekend and got to spend four days in New Orleans for our industry’s big trade show. The trip and the city were fantastic – if it wasn’t for the crazy, insane heat, I’d move down there in a heart beat and spend every day eating beignets and drinking hurricanes. 🙂


On the Saturday of our trip, my coworker and I wound up with some unexpected free time, so we decided to take a bus tour of the city. We went through the French Quarter, the Garden District, City Park and, of course, the Lower Ninth Ward – the area hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In case you missed the news coverage (or if you’ve forgotten in the years that have passed), this area was buried under 22 feet of water immediately following the storm and the failure of the levees. Barges that were left in the canal swept into the neighborhood, destroying homes and community buildings – many of which remain abandoned today.

It was an emotional experience for me for a couple of reasons. First, it’s incredibly difficult to witness the damage left over from the storm without imagining how devastating it must have been to be living in the area at the time. Believe me – it leaves you truly grateful for the things you have, no matter how much or how little that may be.

In addition, the visit was very meaningful for me because my grandmother spent a few months in the area immediately after the hurricane kit working as a Red Cross Mental Health Program supervisor. Essentially, she was the person who counseled people who had just lost everything on how to get the services they needed and how to start rebuilding their lives.

I’ve always been inspired by her example, and hope to be as involved with community service as she was when I make the leap back to self-employment again. I miss her dearly, so it was a special opportunity for me to visit an area where she devoted so much time and energy.


But what really stood out to me was something the tour guide said during this leg of our trip. He was very blunt about some of the political and economic circumstances that prevented (and continue to prevent) the rebuilding efforts from being completed – including the fact that tourism is a major driving force in the region, and that people (like me and my coworker) want to see and experience the devastation that occurred.

In a sense, there’s little motivation to rebuild when the area continues to profit from the tourism dollars generated by the still-extensive storm damage.

Now, obviously, the situation is about 100 times more complicated than that, and I’m in no way, shape or form saying that the only thing holding the area back from rebuilding is tourism dollars. There’s a huge mess of other factors at play, including poorly allocated relief funds, faulty homeowner insurance policies and a large percentage of the former population that simply isn’t interested in returning.

However, the statements made by our tour guide really highlighted what, for me, represents the true challenge of motivation – identifying stakes that are high enough to necessitate a change.


In New Orleans, the tourism dollars generated by storm-ravaged areas – as well as the ever-present threat of the next big storm – mean that the stakes simply aren’t high enough for many people to return and rebuild.

But New Orleans isn’t the only place we see this struggle. If you’ve ever tried to lose weight and failed, it’s probably not because you didn’t sincerely want to lose weight. It’s just that the stakes of giving up immediate gratification pleasures (like cupcakes and afternoons spent lying on the couch instead of jogging) don’t outweigh the payoff you might (or might not) earn down the road.

Compare the person who’s just losing a few pounds to impress an old crush at a high school reunion with someone whose doctor has told him he’s a few months away from dying of a heart attack at his current weight. It’s not that both people don’t genuinely want to lose weight – it’s just that one person has significantly more invested in bringing about a change.

When it comes to affiliate marketing, it’s especially difficult for internet business owners with day jobs to overcome these motivational hurdles, as the stakes to our success really aren’t that high. Sure, we might say that we hate our day jobs or that we’d be so much happier if we were working for ourselves, but at the end of the day, there’s still going to be a steady paycheck coming in – whether we work on our businesses or not.

This is the reason you see so many successful internet business owners who attribute their achievements to losing that day job in the first place. When that steady paycheck stops coming in, the balance shifts. Now there are real stakes at play, and these business owners stand to lose much more by not trying at all than by trying their hardest to succeed.


So then, the struggle for success isn’t just finding and maintaining motivation. In a sense, motivation is an artificial construct that we use to promote positive behavior, to varying degrees of success. Instead, the challenge is ensuring that the stakes attached to our actions are high enough to trigger actual investment in a project (whether it’s weight loss, internet business or whatever other mountain you’re trying to climb).

When Jon and I were leading the 2011 Community Marketing Challenge, we saw every participant go through this same struggle. We all had other commitments and responsibilities, and we all had periods of high and low motivation. But what was interesting to see was that some people overcame these challenges, while others decided to leave the program for various reasons.

Jon and I spent a lot of time thinking about what stakes and motivations separated the people who finished the program from those who didn’t, and we talk extensively about the lessons we learned on staying dedicated to a project in the 2011 CMC Course, which we’re releasing tomorrow. I hope you’ll pick up a copy, especially if you’re struggling – or have ever struggled – with maintaining your investment in a project.

And just in case you missed the announcement last week, please be aware that we’re releasing a special coupon code tonight to members of our email lists. If you aren’t already signed up, please take a second to fill out the following form to save almost 50% off the list price of the Course:

But before you get access to the course, I want you to take a few minutes today to think about the projects you’re struggling with and to objectively look at what the stakes are for you for taking action compared to doing nothing. The results might be surprising, but it’s not until you figure out what you’re truly up against that you’ll be able to move forward and put together a solid plan for success.

Image: topshampatti

17 Responses to On Motivation

  1. Adrienne says:

    Great post Sarah and thanks for reminding everyone of the devastation that Katrina brought on a lot of people.

    I live in Houston so a lot of the victims were bused over to our city. We had them spread all over the place and I can understand why a lot of people wouldn’t want to go back. Not only are you afraid that if you are able to rebuild that this could happen again but the costs to insure for future floods will break any family. I hated seeing what happened to that wonderful city.

    You are absolutely right though, it depends on what people need to get out of something as to how motivated they are to follow through. I had a friend share a story with me last week that a man in the company she’s involved with had initially turned that opportunity away. He was working a full-time job so he just wasn’t interested. Then all of a sudden he lost his job and needed to make some money quick. He joined the company and started handing out flyers and putting up posters around town and within two months time had over a 1,000 people signed up. Now that man was motivated. I wish it didn’t take such dire straights for some people. Just doing what needs to be done should be enough.


    • Sarah says:

      Adrienne – Thanks for sharing your insights.

      I hope the original post didn’t come off too negatively, or that it sounds like I think people only change in the face of dire situations.

      To me, the interesting thing about uncovering the hidden motivations and stakes to a challenge is that once they’re out in the open, they’re a lot easier to deal with.

      For example, one of the things that’s a struggle for me as a moonlighting business owner is staying motivated when there are no consequences to my inaction (basically, I still get paid my weekly salary, whether I work on my business or not).

      Now, knowing that that’s my struggle, I can play with different variables. I could quit my job (which I probably won’t, but I know I have the option), I could set a target quit date (a less dramatic option) or I could try to tie my business efforts to some sort of other rewards system.

      Once I know what struggles I’m up against, I can change the game in my favor in order to maintain motivation 🙂

  2. Martin Dale says:

    Great subject!

    Motivation is such an interesting word, and topic to discuss.

    Sometimes we tend to blame our lack of motivation on things like the weather, lack of sleep, or some other outside circumstance.

    But I really like how you showed us that it is what is happening on the inside of us, that truly brings drive and motivation.

    Great Post,
    Martin Dale

    • Sarah says:

      Martin – Thanks for stopping by!

      I agree, motivation is a fascinating topic to study and examine. I don’t think I’ve fully fleshed out my thoughts on it in this post, so I’m sure it’s something I’ll come back to at some point.

      But you’re right – external factors are only part of the challenge. Figuring out our internal motivations and stakes is the real key to bringing about change!

  3. Hi Sarah,
    Really enjoyed your article, great insight on motivation … but it was the tourism analogy that “pinged” me. Having spent 30 years in the travel industry, I feel the need to re-emphasize issue of complexities and the challenges involved. I can’t speak for politicans – wouldn’t want to even try, but trust me, no tourism official in the world would willingly settle for disaster aftermath as a tour activity. I’ve been there …

    • Sarah says:

      Marquita – Thanks for your comment!

      I should have emphasized more clearly in the original article, the statement made by our tour guide on the role tourism dollars play in the slow post-Katrina rebuilding efforts were his opinions alone. I can’t say whether or not tourism and travel officials in the area agree or disagree; only that his statements were thought provoking for me.

      Clearly, the situation is extremely complicated, and the remaining damage can’t solely be attributed to the tourism industry. Instead, what interested me was the idea of the stakes that motivate things like the rebuilding efforts, or – on a more personal level – things like business growth, weight loss and similar challenges.

  4. Hi Sarah,

    thanks for sharing this thoughtful story. Isn’t it interesting that we are going to visit New Orleans next fall ?

    You point out an important “excuse” for not being motivated: We might lose it all again once we accomplished our goal. The next hurricane, the next financial loss, the next I-don’t-know-what.

    Of course I don’t know what I did in such a case, if I came back to New Orleans after that hurricane.

    Take care


    • Sarah says:

      Oliver – How fun that you’re on your way to New Orleans too! We had a blast on the trip – the architecture is so unique (be sure to see the Garden District!) and the food was incredible.

      But you’re right, the potential for loss shouldn’t be enough to hold anyone back from pursuing their goals. Any one of us could die or lose everything unexpectedly tomorrow, but that’s not a good enough reason to not pursue our dreams.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Stacy says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing a great reminder of why we need to be grateful. It can be too easy to get caught up in life and to get focused on what we don’t have. Reminders like the devastation of Katrina help us to remember what we DO have.

    Thank you!

    • Sarah says:

      Stacy – Absolutely. The tour was a great reminder to be grateful for everything I have – not just possessions, but the people in my life, shelter, security and stability as well.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Hi Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I have a few family members that remain in New Orleans post Katrina even though they have been physically, emotionally, and financially ravaged. The reason they returned is simply because it’s the only home they know. You see, New Orleans had a very distinct culture prior to Katrina; just about everyone knew everybody…family business that had been in existence for close to a century…the unique and multiple dialects…the food…the mystic of the French Quarter…a culture within a culture. Unfortunately, the media has supported the erroneous thought that many natives do not want to return. But, I don’t believe that this is factual. If you speak to the displaced people who were born and raised, through generations, in New Orleans, you would get an entirely different prospective. The truth as it’s been told to me by many is that there is nothing to return to…no home, no family, no friends, no familiar faces, and nothing that resembles their former lives. They remain heartbroken.

    I continue to pray for my family and all the people affected by this storm; I pray for a shift in the motivation of all involve to be that and only that of the people of New Orleans versus the politics.

    Thank you again for shining on this subject.

  7. Tosin says:

    Hey Sarah,

    This is my first time here and I absolutely love it here. Love the blog design.

    Anytime the subject of motivation comes, I tend to always think of Zig Ziglar’s quotes comes to mind which says that some people say motivation does not last, but so also is bathing, and that’s why we need to do it everyday.

    Life happens, like Katrina, but we owe it to ourselves and those around us to stay upbeat and not allow the situation to pull us down to its level of immaturity.


    • Sarah says:

      Tosin – Thanks so much for the kind words 🙂

      And I love that quote by Zig Ziglar! You’re right – motivation isn’t always something that comes naturally. Sometimes you have to work at it until it sticks.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Hi Sarah,

    Compliments on the appearance of you blog. It’s easy on the eyes.

    Motivation is quite a complicated subject. I’m strictly from hunger, so what motivates me is quite different than what motivates someone who has always been wealthy. I suppose there are all kinds of variations in between the two. And your philosophy is also a factor in what motivates you. Thanks for your interesting discussion.

    Lou Barba

    • Sarah says:

      Lou – Thanks for your comment 🙂

      You’re right that motivation is a complicated topic, and I don’t feel like I’ve fully fleshed out my thoughts on it here yet. But it’s definitely something I’ll continue to think about, and I’d encourage everyone to do the same!

  9. Jon says:


    Motivation can be elusive. As you stated, unless we truly commit to a project or assign it some “weight” we won’t see it through. We have to emotionally anchor the outcome to a benefit that will drive us.

    We conquered the lows and rode out those highs during the challenge. It was a great journey 🙂


    • Sarah says:

      Jon – That’s exactly it. Without the emotional connection to power us through tough spots, it’s incredibly difficult to maintain motivation in the long run.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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