A Department of Education study published this week argued that when state school students have the same grades as those educated at fee-paying or grammar schools, on average they go on to attain better degrees and are less likely to drop out. In essence, students who have to overcome obstacles to get to university are more likely to do well.

It got me thinking about what being a self-starter is all about. A self-starter is someone who is strongly motivated and shows initiative, sought-after employability attributes that are essential for getting or retaining a job throughout your career.

According to psychologist, Dr Philip Zimbardo, what motivates one person at any given time is a complex mix of your situational factors, the system in which you operate and your personal disposition.  We can only motivate ourselves – no one can decide this for us. Other people can create the conditions or environment that stimulates our choice. Leaders, managers or the people we choose to surround ourselves with, have a critical role to play.

This is not always a function of hierarchy as anyone’s enthusiasm can fire us up when we are low. The organisations people work for can create the systems that encourage positive behaviours towards the common purpose or goal.  In times of economic hardship this is doubly difficult as personal and business survival become priorities.

I asked some of my clients what they thought people needed to remain motivated in difficult times:

  • Be upbeat and realistic.
  • Focus on a positive future.
  • Influence the things you can.
  • Have interesting work, responsibility, a sense of purpose and a good working environment.
  • Ask yourself, what’s changed?  What do I need to do differently? What do I continue or stop doing? 

Daniel Coyle, in his book The Talent Code, investigated what separates peak performers from the average, particularly in sports and music.  He wanted to find out how their motivations differed and the secret to getting really good at something. He concluded that “talent isn’t born, it’s grown”.

He makes links with neurology and has argued that when we practise a skill to great depth (10,000 hours), we are upgrading the wiring of our brains and it unlocks talents we never knew we had. For most of us, this is probably unrealistic (10,000 hours is three hours a day for 10 years!). For a few, the right coaching, commitment and desire added to this level of “deep practice” has proven to be a highly successful path.

What anyone can take from Coyle’s work is that the right kind of practice does make perfect and moving forward is achievable through conscious, incremental steps. Being a self-starter is necessary to make that happen.

Here are 13 tips on self-motivation:

  1. Remind yourself of the compelling and inspirational goal you deeply want to achieve
  2. Consider the benefits to you of achieving your goal
  3. Mentor someone or be mentored
  4. Network with others
  5. Study or qualify in something you enjoy
  6. Seek unconditional praise and recognition from people you trust and respect
  7. Learn from what you have done well, take forward the best of the past
  8. Find an opportunity to demonstrate or give a talk on something you are good at
  9. Show how you have helped others
  10. Get organized, make a plan
  11. Observe or read about someone inspirational
  12. Lead by example
  13. Build what you want to do differently into your daily routine

Canadian coach and standup comedian, Shelle Rose Charvet (a consultant with a sense of humour!), is an expert on behaviour change:

Real behaviour change is possible when you have the strategies to start and maintain your motivation, when you can see what you want, have placed the new behaviour inside a ritual you already do, belief it’s possible, value the new behaviour and think you are the sort of person who does that. No, wonder miracle cures don’t last.

  • What works for you? How will you motivate yourself or remain motivated during tough times?
  • When have you demonstrated initiative that you can use as an example to illustrate you are the right person for this employer?

Ready, steady…go!