This is an interesting question and one that I have spent 20 years researching, testing and experiencing. I have read hundreds of philosophy, motivational and “self-help” books. I’ve and even taken courses. Some are better than others but I’ve managed to learn something from almost every book/course by keeping an open mind. But at the end of the day I don’t think there is one single answer to this question and I believe everybody has to find what works for them.
During my professional tennis career motivation came in many different forms. But two of the most powerful motivators was firstly the desire to be as good as I possibly could, and secondly fear. Especially the fear of pain and disappointment from losing a match. This fear helped get me up every day and work hard because I knew that if I wasn't out there doing my best someone else out there was and when we met on the court he’d be better prepared. I wasn’t going to let that happen.
Read more: How do I organize thoughts and ideas?
When I recently interviewed Milos Raonic he spoke about the same fear. Back in the day I believed I was a bit crazy for holding on to and using this fear. I now know that it’s very common. Fear of failing and the adrenaline it produces can be a great motivator but I don’t think it’s healthy in the long run. It’s an emotion that can quickly turn on you.
A more sustainable motivator is a love and passion for what you do. I had a strong passion for tennis but at times, like Andre Agassi, I also hated tennis. Only once I reached a certain level and started playing for my country, friends and family did my perspective change and I learned to truly enjoy what I did. Finding that deeper meaning in what you do is immensely important and pressure-relieving.
Look, staying motivated and focused is hard. It’s the case for everyone. We all struggle at times. There is no magic bullet. I think it’s important to remember that we cannot be happy every day, we cannot be focused everyday, and we cannot be motivated everyday. We’ll all go through periods of being unmotivated. And that’s OK. We just have to try and find comfort in the uncertainty and keep moving forward. Remember that we’re all on an individual journey to discover what our purpose and goals are. Sometimes this can take a lifetime. I think we need to learn from, accept and enjoy as much as possible the experiences that come our way on that journey.
Generally speaking, my advice is to have a clear picture of where you want to go and why. Search hard for what you’re truly passionate about and understand why you’re doing it. Once you have a clear picture in your mind, you’ll naturally be more motivated and focused. Search for meaning in your work and make money, fame or success a byproduct of your mission, not the goal itself. What you do doesn’t need to be big, it just needs to be what you want to do. Whether that’s being a great parent, winning a Grand Slam or building the next Google.
To finish off I’ll leave you with some advice that has helped me a lot and some practices that I believe anyone can apply to great effect.
Three great pieces of advice that have helped me a lot are:
- Don’t judge. Instead observe, learn and have a laugh.
- Forgive yourself and others.
- Let go. Leave things out of your control to a “higher source” (I’ve got a spiritual streak to me and use the term “higher source” but you can substitute this with the logos, the universe, nature, chance or whatever suits you.)
I’ve lived a lot of my life with guilt and self judgement. For a long time I judged myself harshly and couldn’t forgive myself for losing tennis matches I should have won. Looking back I can see how unproductive that was. But this is the dark side of a the highly competitive and pressure filled world of high performance sports. So much of my career was spent planning and always looking forward to the next training session, tournament or Grand Slam that I rarely allowed myself to stop and enjoy the moment. Only with age have I learned to let go, enjoy the present and go with the flow. The past few years I’ve thrown the five year plan out the window and instead let what I’m passionate about steer the course of my life. This is not to say you shouldn’t plan anything and just drift aimlessly. Simply that you can let go of thing out of your control and instead focus on finding meaning in your work. Leave the rest to the universe, your god, nature, or whatever. The point is that you don’t need to and can't control everything. Some of this may seem counter intuitive but I’ve found the less I try to plan and control the happier I become and the smoother things start to run.
Finally, here are some daily practices that contribute to my overall well-being and that you can implement in your own life.
Exercise & Diet
I recommend that you get some form of exercise every day. Even if it’s just a 20-minute walk. If you’re just starting out don’t make big elaborate plans because you’re unlikely to stick with it. You’ll just feel bad when you fail and end up streaming three seasons of Game of Thrones while you eat your bodyweight in ice cream. Instead start with something easy and small and expand from there. The same goes for dieting. Start by picking the low hanging fruit like cutting out soft drinks. Set yourself an achievable goal and a reward if you reach it. For example, “30 minute walk a day and no sugary drinks for a week”. After week 1 reward yourself and keep it going for another week. This is how you build momentum and confidence. You’ll quickly begin to see results and start to feel good about which in turn will keep you motivated.
I’m a long time meditator and believe this to be one of the surest and fastest ways to increase your happiness. It also seems to have become popular among many successful people (Djokovic for one). Again I won’t go into the numerous benefits of meditation but trust me when I say that this will make a big different in your life if you can stick with it. There are many types of meditation but if you’re just starting out I suggest you look into mindfulness meditation. Check out the book called 10% Happier for a funny and concise introduction to meditation. There are also a few good apps out there like Head Space and Calm. Also, you can find a free 9 minute guided meditation track on SoundCloud here.
Music is also very important to me (I share music recommendations in my newsletter). This may not be the case for you but I believe it important to find something you love and make time for it no matter how busy you are. Even if it’s just for a little bit. It’ll help you decompress and allows your mind to relax. Whatever your thing is, schedule time for it in your calendar if you have to.
On my arm where I can always see it I have a tattoo of a rose. This is to remind me to “stop and smell the roses.” In other words, appreciate the moment and be thankful for what I have.
Bonus tip: Charity Work
There is nothing quite like helping someone and working towards something bigger to make you get over yourself. It’s two birds with one stone. By helping others and giving back you're also helping yourself. I highly recommend getting involved in a charitable cause no matter how big or small.
I’ll be talking more wellbeing, my daily routines and health my newsletter soon but in the meantime here are a few book recommendations: Mastery, Ultimate Reality,Man’s Search For Meaning, and Meditations.