I’ve been asked how I stay motivated, how I keep myself moving forward, and I’ve always had a hard time answering that question. I just go, sometimes to my detriment. In the StrengthsFinder assessment, I can easily see it’s about my top two talents, Strategic and Activator.
But as I was hiking on the mountain behind my house yesterday, I realized I don’t just GO.
I was breathing hard as I made that first ascent, following my big dog up to the first high point on the mountain, and found it frustrating, really. I take that path multiple times a week, and it is still hard for me, a challenge to keep my pace as my heart pounds and my hips ache. I pushed on up the mountain, thinking that if I didn’t want to go past that first high point, I could take another path down, making a much shorter loop than the one I had originally intended as I left the house.
But I got to that high point, looked out at the small city below me, and pressed on toward the next high point.
Again, as my breathing got harder and my legs and hips started to feel the fatigue of the ascent, I told myself I could take the next loop back down and go to my nice, warm house for a cup of hot tea. I also reminded myself that once I started back down the mountain, it wasn’t going to be so much work, and my heart rate would slow. Knowing that I looked up the path to see a familiar curve, and chose to keep moving up the mountain, eventually getting to the summit.
That mountain is so familiar to me, I generally know what’s around each curve, but I find myself endlessly curious, despite that familiarity. Curious to see what might be around that curve, curious to test myself, my persistence, my fitness level, just curious.
That’s it, I realized, a big part of my motivation is that simple. It’s curiosity.
There are days, blustery and cold, or far too hot and dry, that I get to a high point on the mountain and take the shorter, easier route to go back down, rather than explore, or choose to get to the summit. Those are the days I consider my state of mind and my physical limitations, and my motivation falters. If I didn’t have those days, I wouldn’t be able to relate to my coaching clients. Everyone has those days.
Curiosity is what motivates me, and curiosity can be cultivated. My strengths are my strengths, but curiosity is part of my character, just like resilience and persistence.
What will happen next?
What is my challenge this time?
What will I learn, who will I meet, will I fail or succeed?
What will my impact be, how will this positively effect someone else?
Curiosity about the future, curiosity about myself and my abilities. Now I know how to answer that question about what keeps me motivated on my journey of self-employment, and life in general.
How can you cultivate curiosity?
Ask yourself a question every morning: What beauty will today bring?
Ask yourself a question every time you hesitate to work on a project or face a difficult conversation with someone: What will happen next, when this is complete? What positive impact can I have in this conversation?
Those questions will eventually become part of your daily routine, and will become instinct, creating opportunities for deeper observation and motivation.
I love this article, Sarah, but what I love even more is I can hear your calming and nurturing voice in my head as I read your words. It’s great to learn about your motivation, and that you also have days where it wanes. I find that on those days, it often grants me perspective.
As someone who loves to learn, curiosity often leads me down new roads, and it’s those discoveries that make me want to keep learning more.
Regarding how to cultivate curiosity, thanks for giving me something to think about – and some new perspective on how to jump-start things.
And curiosity is, for those of us blessed to have it in us, its own reward. Part of what makes every day a good day, and some days just better for me is laying awake before sleep overtakes me, and I get to take inventory of new stuff that I learned, new things that I saw, new people that I met, new ways to look at the familiar things around me. When I hear my dog, Oliver, lying at the end of our bed, let out that one huge sigh that tells me has put the day to rest, it reminds me how he triggers some of my curiosity, because as we are walking companions, he will sometimes notice things from his perspective, closer to the ground, that I may have missed. So we share that, having big four legged sweeties as our co-harvesters of fresh air, sunshine and the horizon.
Too many of us see questions as challenges – the kind that disrupt our groove – do I have to answer this, I want to get going… or do you see questions as skepticism taking wing, or nagging details that need to be satisfied… or are they the wonder and beauty behind that next door, or around that next bend in the road, or that next connection that may be the collaboration of a lifetime. It’s why my scrolling and reading often bends and then many times break the 30 or 45 minutes that I have allotted for it, as some topic piques my interest, and then the comments blow me away and I get involved in reading and discovering a ton of really smart people… and the rabbit hole has eaten me alive, again. But the accumulated knowledge and wisdom are priceless.
Curiosity and questions help me in other ways too, and Sarah, you helped to cultivate in me the need to be mindful and aware of the important things to ask, and to ask that next question, and to take our lives off of cruise control once in awhile, and be deliberate and intentional about more of our lives. And one thing that I have definitely partaken of is being and experiencing and reveling in wonder, a lot more. When I hear that deep sigh blowing out of Oliver’s lungs, I get to say, “Yeah, it was another good day.”
Sarah, put this one in your hall of fame. And hug that big lovable Toby fella for me.
Tom, you always add such depth and insight in your comments, thank you!
As I read your comment, I heard that same deep sigh come from Toby, having just returned from another couple of mile hike on the cold, snowy mountain. There is something so comforting about hearing his sighs and sounds of contentment after exploring and adventuring. Yes, another good day indeed.
Hi Sarah, Thank you for this. As someone who is extremely curious, I cannot imagine not being.?
Great post, Sarah Elkins! I just finished some STEAM research for an educational resource guide I’m working on and one of the biggest ways teachers can engage kids is by nurturing their innate sense of curiosity.
Neuroscience tells us that our “sense of wonder” begins to decline at about age 10 or 11 – incidentally the same time we develop inhibitions as we begin to recognize the judgement of others. When kids are little, that “purple cow” is cute and creative. By the time kids are entering middle school. “cows aren’t purple” and “how stupid.”
One of my favorite quotes of all time:
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.”
— Albert Einstein, Life magazine, May 2, 1955
Sarah! It must be my morning for finding and reading and learning from articles with a theme — mindset. And here YOURS is, although I know I saw it a couple of days ago but couldn’t get to it.
Yes. Curiosity. I guess that’s something we share — I’m always curious to see what others will bring, whether it’s a conversation, a walk with our dogs (by the canal, not up a mountain) — southeastern Mass. doesn’t have any of those), a new author to get to know better — doesn’t matter! I stay alive because no two days are the same, no two friends are the same, no two clients are the same!
I realized years ago that I’m “wired” to want to know how things work, including people. What are their thoughts? Loves/likes/dislikes … what makes them, them?
Awesome article, and thanks!
Thank you, Susan! Yes, we have a lot in common, and I think curiosity is the glue in our relationship.
Thank you for prompting this reflection, Sarah. As a means of maintaining my motivation, I’ve even taken to questioning my ostensible failures: What does it mean that I didn’t do what I set out to do? Is there any value in what I actually did accomplish? Is there a lesson to be learned from what I didn’t accomplish and why I didn’t accomplish it?
At the very least, if I’m able to answer those questions, I’ll learn a little bit. I’ll grow a little bit. My motivation will be more informed the next time.
Thank you, too, for reminding us we get to fall short, on occasion, of our own definitions of “perfect”.
I love an open door, a bend in the road, a view from the top all because I want to know what is there. Great story loved it.
“I love an open door, a bend in the road, a view from the top all because I want to know what is there.”
BAM! There it is!
Thanks, Larry, of course I completely agree!
Great post Sarah thank you for sharing your motivation. Cliched as it sounds I’m with Miley Cyrus on this one “Ain’t about how fast I get there, ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side, it’s the climb!
And I do love the climb (or the walk) I have my best ideas and often find solutions that have been evading me for days and weeks, once I get onto one of my walks.
Thanks, Dee. I’m all about the adventure itself for sure! Though a destination does give us something to shoot for, right? Just so long as we don’t lose sight of being present because we’re too focused on that destination.
Sarah, that sounded like a fantastic journey that day! I so like living in the essence of curiosity and it does motivate me in a big way too, I feel. Just as simple as changing a routine or opening myself up to new ideas – that takes little effort and it feels pretty natural. You have left something to think about indeed and I am grateful for that. To many continued apexes to discover in life!
Yes! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Maureen. It feels natural to me, too. I realize that many people are motivated by the climb itself, the goal at the end of the climb, and other aspects of a hike that I don’t think about much at all. I just hope people will take a moment to think about what motivates them, so they can use it with more intention!