What are you doing to stoke your ambition?

January 3rd, 2014

Lots of people make New Year’s resolutions, and of course most of them come to naught. We let ourselves get distracted by life, but more than that, our initial passion about the change wanes. The fire dies down.

What can we do to keep that fire stoked?

Some athletes — I’m thinking of Eddy Merckx, Tom Brady, and Michael Phelps — are famous for keeping chips on their shoulders at all times. Great entrepreneurs are the same way: Jeff Bezos has talked about the “divine discontent” that drives him to keep building Amazon. Their motivation stays high.

The key point here is that the motivation comes from a deep burning WHY inside of them. It’s not primarily about the technicalities of the sport or the business or whatever — it’s about passion.

I have big, big plans for this year. Not resolutions, exactly, because I don’t consider them to be at all in the same category as “floss every day” or “stop cursing” or the like. The things are going to happen. And when I start to slip on them, I go back to my sources of passion.

Some of those sources are petty, to be honest. Merckx could be petty about perceived slights, but it made him a better bicycle racer. I don’t dwell on these thoughts, but I will admit that I have a short list in my head labeled “I’ll show them.”

Some of them are a little fearful — leading me to work harder to stave off outcomes I don’t want. I think of the cautionary tales of people I know who have failed for want of ambition and smart, hard work.

The best ones are joyous, tied to big visions of how I want my life to be. Writing books, training hard, enjoying my loved ones, being a source of happiness for others.

This year, I’m honing my skill at going back to that well of motivation. When I start to flag in my work, I pause to rejuvenate that divine discontent, or to put the chip back onto my shoulder. It gets less accidental and more structured each day.

Does my approach make sense for you? What do you do to keep your ambition stoked?

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