How to Fuel Your Motivation with Your Values

How to Fuel Your Motivation with Your Values

Have you ever been so jazzed about your project that you feel you could take on the world? Bring it! You’re on fire!

Or… maybe not.

Maybe you’re in robotic, mindless routine. It was fun at first and you used to love this, but now you’re feeling like it’s a chore. It’s tough to get started. It’s tougher to get up in the morning. You aren’t excited anymore.

Where’d the spark go?

I’ve been there. Everyone has, at some point or another. We forget what lit us on fire in the first place and eventually end up just going through the motions. Sometimes we try hard to get the flames back, sweating away, pumping hard on the bellows just to get a glimmer going in the embers.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, it shouldn’t be that way. Everyone should feel some sort of excitement for what they’re doing.

But how can you rekindle motivation for a project that’s become duller than grey ashes?

Let me tell you: Know what you value.

When you know your values – or rather, what you value – you can fan up the flames of your motivation. And then you can create a snowball effect that gets you jazzed, full of excitement and feeling awesome about your project.

The problem is that most of us think we value money, and we make money our goal. You’d think cash is good motivation, right? But often, that’s not enough.

Some people don’t value money very much. I don’t. I value other things more. So working on a project that could bring me $100,000 is nice… but it’s not very motivating. A project that brings me status or recognition fires me up way more.

In fact, a client and I had this very conversation. I quoted on his project and he told me it wasn’t enough – he wanted me to charge more to make sure I was so well paid that I’d be motivated to do spectacular work.

My reply was simple: “Charging more won’t make me do better work. I work for other rewards that I find more fulfilling.”

When you pick money as a motivator and it isn’t really what you value, you end up with problems. You might struggle along, just barely making ends meet – as long as your other values are fulfilled. Once they are, you start coasting along again and stop working hard for money until you’re touching poverty.

And you motivate yourself just enough to stay away from it.

NLP practitioners know this one. They say people treat values in a towards and away situation: We move towards what we want and away from what we don’t.

And when we don’t value money, we won’t move towards it. We’ll just move away from poverty. And never get rich.

Which is fine, quite frankly. There’s no rule that says you need to become a millionaire, if that’s not the sort of thing that turns your crank. Because if that’s the case, all the rah-rah-rah-make-money-get-rich stuff people shove at you won’t do a damned thing to get you motivated.

So what does turn your crank? What do you value?

Maybe you value the ability to travel. I know many people who love to travel and leap on any chance to visit new places. I know other people who love fancy restaurant meals. Or swanky clothes. Or thrilling activities. Or downtime with a good book.

Figure it out. Because when you know what you value, you can start looking at new ways to motivate yourself. You can change your relationship with work, money and projects, and you can start keeping score in a very different way.

And you’ll find that fire you need to fuel you up.

Think of your work in terms of what reward it brings you if you accomplish it – and base your rewards on what you value. That blog post might earn you a new book to read in peace. That pitch you hated writing might land you three weeks of candlelight dinners with your spouse. And that project you just won? It’s your plane trip to New York.

This strategy works. I use it all the time. I set goals and rewards for myself, ones that really get me excited, and I use that motivation to reach them when I sit down to work. I don’t think about, “Done, finished. God, I’m glad that’s over.”

I think this instead: “If I nail this, I’m $500 closer to that weekend hotel get-away I wanted.”

Because I value my little hotel getaways. A lot. $500? Ech. Not so much on its own. Money’s nice, but it’s just the means I use to reach what I value in life.

So start thinking of your work in terms of what you value. Attach a reward to it, and change your game. Suddenly you’ll find new motivation, new passion, new fire. Everything you touch becomes an opportunity to achieve your reward.

How fast can you reach it?

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Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Travel is my motivation.

    In the beginning it was all about money. But like you mentioned – there was never enough.

    So after business expenses, the money I make online is going towards family holidays. And that works for me, because the time it takes for me to do my online work is time away from my family. As a family we made the decision to create business opportunities online. So we will be rewarded as a family as well.

    At the end of the year I am flying my husband and daughter to Ireland, via Dubia. We are flying business class, and staying in a castle for Christmas. All thanks to two amazing clients.

    My husband and I are already planning our next trip, I just need to find the next client to help fund it!


    • I have a few personal motivators, and travel is one of them… but not travel for travel’s sake. I have specific places I want to visit, specific locations I’d like to stay while I’m there and specific people I’d like to go with.

      And when I build up a vision of that perfect travel trip in my mind, and boy, does that ever put the carrot in front of the horse! 🙂

      I think it’s pretty cool that you’ve decided to give a reward to your whole family (and yourself, of course) for the sacrifices you’ve made in regards to your time. That’s a sure win-win… they’ll TOTALLY be on your side and shooing you to the office every time you say, “Gotta work!”

  2. I’m motivated by helping others to succeed. It’s nice to make money too, but that’s never been the driving force in my writing career.

    • Sharon–I’m with you! Helping others is one of the best motivators for working hard for me, too.

      Of course, I have other motivators that are more personal, like writing fiction and reading good books, but the best feeling is when I’m able to help others through my work, then use that buzz to work on my own creative endeavors.

      • Same here. There’s absolutely no better feeling than that victorious moment when you know the work you did made a huge difference in someone’s life. I love it when clients come back a few weeks later with, “Omigod, James, you have to hear this!!!”

        Makes me grin. Love it.

  3. Hmmm.

    Recognition and problem solving does it for me. Being paid is nice too, but I get a buzz from the people around me. I like to learn new things. Try new ideas. Take a different perspective.

    Got to say though Ainslie, your trip sounds fab. Travel is something creeping back on my radar too.

    • Ah, see? You have a bunch of motivators going on – now I wonder what would happen if you had three of those in one project, or three projects with one motivator each?

  4. Hey James,

    This may be my favorite MWP post of all time.

    You’re getting to the core of what’s often missing in what we call work. I’m not convinced anyone’s really motivated by making just money, yet we’re trained to believe that, to not discover our own values. That’s why programs that lure you in by promising to make you 6 figures tend to fill up, although the folks that take them rarely make six figures.

    I love challenging the status quo. Sometimes it’s my own inner status quo. Sometimes it’s the outer status quo. And there are many opportunities to do this in design, writing, life, travel, environment, local politics, food. Fortunately, I also enjoy taking risks – even if I feel scared – so it all hangs together.

    Probably, the main reason I called my biz Fearless Design.

    Thanks! G.

    • Aw, cool, glad you like it!

      And yes, there are people who are highly motivated by money. They value it deeply, and these people usually do some pretty fantastic stuff.

      Others use money as a way of keeping score. You’re winning the game of life if you have X dollars, and you need to up your game if you go below Y. I like that idea, though I haven’t yet been able to change my mindset enough to start playing the game that way.

      The psychology around our feelings about money is pretty fascinating, actually!

  5. You’re right, values are everything. I guess my needs are more basic–like survival. I keep turning the crank because I don’t feel I have a choice (or maybe the existing choices are not acceptable). The people I work for are among the poorest in the country, so money can’t be an incentive.

    I guess, like Sally, I get a buzz from learning and creative problem-solving. In a meeting this week several administrators gave us the go-ahead to adopt one of my ideas–and it made me smile for hours. So I pushed the envelope, felt I could help my son and others, and feel I’m making a difference for the future. That’s enough. But darn, having a couple dollars would make it so much easier.

    James, your comments about money not meaning you’d work harder reminded me of the million dollar salaries the football, baseball (i’ll add hockey for you) players make–enough said.

    • Yeah, that’s the rub, eh? If you look at Maslow’s theory, it’d be tough for you to work on… level 4, for example, when you’re still down chugging away at level 2. Of course, people shift between levels all the time and sometimes touch on ones far up (or far down!) even though they’re pretty grounded in a certain level, so take heart!

      Also, if you ever want to pitch me to the NHL, I’d be forever thankful. I wouldn’t mind their salary. The broken noses and deadly concussions, less so, mind you.

  6. So true. It’s kinda the same as relationships. In the beginning it’s all exciting and then the spark dies, right? So you’d better know what motivated you or made you fall in love in the first place and rekindle that shit 🙂 Money shouldn’t be the motivator in either scenario!

  7. Money doesn’t really fuel me. I know I can get by with very little, since I don’t have high living expenses; never had.

    Independence, control, and an expert reputation do, however.

    All of which are pretty common in lawyers who started their own businesses, which is why I don’t sell making money from my copywriting. So think about this question from your clients’ perspectives, too.

    • That’s another interesting point, Patrick: You know more about what you value when you’ve been on both sides of the equation.

      I’ve been poor – dirt poor. And I’ve been rich. So I know what I can do, what really matters for me, and why it matters. I think living that range has given me greater insight on my own values… and has taught me that there are greater rewards (for me) than money.

      Mind you, I still like it plenty, eh!

  8. You nailed it and you know you did!

    Agree 100% which is why I am just finishing writing an entire book on values and how to utilize them 😉


  9. What an amazing article to start my day. Motivation is a tricky beast! Sure, money is great and all, but it’s not always the most effective way to get pumped for a project. For me, it’s about proving myself wrong when I set goals. I’m not out there setting unrealistic expectations for myself or anything, but there are times when I’ll set out to accomplish something that seems unattainable (at least at first). And you know what? It’s SO satisfying to push myself until it gets done the right way – especially when I had doubts about whether or not I could finish. Take that, me!

    I need to learn to “find that fire [I] need to fuel [me] up,” as you mentioned. That’s truly the best motivator of all! Thanks for the delicious food for thought! 🙂

  10. Wow! Awesome post, as always. This one really made me think about what motivates me to tackle a huge project or slug on through the day. It definitely isn’t money, and I’m sure glad you pointed it out. I work for my family, and I work towards the things I love, and I think that that’s something really special. People who work and work for more money will never be satisfied.

  11. Very thought-provoking article! Most of us don’t really know what we really value. And if what we really value is recognition or autonomy or excellence or the ability to travel travel or ample time with our family, money alone will never motivate us. Even though it could likely help us attain the other things, it is not enough in itself to motivate. Fascinating…

  12. I’ll be damned! Such a simple thing, but never thought to do so.

  13. James,

    Great thoughts to end my day with. I’ve had money, and lost money. I can say for sure that having money makes life much easier and less stressful, though not necessarily happier. I prefer to have money, for sure. I am with you on being motivated by what I can do with money.

    My biggest motivators are pampering my horses, being autonomous, and simply living comfortably and well. The psychology of money is a fascinating topic.

    In my former career as a nurse, my motivations were connecting with my patients and their families, and providing for their comfort and well-being, as well as really enjoying all the clinical stuff.

  14. How did you get into my head like that? My biggest motivator is homeschooling my children; however, I also have to make an income (that whole moving away from poverty thing). So I’m spending more and more time trying to build a business that supports my homeschooling habit, which is moving me farther away from my motivator.
    Just another one of (my) life’s conundrums…

  15. The post I needed to read today. Chance my game and chance my way to see. Im already have money, but lost motivation. I’ll read again.

  16. James,

    This is a great article and has given me something to think about. I want to position my business that works around my values and allows me to do the things that I value in life. When I worked in corporate America I valued being known as an excellent worker, getting promoted and recognition. I no longer work in corporate America, I am older, have a family and things have changed. I am really going to give this a lot of thought and look at restructuring my business and some areas of my life.o

    Thanks again,


  1. […] Looking for ways to improve your writing? Writer’s Digest’s blog suggests 25 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 30 Minutes a Day. For those struggling with finding motivation, the Men With Pens blog post by James Chartrand discusses How to Fuel Your Motivation with Your Values. […]

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