We are inclined to call someone ‘driven’, when we view them as being motivated. A driven person tackles challenges head on. He is looking forward. He knows where he wants to be, and will work hard to get there. Generally this person will also find himself there faster than others. Driven is a good word, because it implies that you are driving somewhere. And understanding your goals is a key ingredient in enhancing self-motivation.

Most of us have goals and dreams in life. We have a place where we want to be five years from now. Even if we don’t, we have certain values. Values are how we indentify ourselves. It’s a mental map of what we believe to represent us. It is just as much a force that drives us forward in life, as goals. However, the key to being ‘driven’ isn’t having values and goals. It is seeing yourself working according to those values, and towards those goals.

If you consider a ‘driven’ person, how do you identify him? Sure he’s hardworking and motivated, most likely efficient and successful, but he also shows signs of aspiration. He knows where he wants to be, and he is working to get there. If most of us have goals, how come we identify it more closely with a person that is driven, rather than with all of us? It’s because those goals are present in everything that he is doing. You don’t pick up on the goals of less driven people, because those goals are less present when you are interacting with them in everyday life.

Thus, we arrive at one of the key components of self-motivation. You have to find meaning in your actions. It has been studied, that people who tie decision making and everyday choirs into a larger meaning tend to be better motivated. Think about the decisions you have had to make in your life. Most likely, the decisions you’ve been most excited about have been those that you have made on the verge of “moving forward”. You’ve made the decision to move, make a change in your life, or you felt this was the task that would lead to your next promotion. When you feel like you’ve made a decision that helps you achieve your goals, you are more inclined to pursue it.

Then there are decisions that don’t seem to be linked into your great plans and aspirations. It may be too simple a decision, like choosing where you’ll buy your groceries that even, or it may feel like a decision that is inevitable, out of your control. Events that are out of your control may seem like they are actually setting you back, instead of leading you forward.

Charles Duhigg explains in his book Smarter Faster Better, that US Marines are trained to ask each other questions that begin with “why”, whenever they are going through hardship. It has been observed, that asking people why they are doing something will help motivate them forward. Asking why someone is doing something forces that person to find that meaning, and tie overcoming the obstacles right in front of him into something bigger. Thus, situations, tasks and choirs that seem meaningless, can be tied into that persons values and goals. Through doing this, those Marines find motivation to keep moving on, even if at the time it might seem like a step back.

There is another aspect to the example above. Not only is finding meaning something that you should look for in yourself. It is just as important to those around you. One of the major pitfalls in leadership is giving out tasks to people, without telling what’s the end goal. It is often thought, that the leader needs to have the big picture, and that, being his responsibility, it is somehow his property, and not that of the entire team. In fact, goal oriented leadership has been found to be one of the most effective leadership methods, and this ties in well with forging meaningful decisions. People will be more motivated to work, when they are allowed to form a meaningful decision from that task. This is hard to do, if you don’t know what the goal of that task is.

Now you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) have everything planned out. Plans and goals aren’t meant to stand forever. But having them is important. Let’s say you are in London, trying to get to New York. Your every action should not be taking you to New York, but they should be bringing you further West. Goals give you direction — drive. A goal is something concrete, but its influence is more as a direction. The important part is tying those goals into your actions, and using those goals as a way to ask yourself ‘why’, transforming those actions into meaningful decisions.