Need. Should. Inspire

When it comes to meeting your goals – what’s your motivation?


I was lucky enough to hear Prof Damian Hughes (@Liquidthinker) speak in November 2015. He said there are three reasons that we do anything in life: because we feel we ‘need to’ because we ‘should’ and because we are ‘inspired’. Let’s go through them one at a time.

I need to

You know that feeling of desperation – when you say to yourself, I need to do this? Perhaps you are have committed to running a marathon for charity and you are worried you are going to let someone down or maybe you are coming to the end of a project and you just want to get it finished? A common thing I hear is that people ‘need’ to find a new job.

This kind of motivation is great for short term goals but is not sustainable in the long term.  Use this ‘need’ to create a focused approach and finish the task at hand. Then take some time to re-focus and reflect.

I should

We rationalise our decisions when we feel that we ‘should’ do something. In the past I went to the gym not because my heart was in it but because I had paid the fee upfront and so I felt that I should go. We often feel motivated to do things we feel we should, from going to a dinner party we wish we hadn’t agreed to attend through to staying in a job we hate.

Rationalisation, from a psychological perspective, is seen as something negative, where we make excuses. We justify our behaviours based on (seemingly) logical and rational processes. Sometimes we rationalise our decisions consciously, sometimes it is unconscious – normally down to feelings of guilt.

This kind of motivation provides the best return on investment, almost certainly because of guilt (although I have no proof!) – but I would query whether that gives us the life we want? The problem is that you can’t buy heart, which brings me on to my final kind of motivation.

I am inspired 

You know that feeling you get when you can’t wait to get started on something? When you can’t stop thinking about it? You feel so inspired! It won’t surprise you that this is the most sustainable type of motivation. It’s probably the option you would do anyway, for free, for the enjoyment of it. It gives a sense of purpose and is enjoyable, in my opinion. It has heart.

All of us look for inspiration to motivate us to make a change. We might look at the people around us, or on the telly; choose affirmations, visualisations or mindfulness; or stumble across it one day when we least expect it. You may have heard people describe it as your ‘why’ – your purpose, your vision, your dream. Whatever you call it, write it down or create a visual reminder so that when times get tough (and they will) you can remind yourself.

What is your motivation?

I would encourage you to choose big goals that inspire you (obviously). Use the ‘need’ goals to take action and feed into your bigger ‘inspire’ goals. I would also urge you to let go of as many of the ‘should’ goals that you have. Yes, they can give you great results but they can breed guilt and resentment which isn’t good for anyone.

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