Understanding The Human Brain To Achieve Long-Lasting Motivation

lasting motivation

Last December, I wrote a post about how Warren Buffet uses a simple 3 step strategy to achieve his goals.

Basically, it boils down to focusing solely on your most important goals, and avoiding anything and everything that distracts you from those goals.

All those “second priority” goals that you have (goals that you probably still consider “important”) receive zero attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your most important goals first.

Focus on the most important, the absolute most important, and nothing but the most important.” – Tweet This

This is extremely powerful if you’re one of those people, like me, who is always trying to do too many things at once. But, as I talk about in my ebook, simply defining your top goals is only half of the equation. The other half is identifying your “why” for each goal.

You have to ask yourself:

Why is this goal so important to you?

How would your life be better if you achieved it?

What difference will it make?

The Golden Circle

One of the greatest TED talks I’ve ever watched is called “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” by Simon Sinek.

In this TED talk, Simon explains that all great and inspiring leaders and organizations in the world think, act, and communicate the exact same way—and it’s the complete opposite as everyone else.

Simon explains that while most people know what they do and some know how they do it, very few know why they do what they do.

He explains the idea by drawing on a white board what he calls “The Golden Circle.”

lasting motivation

Referencing The Golden Circle, Simon argues that the way most of us think, act, and communicate is from the outside in (what -> how -> why). We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing.

But, the most inspiring leaders and organizations in the world all think, act, and communicate from the inside out.

Apple is a perfect example.

If Apple were like everyone else, their marketing message would be something like this:

“We make great computers. They’re beautifully designed and simple to use and user friendly. Want to buy one?”

And that’s how most of us communicate.

We say what we do, how we’re different or better, and then we expect some sort of behavior—a purchase, a vote, an offer, etc.

But it’s not very inspiring.

Here’s how Apple actually communicates their message:

“Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

See the difference?

That’s why we all buy MacBooks and iPhones. Not because Apple’s products are so much better than their competition, but because we support what they stand for.

My favorite part about Simon’s TED talk is when he talks about how all of this is grounded in the tenets of biology.

He explains how our brain is broken into 3 major components that correlate perfectly with The Golden Circle.

The newest part of our brain, our neocortex (AKA our homosapien brain), corresponds with the what level. It’s responsible for all of rational and analytical thought, as well as language.

The middle two sections, the how and the why levels, make up our limbic brains, which are responsible for all of our feelings. It’s also responsible for all human behavior and decision-making, but it has no capacity for language.

So, when we communicate from the outside in (starting with what), people can understand vast amounts of complicated information like features, benefits, facts, and figures. But it doesn’t drive behavior.

When we communicate from the inside out (starting with why), on the other hand, we are talking directly to the part of the brain that controls behavior. People will still rationalize the tangible things you say and do, but they’ll decide if they support your or not based on your why.

People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

But, before you can hope to inspire and motivate the people around you, you have to be able to inspire and motivate yourself. Which brings me back to my main point.

Defining Your Why

The way you create long-lasting motivation for yourself, is by figuring out and clearly defining your why.

The bigger, more inspiring your why, the more likely you are to achieve your goals and the less likely you are to give up on them.

Even when things aren’t going your way.

Even when you’re not seeing immediate results.

Even when you feel like giving up.

If your why is strong enough, you’ll never give up on the things you set out to do. Because at that point, it’s not about the goal anymore, it’s about the why.

This is how top performers become top performers. If something doesn’t work out for them, then they try something else. And if that doesn’t work out, then they try something else. And they keep trying, until eventually, they succeed.

Success becomes inevitable when failure is no longer an option.” – Tweet This

The hard part, of course, is sitting down and defining a powerful why that will withstand all the distractions and temptations to give up.

It forces you to dig deep and reflect on your core values and beliefs. To really question what you want from your life.

The good news is that once you put in the time to define a powerful why, everything else becomes a whole lot easier. When you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you have a reason to wake up in the morning every day and keep chugging along, no matter how bumpy the road might get.

Since last December when I wrote that post about Warren Buffet’s 3 step strategy, I’ve achieved 3 out of my top 5 goals. Those goals were to write an ebook, get 1,000 subscribers, and go backpacking across Europe after graduating.

Today, I sat down to redefine my top 5 goals along with my why’s for each goal, and I came up with the following:

  1. Goal: Create a successful blog that helps people take control over their lives and turn their dreams into reality.
    Why: So that I know that I’m actually making a difference in the world. It also helps me hold myself accountable and actively seek improvement in my own life. It gives me a strong purpose and provides a means for me to become the best version of myself.
    (This is more of an on-going goal that will always be in progress, rather than something that I hope to check off and say it’s done.)
  1. Goal: Create a coaching program.
    Why: So that I can make a more direct impact in people’s lives. It will allow me to gain a better understanding of what people’s burning pain points and burning desires are, which will allow me to better serve them. Working one-on-one with people will also allow me to refine my product idea (see goal #3).
    *If you think you might interested in one-on-one coaching with me, send me an email at [email protected] with Subject “Coaching” and I’ll be happy to talk about more details.
  1. Create an online product (video course).
    Why: So that I can gain the confidence to have an online business. This will allow me to invest more into the content that I create and make a bigger impact on more people’s lives.
  1. Create a consistent morning routine.
    Why: So that I can start every day more relaxed and focused. It will also add a component of consistency that I desperately need in my life right now. When there are so many other factors that I can’t control, this will be one thing that I can.
  1. Find a way to balance excelling at my full-time job while building an online business on the side.
    Why: This will force me to figure out how to be as efficient as possible at work and produce the highest quality of work in the shortest amount of time possible. This is a very personal goal because not only do I want to be able to prove to myself that I can do it, but I also want to be an example to show other people that it is possible.

Now It’s Your Turn

What’s one goal that’s important to you right now and why?

Leave a comment bellow telling me what difference achieving that goal will make in your life.

Image Source: Henry Vandyke Carter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

About Stefano

Stefano Ganddini

Hey there! I'm the creator of Collegetopia and the guy who writes all these articles. I'm here to help you live BIG, do EPIC shit, & be HAPPY. Click here to read more.

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  • Hey Stefano,

    I really, really resonate with this post. Only when I spent the time to really figure out who I was, what my values were, and what my purpose was did I see personal growth. And not just a small amount either; it was epiphany upon epiphany!

    Finding your why is also a huge theme of my book on studying and time management skills. If you don’t have a reason to get something done, it’s just not going to get done.

    My goal is to launch my own online business based on helping college students develop themselves – doing this will help college students find passion and purpose in their lives, while also giving me the freedom to be my own boss.


    • You’re spot on, Darryl. You can only do something that you don’t want to do for so long before you either give up or lose your sanity.

      I think your why for starting an online business is a good starting point, but I’d say you could go a little deeper — why do care about helping students find their passion and purpose? Why do other students matter to you? And what does being your own boss really mean to you?

  • Good points but allow me to clarify based upon evidence-based findings. What you are really talking about is GOAL ORIENTATION. Distinct differences exist between goals and goal orientations, with goals representing what an individual intends to accomplish, in comparison with goal orientations that are typically associated with achievement motives and representing why (i.e., the motive) individuals set and pursue a particular target. The distinction between goal targets and intent is important because individuals with identical targets may exhibit radically different behaviors to attain their goals.

    Individuals set goals for one of two reasons. Some have a dominant MASTERY orientation. These people are motivated to achieve for such reasons as intellectual curiosity or topic interest. For these mastery-oriented people, gaining knowledge or meeting task-specific goals is sufficient motivation to engage in the process of learning or task completion, with few, if any, additional incentives needed.

    In contrast, people who assume a more NORMATIVE approach to performance view the process as an intermediary, but necessary, step to achieving more important primary goals (like incentives or keeping one’s job). Normative-oriented individuals strive toward reaching targets NOT for the obligatory sake of knowledge or accomplishment but for socially constructed and extrinsically motivated reasons. Normative individuals seek positive competence evaluations from others, and the extrinsic incentive of promotion or bonuses are usually a sufficient benchmark to connote academic prowess, regardless of actual or sustained content mastery.

    So now you know what the WHY actually represents. What steps we take to efficiently reach our goals is the topic for another day.

    Bobby Hoffman
    University of Central Florida

    • Thank you for the great insights, Bobby. A question popped into my mind when reading this, and I’m not sure if you (or anyone) would have the answer, but my question is this: which orientation proves to be more successful for attaining one’s goals?

      My guess would be a mastery orientation, but maybe it really doesn’t matter at all, as long as you have a strong enough intent?