To motivate someone to do something, you must offer them something they want in return. This is true in regards to both others and to ourselves. Each of us spend our hours wanting all sorts of things, but there's one thing we all crave together—to feel meaningful, valued, and important. But only those who feel important themselves have the power to make others feel truly important.
To create it in others, you must first create it in yourself. It, of course, being a feeling of value and importance.
Thus, one of the best ways to help others is by looking out for yourself. If you’ve ever flown on a plane, you know this advice well: “put your own mask on before helping anyone else.”
But the inverse is true as well: you can help yourself out by assisting others—particularly those that are consistent, major presences in our lives.
A wonderful illustration is the trapeze, or acroyoga. You’ll never be able to succeed without first working on your own strength, focus, and endurance. And by working to develop these traits, you will inevitably elevate and secure those around you.
But once you’ve reached a certain level of proficiency, it’s not enough to be great on your own. You must rely on others to help you achieve something special and avoid serious injury while doing it. To swing you higher than is possible on your own. To hold steady when your grip struggles.
The simple framework outlined below is great for self-application. It’s useful for getting yourself to go on a run, meditate, cook a healthy meal, or really any activity that helps you become the person you want to be. But this framework is also effective for inspiring action in others—which I imagine was your intention when you decided to read this article. Helping friends solve stubborn problems, working with clients, motivating colleagues, or helping your loved ones achieve their goals.
Both applications—others and the self—are important. But I would recommend trying it out with yourself first. Grab a pen and paper. Think of something you want to do, something you know would benefit you, but that you’ve been procrastinating or avoiding for awhile. Then go through this framework step by step, using the 4 steps as writing prompts.
Keep in mind that this is just a framework, not a meticulous roadmap written for your very specific and unique life. You will need to fill in the details based on your own situation and use a bit of that resourcefulness and initiative that you keep in your luminous head.
How to Inspire Action in 4 Steps
Step 1: Instruct
Coach the Doer on what is possible, what could possibly be achieved, or what would be a skillful action in this situation. Don’t listen to the inner critic—be bold.
Before we go any further, it is probably important to clarify exactly what I mean when using the word “skillful” in this context.
What is the difference between a skillful frame of mind and an unskillful one? Between a skillful action and an unskillful one?
It all comes down to the beating heart of science: cause and effect. Skillful actions and perspectives revolve around cause and effect. They understand the lessons learned in the past and apply them to decisions made in the Now. They are done with some intentional state or outcome in mind.
Unskillful actions and unskillful perspectives, on the other hand, seek to hide from the calculation of cause and effect. They like to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Skillful does not mean that it guarantees success. It does not mean that you act without doubt. There will always be unknowns. Planning is essential—plans are next to useless.
Rather, skillful means intentional. Careful. Thoughtful. Purposeful. Perceptive. Experimental. Mindful.
Step 2: Urge
Implore the Doer to do what is skillful, to make the right choice, and to actualize their potential.
In any moment, there are virtually an infinite number of potentials surrounding us.
The potential for pleasure or pain, clarity or delusion, concentration or distraction.
Of these, the potential that grows is the one that you feed—with your thoughts, words, and mindfulness.
Sometimes the positive or desirable potentials are very small. Sometimes they are hidden behind fog and distracting sensations or compulsions. But they are always there.
You need only look for them, find their location, and then grow them. One day, one morning, one choice at a time. Whatever you decide to feed within yourself is what grows. Feed them with your thoughts and, when you have the strength: your actions.
Death is abrupt—like a trapdoor that suddenly opens beneath your feet. It is also the only constant in a reality characterized by inconstancy. Die with memories, not dreams.
Step Three: Rouse
Galvanize the Doer’s energy by contemplating with them the impact and benefits of doing this thing, of following through. Similarly contemplate the consequences of not doing it.
Get as specific as possible about these consequences, both good and bad. Try to capture them explicitly in words. Think about the implications of these outcomes—what it would enable, or make possible. How it would impact the Doer's mental state to have this task well and truly behind them? Likely it would create a sense of pride and accomplishment, however or brief. These feelings are what build our own sense of self-worth. Such a feeling cannot be bought with all the gold in the world.
While doing this, focus on the mid-to-long-term, for this is the difference between momentary happiness and sustaining joy.
Do not allow yourself to be pulled into the shadows. You must become the light. For the good of yourself and of the world.
Step 4: Encourage
Embolden the Doer with positive talk, affirmation, and words of support.
This thing is within your power. Both the ability and discipline required to do this exist within you. Stick with it!
There is no endeavor that cannot be accomplished through regular, small efforts.
It can be helpful to think about this step as nourishment of the Doer’s will power.
Your willpower grows stronger when you do difficult things. Just like any muscle, it must be pushed to—and just beyond—its limit to develop. Even if it’s just an inch further, a breath longer, push for it.
The progress isn’t as important as the push itself—because each push makes the next push stronger and more likely.
But like a muscle, your willpower can get overworked and exhausted. After strenuous exercise, it needs stretching and rest in order to fully recover and reap all the benefits of the exercise. This is natural. Your willpower is not infinite and it needs time to recuperate after being exhausted.
But we’re playing a long game here. It’s not about doing the most today, it’s about doing more this month than last. Building a muscle takes time, and every day won’t necessarily be the greatest day yet. This is why encouragement is so essential.