Motivation: are you an innie or an outie?

Motivation - manuscript with hand-written notes on it, glasses, and a paper cup.

Are you an innie or an outie?

No. Not belly buttons. Motivation.

Some people are internally motivated. They get things done by deciding they are going to do them. Their drive to act comes from within. Those are the “innies.” They are most prized in our culture, held up as a standard. I envy them.

Me? I’m an outie.

To get things done, I need external motivation, a prompt from outside of myself, not generated by yours truly.

For most of my life, due in part to the cultural bias I mentioned, I thought being an “outie” was a failure or a flaw. My father was an innie. He was so internally motivated it was as if he lived by some inner clock that went off at precise intervals. Ed, my husband is also internally motivated. He can easily summon the energy to begin and complete nearly any project to which he puts his mind. And I’m pretty sure he wonders, at times, what the heck is wrong with me that I can’t.

But learning about neural wiring by studying the Enneagram, CliftonStrengths, Myers-Briggs, and other personality measures, has relieved me of what was deep shame. My brain is not wired in a way that allows me to motivate myself. I have other executive functions (and other fine qualities), but an internal “start” button isn’t one of them.

I’m more like my mother: creative, adaptable, and lacking in external drive. Also like my mother, when that drive kicks in, look out! Once we start, she was, and I can be, a force to be reckoned with.

Asking for Help

Recently, I decided to begin working (again) on MEMORIAL a memoir about the last year my father was alive which coincided with my recovery from one of my major depressive episodes. But I found myself in the familiar slump of not being able to open the file. Without a publishing or contest deadline or some other external date by which I needed to finish the work, I couldn’t generate the energy to begin. I looked for a contest or something else but couldn’t find anything.

Gratefully, in a conversation with some writing friends, two of them offered to read my old manuscript, the one I had yet to pull out of the post-MFA pile and dust off. At first, I felt shy about taking their time. But they had offered. So I sent the book their way. Around the same time, a third friend who is an avid reader expressed interest. Now she has the manuscript too.

These “beta readers” as they are called in the writing industry, help the writer polish the manuscript. Depending on the stage in the process, a beta reader may look at the book’s big picture, notice inconsistencies and duplications, or simply tell the writer whether or not the manuscript feels like a book. They are essential to my process.

But they also do another thing. They provide that external push my “outie” self needs.

When any of them returns the manuscript, my curiosity and gratitude for their time and attention, prompts me to do what I couldn’t do before: open the book. I read their comments and my mind begins to churn. Once in I’m in the book, the wheels start to turn.

And once we’re rolling, hang on!

What about you?

Are you an outie or an innie?

Some innies have a different struggle, along the lines of “ready – fire – aim.” They may miss the mark because they didn’t pause long enough between thought and action to consider the details. Other innies fare just fine.

But if you’re an outie, have you felt shame about lacking internal motivation? I urge to to reexamine that. Is this a message you gave yourself or did it come from somewhere outside of you?

Notice the thoughts and body sensations that arise with that message. Can you let them be or allow them to drop away?

And when you do want to act, can you find a deadline or a nudge from a friend or some other outside impetus to help you do the work you desire?

If you need help with this process, I coach people on motivation. Feel free to book a 15-minute curiosity call.

I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.