Metaphors Gone Wild: Fire and Motivation

“If my 75% player plays 50% over his ability,” legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once asserted, “and your 100% player plays 10% under his ability, my player will win every time.”


Author Stephen Covey has acknowledged that motivation is simply a metaphoric “fire within.” That fire, of course, can be destructive–just think about the recent wildfires in California. But, properly controlled, fire can provide benefits on a numerous fronts.


Thinking of motivation as fire, we can redirect its energy to ensure that deeds and not destruction result.Yes, there is energy in negative emotions. Anger, resentment, envy–if the power of these feelings can be redirected, wonderful things can result. Need proof? Consider the words of jazz maestro Duke Ellington: “I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.”

Recognize that for any given situation, you can leave it as it is, make it worse, or make it better. There are no other choices. Ideally, you’re the kind of person who opts to make those less-than-ideal circumstances better than they are. If so, your pro-active choices are dependent, in very large measure, on your self-confidence levels. And, there’s a wonderfully symbiotic relationship between accomplishment and self-confidence: the more you do well, the more your self-confidence grows. And, the more your self-confidence grows, the more you do well.


Often, motivation is hard to find, even though it may be lying all around us–or above us. When Henry David Thoreau admonished others to “cease to grant that crust!” he was issuing a strong command to seek more from life than leftovers. The second half of his admonition was the observation that “there’s ripe fruit above your head.” If you are stuck in the muck of a doused fire, if all you can see are the ashes of hope, you need to look around and above you. And, if you still can’t see possibilities, ask a trusted friend to discuss the potential fruit to be found in your environment, in your life.


Not surprisingly, psychologists tell us that negative stress results when we feel we have little or no control over situations. One clue to your personal control-factor may lie in the way you answer the question, “How do you know when you’ve done a good job?”. If you cited others–for example, “My boss tells me she is pleased with my work”–then the external-control quotient in your stress-equation is probably pretty high. However, if you cited yourself–for example, “I am pleased with the results of this project”–then your internal-control factor is probably quite healthy.

Ideally, you can light your own motivation-fires. Yes, it’s a grand feeling when others recognize our effort. But, it’s more important to be able to applaud our efforts ourselves.

Think of all the things you do on a weekly basis. How many of them are you doing because of your own wishes/intents and how many are you doing because others expect or want you to? Express your answer as a percentage: To what extent do you feel “externally controlled”? If your life is directed by others more than 50% of the time, you may wish to stoke the self-motivation fires.


Jose Feliciano rose to the top of the pop charts in the late sixties by asking someone else to light his fire. The sentiment is romantic, to be sure. But, in terms of personal goal-setting and attainment, it’s always best to light the fires of motivation by ourselves.

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