Skip to main content

How To Find Motivation

Lesson 8 from: The Method to a Successful (and Fulfilling) Photography Career

Alex Strohl

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

8. How To Find Motivation

Lesson Info

How To Find Motivation

Two weeks ago? Two weeks ago now? Yeah. Another week's gone by. (calm music) How to find motivation? In this episode, I will share how I work towards my objectives and how you can apply similar steps to work towards yours. (calm music) This is a no nonsense action plan to get you to understand the mechanics of motivation, the way that I found them to work for me. So, first off you have to define your objectives, what you're trying to get done. Ask yourself why, multiple times. Number two, you make the action plan and number three, as simple as it can sound, you just have to act on it in a consistent way. So day in and day out, you just keep plugging away. (uplifting music) To illustrate this point, I wanna share a little story with you. So when I moved to Montana six years ago, I knew I wanted to be fitter, more in shape, to go into the mountains because I knew that I wanted to photograph more athletes. So that was my intention, my goal. We can call it measurable. I just wanna be...

in shape to photograph more athletes, at least not be liability and be a decent adventure partner for people who are really fast. So with that goal in mind, I just worked on a strategy. Well, if I need, if I'm gonna get in shape, I'm gonna have to find out how to do that right, how to be fast in the mountain. So I asked everybody I knew who was in the field, local athletes and friends, and I just gathered that I had to build a routine for me like a workout routine that I would do day in and day out. Okay, cool. So I had my strategy, which was that I had to work out at least three times a week and with that I built a routine that would support that strategy. So three times a week gives me about 200 or 300 hours a year outside of, sort of physical exercise. It's sort of the bare minimum to be a decent adventure partner. Some people like Kilian Jornet for example, will have a training exercise that has them working out thousand hours a year, which is I mean is almost three hours a day. So I knew what the upper leg was, and I knew that wasn't my goal because that would leave no time for anything else. I'm still a photographer at the end. So with that goal in mind of doing 300 hours a year max, I set up a routine to support it. So every Tuesday, every Thursday, and every Sunday, I do two hours of workout pretty much and I would try to get 2000 feet, 2,500 feet at least of elevation gain because I just knew that working the uphill only would allow me to sort of fast track my way into just agility in the mountains. So I just, in 2015 sat down and I'm like, "All right, every Tuesday, every Thursday, every Sunday, rain or shine, I'll be out there walking up the local mountain, either on foot when it's dry or on skis when it's wet and ski uphill." I tried it out. You know one week, cool. Two weeks, awesome. I like this. It's hard. It's painful, like it sucks. Some mornings you don't wanna do this, right? Like it will happen to you. It happens to all of us. Whenever you set up this routine for you, you don't wanna do it and what I say to myself in these cases is that there's a few things. But first off I know that I'm gonna miss out on the good feeling that I get from a workout. I know that it sucks when you do it but when you're done, it feels amazing. So I think about the reward. Second is that I have this sort of belief that we shouldn't miss meetings with ourselves. If we say we're gonna go do this thing the next day and do this routine for the next year, or two years, 10 years whatever, we shouldn't miss our appointments with ourselves. I think they're very important, right? So I just think of not missing any of these meetings with me. So just framing it that way helps me just get it done right? I'm not gonna miss this times of work. Another thing that helped me is remembering that when you're stagnant, you're not growing right? Anything that's stagnant is just rotting. So I would be like, "Hey, if I don't go do this workout today. I'm just gonna stagnate and I'm not growing." I love growing. We all love. Humans thrive on growth, right? Obviously, if one day you're sick and you don't feel good obviously you're not gonna go do your workout. That's fine. You just be silly to go do that. It's only gonna make you sicker. So just you know, if you get sick, I just waited till I was back and gradually pick up again. You have to pick up before you left it sadly because you lost some fitness. And then lastly, it's a mental trick I picked up from a book. I can't remember which one it was but it's essentially just framing the thing. So instead of like, "Oh, I have to go do this workout or I have to go do this shoot." I'd frame it the other way and it is, "I get to go workout or I get to go to this photo shoot that I'm not excited about maybe, but I still get to do it." It's a privilege and we should just do it. So this is the things I tell myself when I don't feel like doing something, and I know that all of you guys have asked me that. So I'm confident that these little sort of hacks, tactics will help you push through. The biggest thing is that like I've said earlier is to fall in love with the process. So I fell in love with the process of going and doing my routine, and that is so liberating to know that I when I wake up on Tuesday, I'm just gonna go work out. There's so much beauty in that habit. It's been a joy discovering that, and I hope you'll discover it too. Another key thing is to track your progress right, when you're starting anything new. What I did is that I would just go on Johns in the back with people, and I would see that I was progressing you know. I would make a point to every weekend try to go out with somebody who I knew was fitter, faster whatever than me, just so I could see how I could, how is progressing against them and striking your progress in whatever you're doing is an amazing way to find the motivation to keep going. So to reiterate, to achieve any sort of goal and to find the motivation to do it, you have to first define the goal right? Second set, the action plan, how you gonna get there with a strategy, and third act on it. To paint another picture of this, it's important that you remember that you have to find the opportunity that matters most to you sort of breaking the clouds where all your effort have to go towards that specific thing. This can be something like, "I wanna publish a photo book." Cool, this could be a good goal. Then ask yourself why again. Why do I wanna publish a photo book? Maybe you like how tangible it is, to feel it, to touch it. Maybe you like the fact that people have it in their houses as an object, and that makes you feel good. Just dig on the motivations behind that. Essentially you have to dig in, ask yourself why at least three times. I remember reading somewhere that it's only after the third why that the real answer comes out. You'll see in the recommended reading, "The Toyota Management Way". They actually at Toyota in Japan, they like to ask five times why whenever there's a process that is being challenged. Five why's, they have to answer five times to their superior or whatever, and I thought that was really interesting. So I try to hold myself to some sort of similar standard. Then, once you know the why and you have the goal, you just make this action plan. I've said it, I'll say it again in the plan schedule. To illustrate this, I have this little interview that I did with my friend, Ben Tibbetts, on how he got to finish his book Alpenglow and how he took him seven years to do that, and what was his mental talk? What was it like is a very open ended question. Challenging, beautiful, inspiring, dangerous, complicated. The day to day like? Day to day? The day to day of the project was keeping an eye on the weather forecasts, keeping an eye on the snow pack, avalanche conditions, information from other guides and mountaineers, knowing what's going on across the Alps, trying to keep a track of when might be the opportune moment to jump on to the project and seize the right moment to get the images I wanted. And yeah, that was quite complicated. What was the hardest part in that project? The hardest part of the project? Whew, probably managing risk because obviously I wanted to complete the project. I wanted to climb these beautiful routes, and it's more about routes than the mountains themselves. It's trying to find them in the right conditions that where the risk level was acceptable and the right partners, and the right weather, getting everything to line up, and see the project to conclusion was a kind of balancing act. Obviously, if you push too hard and you wanna finish things too quickly then you can push through and try and climb when the conditions aren't optimal and cut your safety margins, and that's what we call human factors or heuristic factors. There's a lot of those. There's a lot of, yeah- They're probably the biggest risk to an adventure or outdoors photographer is balancing your motivation and your wish to get those images. Balancing the human factors with an acceptable margin of safety and still getting the shot, and either delivering it to a client, or getting it for your personal project. Was there a time where it was really fucked and you're like this is not worth it? You know, like this is too dangerous, I should just not be doing this? Yeah, overall there's no point where I'm like, "Oh, I should stop doing this project." But, there's- Not even in the heat of the moment? Like, you know- No, no, no, no. I never like got kind of like, "Ah this is too much, I'm just gonna stop." There's definitely individual moments where I'm like, "Okay, we've gone beyond what's acceptable risk. It's time to turn around." I'd say of the 50 routes that appeared in the book. It probably required, I think I climbed about 85 routes. Of the 50 route that appeared, several of them required two attempts. Some of them required three. Some of them required four and most of that was due to conditions, or risk, or illness, or weather, or just something changed, and it's time to head back down and then try again. Each time you try again, you are waiting for weeks and you got a slim window and you put in two days of effort and you come back with nothing. But that's fine, that's part of the game. Well, what else is there to do? Well, so when I hear you talking about this, it sounds like there's, and in general, I've got to know you quite a bit. It sounds like there is no shortage of motivation, right? You almost talk about it as if it's a positive thing or it could be a dangerous thing when you're trying to get your route done or whatever. How do you channel that motivation that seems to be sort of abundant within you? Channel, I don't even- Is it abundant within you? Yeah. It sounds like it. I don't even need to channel the motivation. The motivation is unlimited. There's no need to channel it 'cause there's enough to go around. I guess the problem is directing it most effectively in the right direction to get something done. Eight years to finish a project is maybe a little bit excessive, but I'm like a perfectionist which is an asset, but it's also kind of a problem when you're trying to get something done. Certainly for commercial shoots, in the end they just want the product delivered. They just want the shoots on their desk so they can get on and do stuff, and I want the shots to be perfect and they just want them to be acceptable. Usually the client deals with it, so that's fine. What would you tell to someone who struggles with finding the motivation to go shoot their things? Wow, if you struggle with motivation, what do you do? 'Cause that's why I wanted to talk to you is 'cause you don't seem to struggle with it, and I think that's a unique skill and trait and I'm hoping we can sort of uncover what makes that force. But that's like an existential question. (laughs) If you don't- If you're not motivated by what you're doing... Wow, it's a hard one to answer. I guess I've found what motivates me through 20 years of being in the mountains, and I'm like have inexhaustible motivation to go climbing, to keep training, to get better. If you don't have motivation for what you're doing, wow. Maybe you're not doing the right thing? Maybe you need to go deeper? Maybe you need to surround yourself with the right community that you can draw on their skills to help you get better? When you start out at something, it's really... I understand it's difficult to be motivated like when I start a new skill. So I started paragliding recently, or a year and a half ago, and at the moment I'm struggling with motivation because my skill level is lower than I'd like it to be. And so, I'm very limited and I dunno when I can do what, and how, and where, and safely. And so, I'm kind of stilted by my lack of skill. So, I can- So, I get it. Probably when I started photography this was back in the sort of era of celluloid and dark rooms and everything was painful and slow. It's really, it's hard learning and you got a motivational hump to get over before you start kind of planing. What do you do to get over that hump? Well, just knuckle down. Get it done. You gotta see the long term picture. You gotta realize that you're probably not gonna be good photographer until you've taken 200,000 photos. You're probably not gonna be a good photographer 'till you've put in at least 5,000 hours of work and it's probably gonna be painful, and it's gonna be sometimes in bad weather, and it's gonna be tiring and you should be up a couple of hours before dawn, and you go to bed after dark. It's not fun until you get the results that match your own expectations. There's a big hump to get over. I guess it's the same when learning an instrument. I like, I play an instrument. If I try to learn a new instrument, I don't think I'd have the motivation to get over that hump because I know how hard it is and how long it takes to learn an instrument. So I wouldn't have right now the motivation 'cause I've got too many other things on. So yeah, I guess that's another thing. If you haven't got a motivation, is it because you've got too much else in your life already? Is family pressures and work pressures and socializing and maybe other hobbies, are they taking up most of your life? Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe that's where you want to be. Maybe there isn't time for photography. But if you really want to make it happen, if you really wanna get over that hump to the point where you're cruising along and you can get the photos you want, then you gotta put the work in and it shouldn't be easy. If it was easy, then everyone would be taking amazing photos and we'd be saturated with amazing photos, which to a certain extent we are. There's a lot of good photographers out there and to stay head and shoulders above those is near on impossible these days. So even more than ever, you've gotta put more time in. You've gotta be better. You've gotta stay out longer. You've gotta be up earlier. Put more effort in. Go further away. Find more remote, beautiful wild locations that aren't already Instagram to death. Find your own story. Find your own vision. Find something that inspires you to go the long haul, like do you have a story that you want to tell? Do you have a sport that you're passionate about? Is this, do you have something to say? If you don't have something to say, then maybe you shouldn't. That's a bit harsh, or you've gotta find what you've gotta say. When you start out, you probably won't have anything to say 'cause you don't know what your own possibilities for storytelling are. I think it's only as you get a little bit older and a little bit more mature, and I haven't got there yet but I'm hoping you discover what you've really got to say and find your voice. Select and distill. So it seems like it comes down to, for you it's, and I don't wanna paraphrase you, but what I'm trying to understand is that it's comes down to having you sort of muse or you sort of project to keep you going. Is that what you're implying? Besides skills which helped you, if you don't have this muse, how do you find it? Yeah, certainly. I've got this project which is to try and photograph all the most beautiful mountains in the Alps, climb them by the most beautiful routes, climb them by the most... Yeah, I try and climb- Try and climb all the most beautiful- Try and climb- (indistinct) So yeah, I've got this project to climb all the most beautiful mountains in the Alps and attempt this by the most inspiring line on each mountain, and that's a project that can probably keep me going until retirement. And to be honest, it gives me a reason to be- It gives sense to my life and it's maybe rather facile 'cause it's just mountaineering, and there's not really any point to it, but it gives me a direction. It gives me a focus. So I can... only really understand motivation in relation to having a goal because if you're not motivated to get somewhere or realize something, then I don't know what that motivation's probably not very focused. And for me, motivation and focus, and drive are kind of all part of the same stream of trying to get from where you are to where you want to be and what you wanna produce through that process, what you wanna create, what you wanna give to the world. So I would suggest trying to find a project that motivates you, and that's not a simple task. I don't say that likely finding a project that motivates you not just over a month, not just over a year but like a like long term that's a big task. But if you find that, you look at Salgado or any of the greats, they had this kind of long term vision of what they were trying to achieve and who it was for and why they were doing it. I think that's what makes a great photographer. Is that something people are born with, or something they can just learn? I don't think you're born with a whole lot. I think anything's learnable. Certainly genetics, yeah maybe some people have got a talent for hitting the shot quicker than others. I don't know, I'm joking. I don't think there's a lot of skills that you- I don't think there's anything you can't learn but learning motivation is tricky. I think you gotta find something that fills you with passion. If you haven't got a passion, the drive, the motivation, then you're gonna be treading water. Can you learn motivation whether they say fake it till you make it? I think there's ways of getting there but you've gotta have the basic skills in place. You've gotta go through 5,000 to 10,000 hours of practice before you're gonna be able to realize something particularly great. I think you've gotta accept that that process is gonna take five to 10 years, and that if you just set out in a direction then you'll probably find the story. You'll probably find what you're passionate about. You'll probably find a subject that captures you and drives you. In that process, you'll find the motivation and where you want to go. How you get through that five, 10,000 hours though, that's harder. That's about grit and determination, and it's a different type of motivation. It can't be bought off a shelf and you've gotta be in a rather privileged position to have that time as well. There's no denying it. It's hard to even do if you are running a full-time job concurrently, if you've got a busy family. It's gonna be hard to get that done. It's gonna take more than 10 years. So it's not to be undertaken lightly. Can you train that motivation? The initial grit? Sure, training initial grit and determination while mountaineering was a good place to start because it's fun in and of itself. But through the process of mountaineering, I think you learn about yourself and you learn when difficult conditions whether things get thrown at you which they inevitably do. You find your own resilience. I don't have a family, but I imagine through the process of having a family, you find internal resilience and ways to get through and grit and determination but you probably don't have time to do anything else. So yeah, I'm sure there are ways to find grit and determination. For me though, it has been through mountaineering itself which has thankfully been the conduit and the process by which I found my story, and what I want to tell, what I want to give, what I wanna create. Thank you, Ben Tibbetts. Perfect. (indistinct) It's beautiful. I want another-

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase


Ratings and Reviews

Janelle Dransfield

A helpful combination of mindful and technical! I loved all aspects of the lessons Alex taught in this workshop! They were well thought out, specific, and easy to follow. Each category had numbered lists of steps, followed by more specific descriptions of them. The lesson about the art of negotiation, as well as the one out in the field with his dad were both full of really helpful first hand knowledge. (Also, side note: loved how his dad did NOT care about the production hahaha. Just a man about his business. A perfect example of someone you document and direct when you can!) The only reason I didn't give this five stars was because of the uncut interview episode with another photographer about how to find motivation. It was the longest episode, but there wasn't a lot of content there, and the video was really drawn out considering how much was actually being said. Maybe if the person being interviewed had been given an idea of the questions before hand, or if all the dead space had been edited out in-between, it would have felt like a little bit less of a filler? That being said, I really enjoyed this course overall and got a lot out of it! Well priced, and I would definitely buy again.

Oswaldo Martinez

Phenomenal guide to find YOUR reasons to be better This might be my favorite workshop from Alex. He shares amazing insights and provides frameworks to help you understand the why behind what you do, and plenty of valuable advice into how you can improve or find your own motivations. Loved this one.

Tommaso Novi

Absolutely amazing. You can see the works these community put in this course, is simply amazing and incredible. Inspiring is the right word!

Student Work