Jon Acuff: Motivation

Jon Acuff is brilliant! I met him as we both found ourselves on the same tour of speaking events with one client and we bounced to a few cities together. Not only is he awesome on the stage, he has so much more to offer outside of his stage performances. You may know him from his incredible books: Quitter, Start, Do-Over and Finish. In this episode of “Words With Friends” you get to hear me hanging out with a buddy and building a conversation around a word of my choice. In Episode 1, I talk to Jon Acuff who shares his insight into the word “Motivation”. Listen in on our conversation and enjoy learning from being a fly on the wall to our discussion. You can learn more about Jon at


Find out more about Jon Acuff here:

The full transcript

Phil Jones: So here we are at the start of Season Two, Words With Friends, and we have a new friend. Somebody I met in the delightful city of Chicago whilst out on the road, my friend, Jon Acuff. Hey Jon. How are you?

Jon Acuff: It’s good to see you, Phil.

Phil Jones: Good to see you too. Now today we are talking the word, “motivation”. Why did I pick you for the word motivation. You’ve written a little bit of stuff about things that you should start, how to get started more effectively, how to get some more stuff done in between, how to have a do-over if it doesn’t work out right and then how to finish things. I’m guessing you might know a little bit about this word.

I thought I’d kick off by saying what does the word “motivation” mean to you?

Jon Acuff: I think it means, … I think of motivation as fuel a lot of times. That it’s kind of the fuel that helps you along during the process of trying to do anything that matters to you. I actually, … I’m kind of anti a lot of how we talk about motivation because I think people think if it’s not there, you can’t do the thing or you’re not supposed to do the thing. The number one reason people quit stuff is they’ll say, “I just wasn’t motivated.” The problem is at the beginning your motivation is usually the highest it’s ever going to be. We think it’s only going to go like this. As you’re working on the book you’re getting more excited. No. It’s a coal mine. There’s lots of days, … It’s kind of like, I always tell people, I’ve been married for 17 years. Every day I wake up I don’t wake up like, “Oh my gosh, our love is amazing.” I’m committed to love my wife. There’s days where it’s amazing. There’s days where it’s, we’re arguing. I couldn’t wait to be motivated to write. I think it’s important, I just don’t kind of worship it the way our culture tends to go, “Find your fuel and your passion in your heart and then forever . . . it’ll be easy.” No it won’t.

You love speaking. I love speaking. I promise you they’re days when you’re like, “This is a grind. This is weird.” I kind of have a weird relationship with motivation, although I do think it’s important and I do kind of work really hard to maintain it.

Phil Jones: You just talked about it as fuel, but I guess what I’m hearing here is if people are looking for it like it’s rocket fuel, and what you’re talking about is like it’s a sustainable slow burn to be able to get you there if it’s done right, and to get you to do the stuff even when it’s the thing you want to do the least.

Jon Acuff: Yeah, and that’s it not one thing. I don’t believe in the soulmate version of purpose. We go, “I gotta find my one thing,” or, “I have to find my perfect motivation.” I’m of the opinion you have ten different things that motivate you at any given time. On most days nine of them aren’t going to show up and you’re going to be glad you have the tenth. I think when somebody goes, “I’m motivated because I’m going to go to my high school reunion and I want to lose weight,” there’s going to be days when you don’t care about that. Like, “Screw those people. They’re dumb. I don’t even follow them on Facebook. I didn’t like them in high school. I won’t like then now. I’m going to eat this terrible thing.” I’m saying you need an army of motivation and you need to cultivate it. I guess that’s how I would say it’s a fuel you cultivate, not a fuel you receive. Like, “Oh, from the ethos, now I feel motivated like a unicorn.” I think it’s something we can be deliberate about, and work on and that’s where I’m a little different.

Phil Jones: Okay. How do we do that then? How do we cultivate? How do we work on it? How do we get more of it?

Jon Acuff: Part of it is just the self-awareness to understand what works for you. I tell this story. I have three buddies. We are in a Mastermind and they all said, “I’m so motivated on airplanes. I get so much work done on airplanes. I guess I should fly more.” That’s a stupid thing to say and the solution isn’t fly more, the solution is to go, “Why do I get stuff done? Why am I motivated on airplanes?” Well, you have deadlines. You know when you get on. You know when you get to work. They ding you with an audio deadline of, “Ding, now you can use your laptop.” Number two, you can’t bring everything. In an office I could touch all these books today. On a plane I have the world’s smallest tray. I can’t bring a bunch of stuff. Three, you’re anonymous. You can focus. Nobody’s popping their head and going, “You got a minute?” Four, you don’t have strong WiFi. Even if you pay for it, it’s the world’s worst WiFi.

If I realize that, I could then recreate that situation, to find my motivation on earth. The problem is, we love to say stupid things like failure’s the best way to learn. I’m fine learning to be a failure, but I would argue winning and learning is way better. If you said to me, “You can fail and learn or win and learn,” I’m picking win and learn every time. The problem is, we never stop to learn because we’re too busy celebrating it. Very rarely do people go, “Okay. Wow that worked.” If you and I had coffee in some hipster spot in Brooklyn, it was in a Square Cup and we’re sitting down and you said, “Hey, I want to get more motivated,” I would say, “Tell me about a time where you won in the past.”

The other problem is we silo ourselves so I’ll meet people that are overweight but really good at finances. I’ll go, “Tell me about the finance thing.” They go, “I have a chart. I have a budget. I have a da, da, da,” I go, “Well let’s take some of that and put it over on the fitness side.” You’re in the same companies I’m in. It’s crazy how many top executives are really out of shape and really unhealthy, and you go, “But dude, you climbed the top of the this ladder. You’re clearly really good at being disciplined on some things. What if we applied it?” I think that’s part of the breakdown for people. I would sit down with you and say, “You’ve been motivated at something else. How did that happen? How did that work? How do we apply it to this new thing where you don’t naturally feel motivated?”

Phil Jones: Okay. You and I, we live in the world of being motivational speakers, right? That’s what many people would describe us to. If I run a workshop and I get people to tell me why they’re here and get a list of objectives out from an event, one of the things that often comes out is, “I want a bit more motivation.” It seems to be this belief and feeling that you get it from elsewhere. Somebody else is responsible for delivering it so, “Gimme, gimme, gimme.” What’s Jon Acuff’s take on that?

Jon Acuff: I think you can get a momentary burst but if you expect to receive it that way, you’re now a slave to receive it that way. If Phil is in charge of my motivation, and I see him once a year at our annual sales conference, then I guess I’ll be motivated once a year. Again, that’s why I like a variety of motivation. I just think that there are times where you go to an event, and you’re really motivated, excited, and I think that you and I and other speakers like us can amplify that. I really think we can, but I think the reality is I’m only seeing you one day. You’ve got a bunch of other days you need to deal with, so I would rather teach you how to self-motivate than tell you you’re always going to need this person, this process. It’s kind of like, if you told me I have an amazing trainer who works me out once a week and that’s the only day I exercise, I’d go, “That’s not great. I get that you can’t afford a trainer seven days a week. You’re not a celebrity, whatever, but that one day a week is offset by the six other days where you’re not living the right way. Let’s figure out some tools to kind of self motivate you.” That’s how I would look at it.

Do I think that motivational speakers can fire that up or amplify that? I do. I don’t think that’s the only way though. That’s not sustainable in the same way that you’re not going to a conference every day.

Phil Jones: Yeah. I think you made a key point earlier when you talked about the airport example as well, being more productive on the plane, is if you can draw out the ingredients of what makes that productive, it’s like, can you draw out of an event what makes it motivational? Is it being surrounded by a load of people with like mind? Is it the energy of having a thousand people in the same place? Is it the loud music? Is it the lack of distractions again? Is it the fact that I’m not connected to a phone? Is it the fact that I’m present in the moment? Is it some of those other ingredients and see how you can get more of that.

Coming back around to motivation as a word though is it gets used like it’s personified either like another person or objectified like it’s a thing, like, “I haven’t got my motivation with me today, I must have left it on the side or on the countertop somewhere.” How do we shift it from being something that somebody else has the power to have or it being a physical belonging, and being something that lives inside us so that we can build habits and routines?

Jon Acuff: I think you make it an activity and not a thing. You’re right. You can lose a thing, but it’s hard to lose an activity or an action. I’ll just do the action again. I think part of it though is figuring out, making it personal enough that you use your system, not somebody else’s. It’s a terrible thing to try to use somebody else’s form of motivation to motivate yourself. What works for me won’t work for you.

The other thing is, I tell people be willing to be weird in the pursuit of it. I think motivation is very personal and very weird, so it might be that you want something and you print it out and you cut it up into little strips and you paste one up on the wall every time you hit that goal. That’s weird to some people. For me, this is something I do. When I have any challenge that I need to do that’s number based, so say I’m trying to ride a hundred miles in a week on my bike, or I’m trying to sell a hundred courses, in my head I think of it like a football game or a basketball game, like a score. At the beginning, I’m losing a hundred to zero and that’s terrible. Then as I make some progress I’m like, “Yeah, it’s still a blowout. It’s 80 to 20 but I at least scored a little bit.” I think about it in terms of a sport because it motivates me and the average person would be like, “That’s really weird. It’s not a sport. Why are you imagining a fictional football game when you’re riding your bike and trying to push through?” I’d say, “Well if I got the miles done, I don’t care that it was weird.” The results speak for themselves. I’m going to have some weird, …

I think a big part of it is making it personal, and then finding out how to have fun with it and make it, … I know for instance, so I”m trying to ride a thousand miles on my bike. I got a road bike. It’s really popular in our town and so I said to myself, like it rains in Tennessee like crazy. I live in Nashville. We get more rain inches-wise than Seattle. It’s so dumb. I want to have a trainer that I can put my bike on and ride in my garage. Then if it’s raining, I can still get some miles in. I can buy it today, but I told myself, once I hit a thousand miles then I can buy it. Again there’s nothing connected like, I could walk in the store. The store wouldn’t be like, “Hey, have you done your miles?” My wife probably wouldn’t even care. It’s not even that expensive, but I want the game of that so that as I, … ‘Cause I looked at a thousand miles like, “That’s going to be hard for me. I’ve never done that. Okay, let me attach an award to that or reward. Give me some more motivation.”

I don’t think there’s shame in manufacturing motivation. I think there’s real power, and it’s funny. I saw a comedian recently and I was like, “I’m funnier than that person. I could do this.” Now I’m thinking about doing a straight 60 minute comedy set, my own event, 300 people, nothing major. I’m like, “Why wouldn’t I try that?” Seeing that was motivation. Half the speakers I talk to, I go, “How did you become a public speaker?” They go, “I saw this dude doing it. He was terrible and he was getting paid for it and I was like, “I got good ideas. I can work hard it.”” I’m not saying it’s easy. You still have the road, but you and I have both seen speakers that we were like, “Oh dude, like that’s the guy that’s the best? Oh my gosh. Wait until I work on my stuff.”
I think there’s power in manufacturing motivation.

Phil Jones: What you’re talking about though, is like how do you get to be better than something, right? It’s to self-impose a benchmark and then be better than. I saw that comedian. I think I can do as well or as better. I was a hundred-nothing, now I’m eighty-twenty. I’m doing better than I was,” which is back to your point on winning again. Where did you feel like you were when you were winning, right? It’s how do you turn something into this, how do I feel like I’m consistently on top or getting nearer the top of whatever the thing?

Jon Acuff: I think you have to define it. There’s a book called Black Box Thinking where the author says essentially most of us play golf at night. His argument is if you played golf from 8:00 pm to midnight every night, you would never get better. You could practice every night, but the second you hit the ball you wouldn’t have any data of did it hook right? Did it go straight? Did it go far? Most of us live our lives that way. I put this story in Finish, I had a relative who was trying to lose weight and he said it was so much easier last time, and I said, “Well, how do you know?” He didn’t know. He had no data. During a process your emotions get really loud and they lie to you and so he was in his head imagining, “Oh man, last time I tried to lose weight it was so much easier. I barely had to work out. The pounds just fell off.” He doesn’t know that. I guarantee it was every bit as hard last time but he has no data.

Part of it is taking this weirdly shaped amoeba of motivation and saying, “Here’s some data around it. Here’s a score.” You can’t get better at things you don’t know the score of. Whether it’s riding miles, whether it’s trying to progress at a company, there’s always something you can track and make into data. Then you can say, “Okay, I might not feel motivated but here’s progress so now I feel a little more motivated because I can see black and white.

Phil Jones: Okay. Something you said you were going to get done at some time in your entire life and maybe you’ve said it three, four, five, six, seven times and you’ve still failed to do it?

Jon Acuff: Definitely writing a novel. I’ve wanted to write this detective novel for a long time, and I haven’t done it. I have the story in my head and every time I read one, I’m like, “Oh, man.” Yeah. I’ve had that as a goal in my head. I don’t even know if I would try to sell it. I think I would just like the process of trying it. I think the dialogue’s intimidating to me. That’s definitely one that I know I haven’t done that.

Phil Jones: Okay. What would need to happen then if this was to become a thing that you now were going to move forward with? It was something that was going to be not I’m thinking of or one day I might, but now I’m in this process and you find the motivation. How would you go about it?

Jon Acuff: I think the first thing I’d have to do is really decide if I want to do it. I think that, … Let’s take writing as an example. 81% of Americans, according to the New York Times, want to write a book. Less than 1% do. I think part of the problem is writing is the only art form we think everyone should do. I have never met someone that said, “I have a sculpture in me. I’ve always wanted to sculpt. I just know I could sculpt if I had access to a quarry.” We tell each other, “You should write a book.” No you shouldn’t. A lot of those people are enslaved to this unmet expectation of a goal they don’t even really want to do. The problem is it prevents them from doing the thing they should do.

I don’t think everybody should record an album. I shouldn’t record an album. That’s okay. I think the first thing I would decide is, do I really want to do it, or do I just like having that idea and it’s fun to think about. Maybe that’s all, and that’s not failure. If I really want to do it, then I have to sit down and say, “I want it to be 50,000 words and I want it to be done by this date. I’m gonna attach this award to it and I’m gonna, …” I’ve written six other books so I know the process so I can’t say, “I don’t know where I’d start.” I know exactly what I’d do. I would just need, for me a big part of it would be committing to the date and committing to that it’s going to be 50,000 words. First I’d have to know am I even supposed to do it?

Phil Jones: Okay. I’m hearing a big thing here about deadlines. It seems like without a deadline it’s very hard to find the motivation. It’s easy to be able to push something off until tomorrow or next week, next month, next year, et cetera. The deadline is the key, whether the deadline is the number of miles, whether the deadline is the trigger to be able to then create incentive, but the data is driven through some form of deadline. I got a great piece of advice once when I was really early on in my career, which was people do just two things. There’s only two things people do in life. One is what they enjoy doing and the other is what they get checked on. Everything falls into one of those two camps. That kind of echoes to me kind of profound we got to put these checks into place. If you sell a book to a publisher, the publisher’s going to give you the deadlines, “This needs to be-”

Jon Acuff: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. My editor and the designer. I have a whole system of deadlines but if it’s just a personal project, that’s where it’s harder.

Phil Jones: Those kind of things need to kick in. Where does society play a part in motivation, because there’s so many distraction nowadays as to what we should do, the way things should look like, how long something should take. “Well you should be by when,” All these perhaps counterintuitive deadlines exist in our world could actually be giant distractions.

Jon Acuff: Yeah. It’s funny there’s been studies since 1935, this scientist Kurt Lewin, did it and Derek Sivers this author talked about it recently. Part of the problem is that if I tell you my goal the wrong way, I’m less likely to do it. If I say to you, “Phil, I’m going to run a marathon,” people will then pre-congratulate me. They’ll go, “Good for you. That’s so disciplined. Wow. I couldn’t do that,” and they pre-congratulate me and my body releases dopamine and it’s enough of a high that I don’t actually do the thing. If I say, “I’m going to write a book,” people go, “Wow. That’s so brave. Way to be brave.” “Thank you. I am brave. I appreciate that,” and I’d get this high and so that makes me less likely to do it. The declaration of it in the wrong way makes me less likely to do it. Then multiply that by social media. Do you understand how many people go on, they say they don’t like a certain issue. People go, “Thanks for using your voice.” They haven’t done anything in their community. They haven’t gotten their hands dirty. They haven’t given money. They haven’t volunteered. They’ve just gone like, “I’m good this,” and the people, “Yay,” and you don’t actually do anything.

Part of society there’s this problem of we get to announce things without actually having to do, … I wish Twitter had it where in order to complain about an issue you had to volunteer an hour in your community. Then it was like, “Yeah, talk about it all you want. You actually did something,” but 99% of those people are like, “I’m against this thing.” “Why, have you done anything?” “No, I tweeted 140 characters about it.” “Wow, you’re so strong.”

I think that’s a problem and I think the whole comparison monster is another problem. When you compare what you’re working on to what somebody else is working on and it looks perfect online. I’ll never forget. We went to Hawaii. I had an event out there which is awesome and people are always like, “You must get to travel to cool places.” “It’s mostly Tulsa. It’s not often Hawaii.” We were on this lava field, kind of where that volcano is going right now, and there was this beautiful house against the water, just kind of on stilts and small little cabin and we met the neighbor, and the neighbor is like, “Oh that place is the worst.” He goes, “It’s awesome on Instagram. It’s the worst in real life.” We’re like, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “No power. No water. It’s so windy you can’t hear yourself. Tourists use the bathroom in your front yard because this is a walking trail.” He said, “The beach is an 80 foot cliff. You can’t get down to the water.” He’s like, “No that’s garbage.” It was such a clear picture of, like my Instagram photo, everyone’s just like, “I want to live there. That’s my dream,” but the reality is very different.

I think a lot of when we say how does culture impact motivation, a lot of it is what are you ingesting? Who are you comparing to? How are you doing this? It’s funny. I think about this all the time. People go, “Man, you travel so much,” and I looked at my travel schedule. It’s probably like one day a week I’m gone over the course of a year. One day a week I’m gone, but they think I travel a lot because on Twitter, I tweet when I’m traveling. I won’t tweet today, “I’m in Nashville. Just here in Nashville.” They saw me tweet three times, “I love Orlando. What a beautiful city.” Their filter is busted because they only saw social media. All of that wraps into it.

Phil Jones: What it also does sometimes is it creates a benchmark as to what good looks like anything you might want to do, which says, “Well why do I bother having a go about that because the distance between where I am and what I believe I would need to be good at that thing, is such a giant distance.” You see somebody, like now two minute abs or three second abs, whatever-

Jon Acuff: There’s books, in our space there’s always books where it’s like, “Change Your Life in One Second”. The other thing I like is, I really am fascinated by calorie Instagram accounts where they say, “Don’t eat this. Eat this.” I saw one yesterday. This is not an exaggeration. It had a coconut, like a raw coconut, and they said, “Drink this instead of this Gatorade.” I wanted to say, “Okay, I’ll just go to a gas station when I’m on a road trip and I’ll be like, “Where’s your fresh coconut aisle?”” When my kid’s at a sporting event I’ll ask the coach, ‘Hey, whoa, whoa . . . did you bring fresh coconuts for the kids? You didn’t? What kind of monster? I’ll take a six pack.” That kind of thing to me, … It’s also like the definition of good, is it realistic?

We tend to use real, … I hear motivational speakers all the time say like, “Realistic is such a terrible word. Dream crazy,” and I just think that’s not helpful. Sometimes I think people try to criticize me for that but I look at it and go, “No. I know my skills and I know my strengths and I’m going to try to do more than I did last time with them”, but I don’t think, … it’s fine to be realistic. That’s okay to do that. That helps me actually achieve the thing I’m trying to do versus this overreach that doesn’t go anywhere.

Phil Jones: Right. I guess you got to be done before you get to be good, before you get to be better, before you get to be best, before you get to be first in class.

Jon Acuff: Yeah.

Phil Jones: You got to go through all of those bases, which is often overlooked because people want to get straight from the, “Hey, I’m starting this thing. I don’t just want to run a marathon, I want to win the marathon,” it’s like it kind of jumps-

Jon Acuff: That’s crazy to me, yeah. That’s silly.

Phil Jones: Some of the things I loved in Finish, which is your most recent book which I love by the way, ‘cause it’s a book you can finish, which I think is success in itself right?

Jon Acuff: Circular.

Phil Jones: I actually got through the book. I didn’t just start it. I like this whole methodology around the fact that, not so much good is good enough, but the belief behind the fact that done is worth it. Let’s get to a point where something is actually completed in full circle and how do people take more from that? Why don’t you just try and wrap up some of the key principles in Finish for people.

Jon Acuff: Part of it, we talked about the size. We found that people who cut their goal in half were more successful. The problem is people tend to judge their goals on pass/fail. If I try to lose ten pounds and I only lost eight, I failed by two and I give up. We said, “Try to lose five, and see what happens.” They’re like, “Oh that’s not big enough.” “Just try to lose five.” They’d lose the same eight, and they won by three and they try again. Part of it is going, if somebody said to me, “I want to write a book.” I’d say, “Why don’t you write a chapter. Let’s write a chapter. Let’s have a finish. Let’s celebrate it. Let’s be happy about it. Why don’t we do that?”

Another principle we learned was that you have to enjoy it if you want it to work. People sometimes hear that and they go, “Well, not everything’s enjoyable.” It’s not. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying, “You have to deliberately make it fun if you want it done.” We saw over and over people in our culture, people think goals have to be miserable. You meet somebody and you go, “Hey, say the five words that you think of when you think of a goal.” They go, “Discipline. Hustle. Willpower. Sacrifice.” They never say, “Joy. Laughter. Smiling. Happiness.” Fitness is a great example. People go, “I’m going to get in shape.” I go, “How?” They say, “I’m going to run.” I go, “Do you like running?” They go, “No, I hate it. That’s how I know it’s good for me.” Part of it is you saying, “Okay. This thing I want to do, have I put enough joy into it? Have I put enough, you know . . . .”

I’d say the last thing is like, it’s so important that you have relationships along the way. It’s an overused word, but I think relationships are the original hack, where you can have somebody on the outside of your life say, “Hey, you always do these three things and you seem like you really enjoy them.” You go, “Oh, you’re right. Oh my gosh,” or, “Hey, this project always falls apart at this one part. You should be careful about that,” and you go, “Oh my gosh.” You really get to learn, true self-awareness is impossible. You’ll never be 100% self-aware because nobody lies to us like we lie to us.

Every time I’ve ever made a bad decision, I thought it was a good decision. Somebody goes, “Why’d you do that?” I go, “I thought it would work. It seemed like it was a great plan.” They go, “It wasn’t,” and I go, “I didn’t know that.” I told myself it was a great plan and so then I did it, and then it didn’t work. I think this idea of you being a one man wolf pack, or it’s you against the world, no, you need people along the way that are going to go like, “Hey, keep going,” or just kick your butt. I think it’s perfectly fine to be dragged across the finish line. I think that’s fine. Forget nobility. If you have to have a friend who grabs you by the collar and goes, “No, no, no, no. Let’s do it this way.” That’s fine. Our ability of being in a relationship is really important.

Phil Jones: Okay. By that do you mean any kind of relationship or do you mean a relationship with one significant other or do you mean relationship with many?

Jon Acuff: I think it depends. I run a small business. I need people outside of my wife involved in the small business. When I first started running it, I tried to have her over involved and she was just like, “I want to be your wife, not your employee or partner.” That can work. I’ve seen couples do it. It’s just really hard. It’s not really for me. I mean, you have a group of people in your space. You said something to me when we hung out. You said, “Hey, yeah. Public speaking’s a lonely business.” I’ve thought of that but I’d never applied that word. I thought that’s smart. You have to deliberately, … If you go somewhere for a four-day event and you’re speaking for half an hour, an hour a day, and then you have 23 other hours in Vegas, and you’re surrounded by people, it’s kind of the whole thing where it’s like surrounded by water but you can’t drink it because it’s the ocean. You have to be deliberate about, “I need to connect with somebody. I’ve got an old college roommate that lives here.” You saying that was an example of somebody in the same space telling you something about the space. That’s helpful.

When you get together with a public speaker, you’re able to talk shop and go, “Oh yeah. Here’s this thing.” I asked you. I said like, “what do you say when someone says, what’s your rate?” You said, “I never answer that question first. I ask them, “What do you need? What’s the problem? How can I help?”” I didn’t think of that. You were like, “Hey, here’s a process that I use,” and so I think whether it’s a spouse, whether it’s five people that are in your space, I think you should be connected to somebody ten years ahead and somebody ten years behind. The 22-year-old is seeing life differently than me. I need to go learn from them. I think millennials have a ton to teach us. It’s people 20 years ahead that will go, “Phil, when I was your age I thought these ten things mattered. They didn’t. It’s really only this one.”

Phil Jones: Back on motivation just real quick. What do you think about all the people that are like, “I’m so motivated. I’m so motivated,” and they’re hyped up to a point where it’s bordering on insane and they view that as motivation?

Jon Acuff: Yeah. I don’t know if that’s sustainable.

Phil Jones: I hope not.

Jon Acuff: I think we’re all different.

Phil Jones: I hope it’s not sustainable.

Jon Acuff: I know we’re all different but I just think, … I don’t know. I never want it to burn so bright that I don’t actually sit down and do the work, like it’s manic, or it pushes people away. There are definitely moments where I have, … I just did a big speech and I’m excited and it’s hyped and it’s hard for me to kind of focus, but I think it goes up and down, up and down, up and down. If you’re in a season where you got highly motivated, go ahead and use it, just don’t get used to it in the sense of this is how it always will be, and the minute it’s not, I quit. I’ve seen too many people quit jobs because it was no longer fulfilling my purpose. I’ll say, “How long were you there?” They’ll say, “Three months.” I’m like, “You didn’t even do a full year. What do you mean it didn’t . . . ? You didn’t even give it a chance.”

I’m excited for people. The one thing I’d say is I would question if it’s authentic or if it’s for spectacle. It’s back to that internet, what looks like one thing but is really another. I question people online who are always that way because I don’t know if that’s honest. I would rather you say like, “I did the workout today and I hated every second, and you’re going too.” That versus the guy who’s like, “I got up at 2 a.m. and did a hundred push ups, just because those are my 2 a.m. pushups.” “All right. I’m sure you did that. I’m sure it was fun.” I just question a lot of that stuff.

Phil Jones: Okay. I think what I’m hearing is it’s good to question and not to hate on them or to think you definitely don’t, but just to ask the question and saying, comparing all of you with all of them, and just checking in with that piece.

Jon Acuff: Owning your part. Just question. If there’s a 24-year-old exercise person and you’re a dad who’s 42 and you’re married with kids, you have a different life. 24-year-old, they don’t have kids. They don’t have a spouse. That’s different. They have a different scenario. They might live on the west coast. You live in Kansas. It’s okay to have the question of, “Should my life be that shape? Oh, wait. No it shouldn’t. I have a lot of responsibilities different than that person.” That’s fine.”

Phil Jones: Okay. If you want to go through a change right now in life but you’re not happy with whatever you’ve got right now, and you think some things need to be different, and you’re searching for what you believe is motivation to get you to work through that change, where might you look? What might you do? What might be some first steps?

Jon Acuff: I think I might say, “What’s my real goal?” I think that often the real goal is behind the fake goal. For example, I met somebody and she said, “I’ve having a hard time launching my website,” and I said, “What’s the goal of the website?” She said, “To prove to people that I made a good decision in this business change.” I said, “That’s not a goal of a website.” That’s like saying, “The goal of my book is that my dad loves me.” You don’t control that. “The goal of my album is that it wins a Grammy.” You don’t control that. I might say, “What’s the real goal behind the goal you think is the goal?”

Even just spending half an hour with you and a piece of paper or journal and saying, “Okay, what do I not like about this?” A friend of mine who has a gigantic business, I said, “How’d you do it?” She said, “I made a list of all the things I didn’t like how people did things, and I did the opposite.” She said, “I’m in this space and I saw these ten things over and over and I’m just going to not do that. I’m going to do the reverse of that because I really don’t like that.” I thought, what a simple way to sit down and go, “Okay, here’s something that I want to change,” and you say, “Where’s this unhappiness coming from? Why am I frustrated?” Depending on the size of the change you want to make, even if it’s like go see a counselor. Go talk to a therapist for an hour. If it’s a relational change, that’s a big deal. If it’s, “I never wanted to be a lawyer. I’ve been a lawyer for ten years. I’ve always wanted to do this different thing,” I think you need to go talk to a career counselor. Get some real advice.

I think even just sitting down for 30 minutes with a blank piece of paper and saying, “What do I want to do?” I think can be powerful.

Phil Jones: I think that’s a great piece of advice. There was one thing that I read on the internet recently. Somebody posted it. I really liked it. It’s probably one of the most empowering, liberating, and inspiring things that I read in a long time. You posted it. It was about leaving room for the miracle. It both kind of created this vision in my mind of the part of brilliance that is out of my control and the part that is within my control.

Could you just elaborate on that because I think that’s super powerful, that lesson?

Jon Acuff: Yeah. I think there’s a lot of freedom in saying you don’t control the miracle and that’s okay. You and I, we’ve both written books. It’s kind of like in Nashville, there’s so many musicians. My friend’s mom was like, “Hey, I heard that song in a commercial, that other band. You should put your songs in commercials.” He was like, “I’ll go ahead and pick up the commercial phone. I’ll just book the next Apple commercial.” I love that. She didn’t understand that’s a miracle. It’s a miracle if Toyota goes, “We want to put your song in a Superbowl ad.” I think there’s a great freedom in knowing you own the work. I heard somebody say it this way. They said, “Measure your actions before the results.” You and I, I know that I can sell “x” amount of books with my hustle, with my platform, with whatever. I don’t control Kathy Lee Gifford seeing my book in her dentist’s office and putting it on the Today Show. I would love that. I would welcome that in a second, but I don’t control that.

I can’t force that miracle. What I can do is create room for it where I have to write the book. Phil’s book doesn’t get discovered if Phil hasn’t written the book. The part you own is, you’re in that apartment and you’re punching out words and you’re on the word listening to people and you’re taking notes going, “Wow. These are the real leads. This is what clients ask me about. Okay, I need to think through that.” You do all this work. You do your best that you can and then you recognize like, “Okay, I don’t control the miracle and that’s not failure.” I would love the miracle. I welcome it. I think that in a sense we’ve already both experienced the miracle being born where we were born with the things we had, with the leg up, with the head start, whatever you want to call it. I can’t force the miracle, and if you try, you miss the joy of creating the thing.

If my only definition of success is this one thing I don’t control, it’s really depressing, and you miss the good things that happen. If you and I said, “Our goal as public speakers is to be the first public speaker on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” you’d go, “Well dude, that’s going to be pretty difficult,” and you’re going to miss the joy along the way of, … I love getting to go serve a client and have positive feedback. Good stuff happens, but if you try to force it, it’s such a sad road.

Phil Jones: That . . . if you try to force that, and then it happened and the feeling you had was relief, the Jimmy Fallon Show said, “Can you come on?” “Whew, made it.”

Jon Acuff: Finally. Yeah. No. It would be overwhelming joy and so I just think through the times I’ve tried to force it, just haven’t been fun and they haven’t been in a healthy place. Then like you see other people who got to experience it. One thing I’d say is I think there’s a great power in unfollowing people that don’t encourage you. I don’t mean like your mom cause that’s a whole other thing, but I mean like, if there’s people in your space, whether it’s fitness or you want to be a writer or a small business person, and every time you engage in their content, you feel worse about your stuff. Unfollow them. I have some guys that’ll like, “I swear to you dude,” and here’s the other thing, it’s not a meritocracy. It’s not based on talent. You and I in our space, there are people that are giving speeches and they haven’t done the thing that they’re speaking about. They’re like, “Here’s how to build a successful business,” and you go, “Do you have one?” and they’re like, “Why are you even asking that?”

You just have to go, “I can’t get mad at their success.” There’s a simple solution. Just don’t follow them. You don’t have to. There’s freedom in going, “I feel jealous and compare every time I engage with that person, so boop boop. I’d love to be strong enough as a person to get over it, but I’m not there yet.” Seth Godin, who is brilliant, doesn’t read his Amazon reviews. He’s like, “Nah, they wouldn’t be good for me.” And you go, “But you’re Seth Godin. You’re one of the most successful writers in the last 20 years, one of the best business minds.” He was like, “Yeah, that wouldn’t be helpful so I’m not going to do that.” I think it’s perfectly fine to go, “Nah. I don’t see that ending well, so nah . . . .”

Phil Jones: Yeah. That’s it. I have a friend of mine in the speaking world who’s like, when someone says, “You mind me giving you a little bit of constructive feedback?” He says, “I’m good.”

Jon Acuff: “I’ve made it this far, so unless I was on fire, I appreciate …” I know some people that are the opposite. They’re like, “I do a personal speaker form every time …” for me, I think that’s where it’s personal. You have to figure out like this thing is helpful and I’m going to use it. This other thing, I know I’m not going to change it cause you don’t do this. It’s your personal opinion.
I had somebody come up to me and they’re like, … I spoke to 500 people and they’re like, “Hey, four of us are from Venezuela and we didn’t get a lot of the jokes you did.” I was, “Okay.” I wanted to say, “But 496 other people did.” I will never be like, “Is anyone in the room from Venezuela because I really want to change my content.” I’m going to serve the 500 and not worry about the four and so that was feedback that I was like, “That’s fine but that’s not how it works.”

Phil Jones: You could have written four jokes out like on a napkin and then hand it to them.

Jon Acuff: Yeah, like individually. “Here’s a joke about socialism. It’s my one socialism joke,” and I could hand it out. Now it’s different where when you’ve done international events you have to tweak, if it’s an all international audience, you tweak it. I can’t do [inaudible 00:39:35] in Athens. They’re probably not going to go, “Yeah. I got that. I got that line,” but when it’s something just random you go, “Eh, I’m just going to roll with the majority on this one.”

Phil Jones: I got three more questions for you. One is what have I not asked you about motivation? What is something you’d like to get across. What is something that’s missing and the answer could be nothing.

Jon Acuff: Just that I would say it’s the most fragile substance in the world and that’s why you have to manufacture it. You can’t set your clock by it. It’s gonna disappear. It’s gonna come and go and that’s okay. That’s not failure. When somebody says, “I lost motivation,” I want to say, “Welcome to the world. We all did.” We all do constantly. That’s just how it goes.

Phil Jones: Yeah. It’s not an on and off switch. It’s a forever moving thing. Okay. The second thing just to think about, is a question that I’m going to ask everybody in this season. You’re the first to be asked it, and words are my thing. You know how much I love them. I want to know, if there was a word to describe Jon Acuff, a word that when people would think of you that they would apply, “Jon Acuff, he’s something”, what might that word be with all the aspiration in the world?

Jon Acuff: I like “funny”. I’m starting to own that one. I think, I don’t know. For a while I didn’t think that counted. I was like, I wanted it to be, “Oh, he’s insightful,” or, “He’s counterintuitive.” I like “funny”.

Phil Jones: Funny’s good. I like that. Speaking of how funny you are, it kind of leads towards the next question I have for you which is where do people find out more about you, ‘cause I’m going to say, if nothing else, follow you on Instagram. Where else do they want you to go, do you want people to go?

Jon Acuff: The website’s just Then Finish is on Amazon. If someone said, “Okay. You’ve written a bunch of books, where do I begin,” I’d say Finish. I think it’s the best book I’ve written. It’s got the most research. I think the stories, like the ping pong story’s ridiculous, so I would say there. Then Twitter and all the popular ones. I would begin with Finish.

Phil Jones: I think that is counterintuitively brilliant, is that when you write a book called Start and you write a book called Finish, let’s start with Finish, which is genius. Jon, it’s been a pleasure to have you on. Thank you so, so much for being here. Great to talk motivation with you and chat about everything else that we did.

Jon Acuff: Yeah. Thanks Phil.

Phil Jones: I encourage everyone to check it out. Definitely find Jon on Instagram. He’s hilarious, maybe even funny.

Jon Acuff: Thanks Phil.

Season 4

Season 3

Season 2

Season 1

Your host:
Phil M Jones

Phil M Jones has made it his life’s work to demystify the sales process, reframe what it means to “sell,” and help his audiences to learn new skills that empower confdence, overcome fears and instantaneously impact their results.