174: How I Stay Motivated & Focused


“The mental game is the biggest game you’ll ever play.”

Hey, guys, welcome back to ONKEN RADIO (previously NION Radio), the podcast where we explore the body, mind, and soul of the creative entrepreneur. It’s my goal to help you take your creativity, business, and life to the next level. I’m so glad you’re joining me on this journey!

I receive a lot of questions through my website, and this week I want to answer one of them. This particular question asks for ways to stay motivated and focused, and if you’re any sort of creative, this episode is something that’s close to your heart. As a creative myself, I know that despite the beauty and inspiration that comes with it, the lifestyle is attached to the pressure of creating all the time. 

However, this might be the easier part because the real challenge lies in maintaining discipline in creating, particularly when there are persistent obstacles experienced along the journey. Yet, it’s something that all creatives must learn to deal with because, at the end of the day, our success lies in our ability to focus and get going. 

Today, let’s take this chance to look closely at how the creative journey happens. In doing so, I’ll use my very own experiences starting as a photographer and now as an entrepreneur. I’ll also share the five things I’ve learned throughout the years that kept me motivated and focused. Finally, I want to end this post by explaining how the right perspective has helped me pursue the life I’ve always wanted!

Describing the Creative Journey

When we are young, we are often told to study and get a degree for our future careers. This is what every parent hopes for their child, and so most of us simply follow that route without asking why. But there are many reasons why people should pursue creative journeys — to find out who they really are, to discover hidden potential, and finally just to have fun while doing it. Looking at my journey, I can say that I experienced all these things mentioned above. 

Luckily, I also learned more. 

When I  first started photography years ago, I wanted everything — to be at the top and be a commercial photographer for big brands. It was also during that time that I learned the importance of patience. I had to stay patient to build my portfolio. I had to accept that it will take me time and daily practice to reach my goals. Malcolm Gladwell and many influential people talk about this through the 10,000-hour rule.  I think this is true, as it took me roughly 10,000 hours of working or about five years just to get to a space where I was making decent money and my craft was becoming commercially viable. 

This success eventually led me to the decision of becoming an entrepreneur. Throughout the years, I’ve seen my business go far down the drain only for it to go back up, then go up some more, and finally down again.  When you’re first starting, this can be very difficult. Many times, this scenario has kept me from creating, moving forward, and building. But I realized that what I’m doing is not just my livelihood — it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, and I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. 

Now you might think that it’s probably easier today than it was years ago, but the answer is no. Even after 15 to 20 years in my career, I still go through these challenges. But with time, patience, and experience on my side, I have learned that these ups and downs are all a part of the journey. Most importantly, I’ve learned that the key to success in any creative endeavor lies in staying mentally focused and motivated.

How To Stay Motivated and Focused

While learning that motivation and focus keep the creativity flowing, the truth is, staying that way isn’t easy. It takes work and consistent practice. 

There’s no single way to stay on track with your goals. Everyone has different needs — different ways of doing things — and you have to find what works for you. In my experience, these are the five things that worked that I want to share with everyone.

#1: Know Your Why

One of Simon Sinek‘s first books is Start With Why. Here, he talks about how companies that know their whys are more driven than others. He believes that knowing the answer to such a question makes them succeed because it drives everything that they put out there — products, marketing, everything. What is your why — the reason you do what you do and create what you create? Personally, my why is wanting to inspire the world, live a creative lifestyle, and live in my highest self. 

Knowing my why is what drove me through the challenges of my career and business. I’ve had amazing success through shooting commercial campaigns for big brands like Nike, Reebok, and Coca-Cola. Then the industry changed and got disrupted by Instagram and my business went down.  

Today, my business is going back up, and that’s because I know my why. In this crazy career of creativity where everything that depends on it seems so volatile, I’ve had to sacrifice different things along the way, but my why has driven me through all of that. 

#2: Read the Book, The War of Art

The book, War of Art by Steven Pressfield, is probably one of the biggest and most iconic books in the creative world that I’ve ever read. The book talks about resistance —  all those things that keep us from creating or doing our craft. These may be in the form of sitting down and watching TV or going out with your friends when you should be making something else. Don’t get me wrong, though. Socializing in a community is a big part of thriving in life. But if you’re consuming more than you’re creating, then that’s something you have to be aware of. 

Pressfield also got another book called Turning Pro which talks about the differences between what pros do and what amateurs do. It’s a great book to remind us to actively choose to create and do the thing that we love.

#3: Practice Self-Care

Another thing that I’ve learned over the last two or three years is to practice self-care. I realize how important this is on a daily basis because your mental game is the biggest game you’ll ever play in this creative world. This claim is based on the interviews I made with many amazing and successful people on my podcast.

So how can you take care of yourself? To begin with, know that there are many self-care modalities, and you get to find which works for you. 

For me, one of the biggest modalities is meditation because it clears the mind trash, the monkey chatter, the fears, the questioning, and the self-doubts. 

Another is exercise. I’ve been doing a lot of yoga and strength training right here in my house. I make sure that I keep moving every day. I feel so much better when my body feels good. 

I also sleep eight hours a night because I know that I mentally feel much better the next day. I’m more productive and I’m more creative when I get enough sleep. 

Lastly is drinking supplements and protein shake in the morning. Both contain ingredients that help me focus and feel energized. 

I usually do these things for an hour as part of my morning ritual. I try to do as much as I can before touching my phone so I can be in my best mindset. As creatives, we can perform our crafts better by crafting our scenarios and circumstances. 

#4: Create Friendships and Connections

Taking care of yourself is not just about the physical aspect but also your social-emotional one. So, create friendships and connections, go out and meet other creatives, and talk to people in other industries. 

Personally, this tip has benefited me because I can now do a lot of different things. Although my primary mode of medium is photography and that’s where my income comes from, all these other things help me stay inspired. That inspiration keeps me healthy, encourages me to come back again, and keeps me motivated and focused. 

#5: Be Innovative

The last one is to be innovative. Any livelihood depends on it. For me, I’ve had to innovate over the last few years as certain things have not been working that need to be working. 

By doing so, I’ve created a whole other business vertical on doing personal branding for entrepreneurs. I learned more about it as I have to go and talk to the people that are doing it. I talk to people that are in marketing or building relationships. 

So, go out and seek — go out and learn. The internet is a treasure trove of information where we can find and learn easier than ever before. 

As you innovate for your business, don’t forget to innovate in your art. I would even dare say — create for the sake of creating. One of my newest endeavors is making hats because I love them. Recently, demand has started coming in, so I’m building a business around that centered on my creativity, innovation, and fun. 

These are the five things that have helped me stay motivated and focused on my journey. Always remember though that what works for me might not work for you, but if you’re willing to experiment, try new approaches and keep at it! I promise there’s something out there that will work for you too. They say variety is the spice of life, and when it comes to motivation and focus, nothing can get truer than that. 

Keeping Perspective: A Key to Alchemizing Your Identity

Some of you may be in a different stage of your creative journey than I am now. You might have been wanting to do something for a while but can’t get around to it or are looking for help on your endeavor. Regardless of where you are at in your career, I hope that what I shared can inspire you to just go out there and create despite your situation.

Alchemy is defined as the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary, sometimes in a way that cannot be explained.

With that being said, I define Identity Alchemy as the process of deconstructing who you don’t want to be to realize who you want to become. 

Through it, you’ll be able to identify your shadows or the things you don’t want to be true about you and shed them slowly. I believe that the deconstruction process of life and your inner world is such a huge piece of understanding who you are so that you can curate who you want to become. In general, I noticed for myself that the more inner work that I do — the deeper shadow work that I do to understand myself — the better life becomes towards the path of wholeness.

As creatives, we go through many experiences that put us down. However, whether we allow them to stop us from pursuing our journey or push us to keep going forward is up to us. Keeping the right perspective can help us turn these experiences into opportunities so we can deal with our shadows and ultimately identify what we don’t want to be so we can choose what it is that we want to create in our life. It’s how we can stay focused and motivated so we can actively choose to create, move forward, and build the life we want. 

So guys, if you enjoyed today’s podcast, take a screenshot and post it on Instagram and tag me, @nickonken. I would also love it if you could go over to Apple Podcasts, leave us a good review, and help us get the word out to other people.

Thanks, everyone! I’ll catch you next time!

Nick Onken

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“It always happens, it’s always going, you have to keep doing these things to maintain your motivation.”

Some things we learn in this podcast:

  • Why maintaining your motivation is an ever-changing task [1:30]
  • How knowing your why can keep you focused on the big picture [6:58]
  • The most important book for creatives and why you should read it [9:10]
  • What the most successful creatives have in common in staying focused [11:15]
  • The power of community and how it can inspire you [15:03]
  • Why you need to stay innovative and keep creating for creativity’s sake [16:13]

Links Mentioned:

A FREE email series to create a personal visual brand authentic to who you are.

  • Accelerate your personal brand growth through the Identity Alchemy Method
  • Discover the authentic stories you want to share with your audience
  • Build your personal brand vision and crystallize it with a photoshoot
  • Learn how to ideate and create storytelling visual assets to enhance and up-level your personal brand
  • .. PLUS! You’ll get access my brand building book recs and favorite resources

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