As we enjoy the beautiful spring season in so many places around the world, I’d like to share some insights about the nature of motivation.
Finding the Right Motivation
What motivates you to take action when action is needed? I’ve been overweight for a long time, but recently I did the work necessary to lose several kilograms. I can fit into pants that have been in my closet for years that I could not wear before! I wish I could say that my motivation was a desire for a longer, healthier life, but it was not. What finally motivated me to take the necessary steps to lose some extra weight naturally was a contest I entered into with a friend of mine. We designed the contest so that if either one of us did not make our goal by the deadline we had to pay a “fine” to the other person. I’m happy to report that we both achieved our goal weight within the agreed upon deadline. We both lost weight, and neither of us lost money.
What motivated me in this case was competition. The amount of the penalty for not reaching the goal was somewhat painful, but the main reason I took action was I did NOT want to lose this contest.
The key point is that doing anything difficult depends very much on finding the right motivation to take the necessary action. If you haven’t done something that you know you should do, or you know you can perform better at an important task, it is worth the effort to experiment with different types of motivators until you find the one that works for you.
What Motivates Us
What motivates a person depends on the person, and the best motivation for a certain task depends on the nature of the task.For example, several years ago, my motivation to deliver the best possible training program or coaching session I can deliver was the desire to please people, to make them happy. I admit that I also found it thrilling to perform well and receive praise for my performance.
Nowadays, I still appreciate praise (as well as feedback on how I can improve) and I want to make people happy, but my motivation for the training and coaching work I do has changed. I found that I perform at my best if I can remind myself prior to any workshop, facilitation, or coaching session that I am there to serve the people I am working with. Looking like an expert, sounding smart, and impressing people just aren’t very important to me anymore. My goal now is to create an authentic experience for people that makes their lives better, easier, and happier I find that using this motivation is what makes me perform at my best.
For those of you who have a responsibility to inspire other people to take action and perform at their best, it pays to spend some time understanding what motivates that person to do so and coach them to discover that motivation themselves. We all know that in the end, you can’t actually motivate a person. That’s up to them, but you can help create an environment that motivates them, and you can help them discover their motivation if they haven’t found it yet.
Two Kinds of Motivation
If you think about it, there are many different motivators: love, fear, avoiding pain, stimulation, praise, achievement, loyalty, morality, ambition, prestige, fascination, curiosity, disgust. In years past, I’ve often wondered if there was some way to classify motivators by type.
Three years ago, I read a very interesting (and relatively short) book called Drive, by Daniel Pink. Mr. Pink’s summary of the research on motivation inspired me to do further research and understand how motivation works.
Daniel Pink identifies two primary types of motivation in the workplace: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside the self. The most common examples are rewards like money and praise, and punishments like fines and criticism. Intrinsic motivation comes from within a person. It already exists as a powerful force that drives people to accomplish great things. There are four forms of intrinsic motivation (Daniel Pink identifies the first three, and additional research by psychologists has revealed the existence of a fourth intrinsic motivator):
Meaning: This is sometimes called purpose. I like to call it “contribution.” People want to feel that they are making a contribution to something or someone, and will stretch themselves to do so if given an opportunity.
Autonomy: This is also called choice. There is a great deal of research that shows that when people have the freedom to choose, when they feel entrusted to do important things, they are more motivated, and when they do not have that freedom or trust, motivation drops.
Mastery: This is also called competence. People want to learn, to grow, to move beyond their current level of understanding. They want to be challenged in ways that interest them, and will rise above their current level of competence when they have a chance to take on such challenges.
Progress: People are very motivated by the feeling that they are moving forward in meaningful ways in their work, or with a project they are tasked with. When progress is slowed down, motivation drops.
Here are links to Daniel Pink’s Drive in
To be clear, extrinsic motivation is not a bad thing. It is necessary for most people, and when they do not feel adequately rewarded or praised, or they feel unjustly punished, their motivation drops. However, there are some limitations to extrinsic motivation and some risks that come with over-relying on extrinsic motivation that everyone should be aware of.
I often share this information with leaders in leadership development programs and coaching sessions because it seems that everyone who leads others wants to find better ways to “motivate” their team members, and because at a corporate level we still attempt to motivate people in less effective ways. It is important to understand that there are more and better options for creating motivation and reward systems. Here are links to an animated presentation of a Daniel Pink speech on motivation:
RSA Animate – Drive: The surprise truth about what motivates us
I highly recommend that you take a look.
Motivation is a fascinating area of study for me. I hope you find the right motivation to investigate further and begin to apply what you learn to your work and to yourself.
Yours in learning,
True Development Co., Ltd.