Intrinsic Motivation

Here’s a piece of research I came across that serves as a good reminder about the importance of clarifying why we’re doing what we’re doing, and what we want to get out of life:

Years ago Edward Deci conducted an experiment in his search for discovering why people do what they do. He asked each of the participants in his study to complete a puzzle: half were given a dollar for working on the puzzle, and the other half were offered nothing. At the end of the time allotted, Deci left the room and instructed the participants that they could continue working on the puzzle if they wished (or read a magazine, or do nothing). The participants who received no reward continue do work, while the ones given money ceased to work on the puzzle.

The point of this outcome is that our interest in a task fades when we’re being governed by external forces; even if it’s something we’d enjoy doing otherwise.

I often talk about building in reward structures if you need that extra boost to finish a task (i.e., work for two hours then treat yourself to a latte). This is still a good strategy, but just make sure the latte isn’t the primary reward: the research results above show us that external rewards don’t maintain behavior.

Let the latte be the driver of your behavior if that’s what it takes; but when you’ve reached the goal always go back to the reasons you engaged in the task in the first place. Focus not the immediate reasons: “because I’ll miss the deadline if it doesn’t get done”, etc., but on the big reasons: “because this task leads to this, which leads to this, which leads to the realization of my ultimate goals and purpose”.

So enjoy the latte that helped drive you to the goal. But do so with the conscious acknowledgment that you wholly deserve it. Acknowledge your ability to set and achieve goals, and how hard you’re working to realize your dreams and become more of who you want to be!

Getting Motivated

Getting Motivated is a tricky thing. Sometimes we experience it, often times we don’t. And when we do get it, it doesn’t seem to stick around for very long.

I talk with my clients about ways to increase motivation, such as making the task worthwhile and keeping your eye on the prize, only committing to bite-sized chunks and building in rewards and consequences, and staying healthy and taking regular breaks. There are many more strategies; some more effective than others.

(There are also a couple of newer books out there on the topic of motivation; which are apparently quite good. I look forward to reading them to see if there’s anything missing in my understanding of the subject).

But more importantly, I think, is something that struck me recently: I think we often use the elusiveness of motivation as an excuse to not get things done.

The funny thing about motivation is that we tend to see it as this “thing” that we can get – and that as soon as we acquire it things will be smooth-sailing. And as long as we don’t “have it”, we’re not really pressured to accomplish: we can easily blame our inaction on the fact that we just haven’t tapped into it yet.

But the truth is that it’s not impossible to act if we’re not feeling motivated. We get caught up in the idea that we can’t move forward unless we’re “feeling it” – but this just simply isn’t true. It might not feel great to take action without possessing this magical thing called motivation – but we’re all capable of doing it anyway.

A saying I quite like is “action precedes motivation”. In other words, like so many other things in life, when you stop looking it will appear. We just need to get started. So put it to the test – or as Nike would say, “Just do it”. Just do it regardless of how you feel, and stop reaching for the magic formula – you’ll be glad you did!

Improve Motivation By Creating A Space

There is much written about how to improve motivation and how keep it. Unfortunately, motivation is one of those things that easily elude us. Where does motivation come from? How do we get it and make it stick? Can we really do or say anything to motivate another person if it has to come from within?

These are hard questions with no easy answers. The truth is that we need to find what works for us personally, and what style of motivating matches the others person’s values and desires. Google ‘Motivation’, pick a couple of tools, and try them out. And it’s important to remember that once you’ve got it yourself, that doesn’t mean its here to stay: we need to keep working on our motivation whenever the need comes up. We have to renew it constantly and work hard at it (the irony is that we have to be motivated to stay motivated!)

So it’s not an easy thing, but as I mentioned, there are some tools to help draw out that elusive drive from within. One of the things that works for me is to ensure that my environment is set up in a way that helps my motivation rather than hinder it.

For example, like many of us, exercise is the tough one for me. I’m not much of a ‘get up and go to the gym’ type of person, and so I’d rather keep in shape at home. I have the bench and weights, elliptical trainer, and yoga mat – but unfortunately they’ve experienced a lot of darkness and dust over the years.

Fairly recently, however, I’ve created a space that actually makes me want to be there; and that’s made all the difference in the world. I painted the walls in the ‘exercise room’ and put a little stereo in there, as well as a couch and TV: all the comforts of home, so to speak (of course you can go too far: if I also decided to go with the beer fridge, for example, the exercise plan might have gone down the drain!)

So now I’m back on track and it feels good – and it really didn’t cost much.

Where can you ‘create a space’? Think about your home or work environment, for instance: is it cluttered and dull, or is it a clean, organized, exhilarating and inspiring place to be? ‘Exhilarating’ may sound like an exaggeration when you’re thinking of a workspace, but it’s really not: read about colour and aroma therapies, for example – there’s some good research to back these up (or even feng shui if that’s your thing; although the evidence on that one is rather lacking).

And remember, a cluttered environment makes for a cluttered mind. There are some good professional organizers out here who can help, if this isn’t your strength – don’t be afraid to use the resources available.

And don’t forget to change it up periodically: we habituate to our surroundings after awhile, and so we need to keep it fresh to keep those neurons stimulated!