August 27

How motivation can mess you up – Episode 5


In this episode we’re going to talk how motivation can mess you up. Motivation is hard to come by, and it can be harder to maintain. Incentives for reaching targets work but aren’t all that effective; the best motivation, the most effective one, is intrinsic.

How Stephen King & Jeff Bezos Get Motivated

Stephen King is the author of 61 novels and sold around 350 million copies. In his book ‘on writing’ he detailed a little his daily routine. He’d sit down between 8-8.30 with either some water or tea. It would be the same room and the same seat each time. He’d play his music and have a daily target of 2000 words. He wouldn’t get up until he hit that target which usually meant he’d finish between 11 and 1.

In a keynote speech in Washington DC Jeff Bezos talked about his daily routine. Some key points were he gets at least 8 hours of sleep and seeks to make his most challenging decisions in the morning meetings. The key distinction he makes is senior executives main role is to make a small number of high quality decisions NOT to make thousands of decisions every day.

In both these examples, where does motivation come into it? Does Stephen King have to summon up the motivation to start  writing? Does Jeff Bezos need to motivate himself before having to make the important decisions?

No, and this is why I think the concept of motivation as it is known in society is so flawed. This is a perfect example. According to a survey by Mintel, they found 63% of adults would like to get incentives from brands to reward them for a healthier lifestyle. 

When Motivation is External

Motivation is very hard to sustain if the main fuel is external to yourself. In Dan Pink’s book Drive he touches on this point.

Pink mentions that Algorithmic jobs like working on a checkout or a factory line the task is pretty much the same each time, external rewards are effective to maintain at least enough motivation to turn up. Having worked in a number of these types of jobs I can tell you it doesn’t motivate you enough to enjoy the job.

However jobs that he refers to as mainly heuristic in nature, i.e have little instruction and regular problems to solve, a more intrinsic motivation is required. In these jobs our motivation come from 3 sources;

The Sources of Intrinsic Motivation

Autonomy – The desire to feel we are in control of our own path

Mastery – The desire to get better in something we deem that matters

Purpose – Doing something in the service of something larger than ourselves. 

What you can notice about these 3 factors are they are largely intrinsic and that is the key I’d like you to take away from this podcast episode;

Whatever you want to do, whether it is to do less of something you feel you are doing too much of, or more of something you feel you are doing too little of, your success will depend on how, what you want to be motivated about, compels you to move

So how can you ensure you are compelled towards something? Lets say something simple – you want to exercise more.

The Motivation To Exercise More

Ok, so it is first important to say. Motivation should be a ‘behind the scenes’ act. Do you need motivation to eat each day? How about to brush your teeth? Both of these you are compelled to move towards doing but you don’t think about it, you just do it. 

That is because they are habit. So whenever the words motivation utters your lips it is because the act you want to be motivated to do;

(a) isn’t currently a habit and

(b) the thought of doing it compels you more to NOT do it than to do it.

3 Part Process To Being Motivated

Now, this is the 3 part process to being compelled to act…some would say motivated;

1 See the act as enjoyable 

If we take the exercise example, are you really going to exercise if you imagine yourself collapsed in a pool of sweat and struggling to perform even the most basic exercise? 

Think about if you were to meet a friend next week for coffee. As you think about it, what would make you even more excited about the meet up? Maybe seeing the smile on their face as they greet you, maybe it will be the feeling of comfort as you sink into your chair with your coffee  listening to your friend, maybe its hearing about all they have been up to since you last met and all the stories you have to tell them.

Wouldn’t you be excited about that meet?

When you create a vision in your mind of an enjoyable experience of the act it can compel you to make it a reality.

Remember, motivation ISN’T a thing. When you say “I just need the motivation to do ‘X’ what you are actually saying is “I need to feel compelled” and so the first act of feeling compelled to act is see the act as enjoyable in your mind.

2 See the outcome as beneficial

Why do you spend at least 2 minutes at the beginning and end of the day brushing your teeth? No one can see you do it. When was the last time you saw someone instagramming themselves brushing their teeth. The act produces no social brownie points BUT the outcome IS beneficial for your social status.

What do you think of your promotion chances with yellow teeth and ponging breath? What do you think your dental bill will be to sort out gum disease? And what would rotten teeth do for your self-confidence?

We brush our teeth because we’ve had the benefits of doing it drilled into us since we were toddlers. 

So when you want to be compelled to do something it is important you construct the outcome in your mind as more beneficial than if you didn’t do something.

Lets say its the end of the evening and you have some dishes to wash. You really can’t be bothered but then start imagining if you didn’t do it. Well, they’d be left overnight and you got no time in the morning because you got to go to work so they would still be there tomorrow evening…you may as well spend a couple of minutes washing them now to get it out the way.

So you’ve very subtly imagined the outcome better if you did the dishes now than if you didn’t.

So you want to exercise more, imagine the outcome of doing it more beneficial than the outcome if you didn’t do it. Think of that endorphin release, think of the energy you get after exercise, think of the feeling of satisfaction having be well on your way to continuing that exercise habit, think of the increasing self confidence you are getting as you experience the benefits of regular exercise.

An American writer called Dorathy Parker once noted that she ‘hates writing but loves to have written’. I like this quote because it points to what I am talking about here. Get compelled to do something but constructing the outcome in your mind as beneficial.

3 Make the start of the act easy to initiate

A common solution given out for writers block is to commit to writing just one line a day. There is a trick to this solution because the provider of this advice knows that once a writer sits down and writes one line they know the writer will likely “just” write  and another and another. 

They just needed an easy task to initiate rather than having the barrier in their head of thinking they had to write a whole chapter.

If you feel you need motivation to start something or stop something you have a far better chance of success if the act is easy to initiate.

So for example, if you wanted to exercise more what do you see as your chances of success if the act of doing that involves you sitting in 20 minutes of traffic to get to the gym only to then find you having to wait for the equipment because the only time you can get there is rush hour?

What would be better is setting aside 20 minutes while your dinner is being cooked in the oven. 

Chunk Down For More Motivation

When motivation is seen as the challenge it is important to chunk down, not chunk up. So, it is more likely to be successful if your period of exercise from start to finish takes 25 minutes than if it takes 2 extra hours to your day.

So, when thinking about what you’d like to be motivated about, ask yourself what is the easiest thing I could do to start? 

For the most part your answer will be around

(a) the length of time the act takes

(b) the perceived difficulty of the task

(c) The level of perceived reward at the end.

If you can tinker with any of those to make the process easier you will feel yourself more compelled to do it.

That concludes this episode. Remember, motivation isn’t a thing – it is how you set up the act in your mind and environment that makes you compelled to do more or less of something. It is merely the instigator of action. 

Thank you for tuning in and I look forward to speaking with you next time on Work proof your brain and body.




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