If you have ever listened to a successful person speak about their achievements or journey towards their biggest moment, whether it was an athlete, actor, entrepreneur or professional, the one thing you would probably hear them mention is the importance of being and staying motivated. You probably would also hear their stories of overcoming adversity, setbacks, the pain of failure, mistakes and even their struggles with self-doubt. You would hear them talk about pushing through obstacles to remain committed and focused on the dream or goal they set for themselves.
Now all of us have dreams or goals that we aspire to and hope to achieve someday. Although our motivations might be different, they generally stem from a desire to fulfill potential, acquire wealth, attain new levels of success, fame, status, leave a legacy or simply to take care of our loved ones. Yet, for some reason or another, not all of us are pursuing our goals and dreams or even actively working to achieve them. Why not? The answer to this question could lie in about beliefs about motivation and where our motivation comes from. For the purposes of this article, I wanted to look at what motivates people to be the best versions of ourselves- personally and professionally.
In my last post, I wrote about the challenges and takeaways of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it has and continues to impact us. The stress, fatigue, and uncertainty that we are currently facing have undoubtedly impacted how motivated we feel to pursue our personal and professional goals. But even though hard times bring challenges, they also present many opportunities, and the verdict is not all gloom and doom. After all, people are still making career changes, new businesses are still being started and lots of people are busy making things happen to achieve their goals. So how do we cope with everything that is going on around us and still find a way to tackle our goals or make progress?
Sources of Motivation
Motivation is the reason we get up each day, despite the challenges and carry on. Psychology Today, defines motivation as ” one of the driving forces behind human behavior. It fuels competition and sparks social connection. Its absence can lead to mental illnesses such as depression. Motivation encompasses the desire to continue striving toward meaning, purpose, and a life worth living.”
So, where does your motivation come from? According to the literature, there are two main sources of motivation- intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation refers to those sources of motivation that are external to us. They include praise, recognition, money, and other external rewards and incentives. No one can deny the power of bonuses to influence employee performance on the job or how those rewards influence how we use our time and talents. Nor can we ignore how the threat of consequences (carrot vs stick) can dictate behaviors.
On the other hand, intrinsic motivation is that which comes from inside of us. That is, the motivation one gets from doing something, the learning, the feeling of pride or pleasure, the sense of meaning or fulfillment of purpose that one gets from carrying out an action or the activity itself. One example of intrinsic motivation is volunteering- evidenced by the millions of people across the world who donate their skills and time every year for worthy causes, for the sense or meaning or purpose they get from contributing to the greater good.
Despite the presence of these two sources of motivation, there is a widely held belief that if you want to get the most out of people that you just “show them the money”. This perspective is limited and problematic for many reasons and does not tell the full story. There is no denying the power of money to motivate people to get things done over the short term, but financial incentives and other external rewards do not get people to perform or do what you want over the long term. Fact is, there are a lot of people with money or in jobs that pay them well, who are not motivated or engaged on the job and others who walk away from high paying jobs because it did not meet their needs. Meanwhile, there are other people who do not earn six figures and wake up every day committed to their jobs and excited to do all they can to make a difference. Add to that, the people who walk away from their careers at the height of their success for reasons that some people struggle to understand.
What Drives Us?
As humans, one of our most fundamental motivation is the desire to have enough to meet our needs and wants and take care of ourselves and families. We all desire to be compensated for the work we do and at a level that will enable us to not just survive but thrive. However, once people are compensated fairly for the work they do, research shows that money cannot be relied on as the main motivator for great performance or results.
So, what truly motivates people to do their best and be their best? Is it internal or external rewards?
In his book Drive – Daniel Pink offers a different perspective of what it takes to truly motivate people to be and do their best over the long term. Pink identifies three main factors which he believes are responsible for getting the best out of people, that is purpose, autonomy, and mastery in their personal and professional lives. Interestingly, these three factors are internal in nature and are described below:
Purpose: This can be described as the desire in each of has to fulfill our “why” or our reason for being. Your purpose or your “why” is usually connected to what you believe that you are very good at and is also driven by our desire to serve something bigger than ourselves. Whether it is your personal or professional lives, knowing and remembering your “why” will motivate you to carry on in your darkest moments and the in days that you are struggling to keep going.
Autonomy: This speaks to our desire to be self-directed or the degree to which we think we can direct your own work and life. People desire to have some say and/or control is what they do, how they do it and when they do it. One of the biggest issues that people complain about at work is micro-management from their boss or supervisor. When and where people feel no sense of autonomy over their lives, motivation decreases, they just go through the motions and disengage. Keep in mind that autonomy does not mean independence and still requires accountability, but it allows people to have some say or choice and they generally perform better when it exists.
Mastery: This one describes our desire as humans to improve, grow, develop or to become better at something that matters to us. Mastery usually takes commitment, dedication, and hard work as the process of attaining excellence requires practice, time, and effort. The desire for mastery becomes a big motivator as we seek to sharpen our skills, distinguish ourselves from others and honor the talents we have been blessed it. After all, did you wake up this morning to be mediocre?
There is no magic bullet for motivation. The degree to which we feel motivated or not can be influenced by what is happening in our lives at the time. Money might be a motivator in one season and become less important after you pass through that stage, giving way to more internal factors like the sense of meaning/fulfillment you get from doing something. Our goals and our best laid plans can also be disrupted by external stressors and unexpected life events. You could be doing your dream job and lose motivation because of challenges that you that you might be experiencing. If you lose your “mojo” in a season (for whatever the reason), resist the urge to give up on that goal or endeavor. Your success will not be dependent on how many times you failed but more so by your ability to get up and begin again.
If you are struggling with motivation in this season, here are few reminders to help you keep going:
- Just do it: Like the Nike tag says, the simple act of starting is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Whatever that goal is for you, do not get stuck in waiting for all the perfect conditions to be in place or for the right time to arrive. As the saying goes “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step”, so take it.
- Remember your why: On the days when you feel like giving up, think about about why you started or wanted to do that thing in the first place. As you consider your answer, determine if you still believe in what you are doing or still feel it is the best course of action to take. If so – pursue it.
- Choose hope: When faced with hardships, it is difficult to see the progress that you have made or how close you might be to the finish line. Take a moment to acknowledge how far you have come and remind yourself that you have you have survived 100% of your very bad days. Your best days are ahead of you.
- Believe in yourself: It is nice to have people around you that believe in you and what you are trying to do, but this not always the case. If you have a vision for yourself or something you truly wish to do, guard it and be wise about who you share it with. Some people will always be nay-sayers. Find yourself some yea-sayers and when all that fails- encourage yourself. It is your dream and your goal. The only limit is you.
So, keep up the good fight and do not lose sight of our goals and dreams. Until next time, Remember, It’s A Learning Life!