Solving the Puzzle of Motivation

Motivation is a puzzle. Don’t you agree? Do you know why you sometimes feel extremely energized and motivated and why some days it’s all you can do to drag yourself out of bed?

At times, I feel completely unmotivated to do things that I actually want to do. Why? As leaders, if we don’t have a handle on our own motivation, how are we supposed to know how to inspire and motivate others?

Traditionally, organizations have used carrots and sticks to motivate their people. Intellectually, this makes sense… if you want people to be more motivated, offer them a bigger reward or an unfavorable consequence. However, research suggests that in many situations this model really doesn’t work well at all. In fact, sometimes this model actually has the opposite effect and impedes creativity, problem-solving ability and motivation.

Career Analyst Dan Pink, has spent years studying and writing about the puzzle of motivation, and has discovered something interesting. You can watch his TED talk on the subject here, but here’s a brief summary:

When we are presented with very simple tasks that require little creative problem solving, external rewards are very motivating. However, when the task at hand does not have a clear set of rules and a single solution, when the task requires cognitive skills, rewards and incentives actually lead to poorer performance.

“We’ve found that financial incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance.” –Dr. Bernd Irlenbusch, London School of Economics

The fact is, in many situations, offering a bigger carrot or a sharper stick might be the wrong approach.

Q: So what should we do instead?

A: Focus on providing an opportunity for intrinsically motivating factors like autonomy, mastery and purpose to take root.

When it comes to tasks that require even rudimentary levels of creative problems solving, we derive more motivation from a feeling we matter than by external reward. Most of us are more motivated to get out of bed in the morning if we feel like we are a part of something important.

That makes those of us who work in the Credit Union industry very, very fortunate because most of us are here because we really do believe in the Credit Union Movement. We believe that Credit Unions are a force for good in the world and we derive deep satisfaction from being a part of it.

Intrinsic motivation is important. I would even argue that it’s essential. But, even when we are intrinsically motivated, there is a certain amount of muscle required to achieve long-term goals. So what can you do to strengthen your motivation muscle?

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Break large projects down into small, measurable goals. Achieving a goal provides our brain with immediate positive feedback. These mini-rewards can create the inertia we need to keep going.
  2. Create a mantra. Don’t laugh. This can actually work. Repetition builds belief. If you want to be able to run a 10k, but are constantly thinking, “This is too hard…”, you will only reinforce the belief that it is indeed to hard. If instead you are thinking, “This is no big deal”, you will start to believe that too.
  3. Create opportunities to feel inspired. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike on it’s own. Think about what you are frequently inspired by and add more of that into your days. If the achievements of others inspire you, start or end your day reading about someone you admire. If you love talking to a good friend. If eating a leisurely breakfast on your back patio inspires you to want to take on the day, wake up 15 minutes earlier.
  4. Make your goals into something more concrete. In the book, 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself, author Steve Chandler suggests drawing four circles on a piece of paper to represent your day, your week, your year and your life. Write one goal in each circle. The goals can change as often as you like, but just having them in black and white can go a long way towards making them feel real and helping you stay focused on what’s important.
  5. Decide to tackle your fears. Sometimes a lack of motivation is an indicator that we are avoiding something out of fear. If you find yourself avoiding something that would ultimately bring you great joy or satisfaction, it might be a good idea to examine what you might be afraid of. The confidence to take on things that will bring a real sense of accomplishment can only be built by facing our fears head on. If you are looking to super-charge your drive, passion, and enjoyment – not just in your work but in your personal life as well – then seek to master intrinsic motivation. This new approach to motivation will drive you forward because, at your core, you know you are focusing on what matters and moving beyond the task-reward paradigm. When you find yourself in this space, high performance and creativity are sure to follow.

If you are looking to super-charge your drive, passion, and enjoyment – not just in your work but in your personal life as well – then seek to master intrinsic motivation. This new approach to motivation will drive you forward because, at your core, you know you are focusing on what matters and moving beyond the task-reward paradigm. When you find yourself in this space, high performance and creativity are sure to follow.

 

About Dan Finerty

Dan Finerty is the Director of Marketing at the Mountain West Credit Union Association, a Credit Union champion, a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE), and an award-winning marketer. Dan has over 14 years of marketing experience in communications, retail, packaged goods, and, of course, Credit Unions. He believes that Credit Unions have an incredible story to tell and works with some of the brightest Credit Union professionals to help promote Credit Unions to the public. Dan holds two Bachelor’s of Science in Marketing and in Management. He is also a swell guy.

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