I’ll be clear from the start here – I don’t have a definitive answer to this question. If I did, I would most probably already be forging a very successful alternative career as a life coach. But while I don’t have all the answers around motivation, it is an area that I do find fascinating.
Why? Well, because unlocking the secret to what motivates us, I feel, links in to so many different aspects of what it means to be successful professionally. If we are motivated, we want to get out of bed in the morning and go to work. We want to get out there and make a difference through the work we do and through the actions we inspire in others. We want to be the very best we can be, both for the company we are working for, and for ourselves.
But where does this mysterious drive come from, and are there ways in which we can tap into it on a consistent basis? Well, as I say, I certainly don’t have the magic formula for making us all motivated enough to set about changing the world – but here are just a few ideas to get started.
What exactly is motivation?
Firstly, it’s probably worth quickly drilling down a little bit more about exactly what we mean when we talk about motivation. In simple terms, it is just how much you want to do something – whether we can be bothered to put our full effort into a particular task. Of course, this could be an individual task like going to a meeting, or it could be something far bigger, like your career as a whole. Motivation in this sense is a feeling that increases and decreases, and can come both from within, and from external sources.
With this in mind, there are few interesting approaches we can take towards motivation.
Do we really need it to act?
The first is to unhitch it completely from the idea of action. Some thinkers on the subject have suggested that we get far too hung up on the idea that we actually have to want to do something in order to do it. Consider, for example, just how liberating it would be if you decided that, regardless of whether you wanted to or not, you would do a presentation in front of your colleagues.
Now, you might not be particularly motivated to do it (the opposite in fact), but when you set aside your feelings on the matter you can see that actually there is nothing at all stopping you from doing it. Just because you don’t want to do it (in other words, you’re not motivated to do something) doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It seems obvious, but the idea goes that by separating your feelings from the action, you can act, whether you are actually motivated to do so or not.
The power of habit
There is an interesting way around this challenge of doing things that we don’t like doing, and it will be familiar to anyone who has (successfully) taken up a new fitness regime. It’s the power of habit – how simply by repeating something over and over it becomes eventually easier. This ties in with the idea of removing motivation from the equation when you are deciding whether to act, because forming habits can relatively quickly overcome any reluctance you might have to do something.
To go back to the presentation example: the first time you stand up to speak in front of your peers you might well be terrified – but the second, and third and fourth times will get progressively easier. That initial lack of motivation to do something that caused unpleasant feelings was gradually overridden simply by habit and routine.
So, is motivation completely irrelevant? Should we all just ignore our feelings and get on with it until it begins to feel better? Clearly, this isn’t always a viable option – whether its at home or in the workplace, doing things that we feel motivated to do from the very start is a much more preferable, enjoyable and fulfilling experience.
Finding your sense of purpose
The key then is to identify those ways in which you can motivate yourself and others – and in my experience, having a clearly communicated sense of purpose is absolutely critical here. No one likes to do things which they can’t see the point in, or which don’t seem to contribute to any kind of wider goal. It is soul-destroying, and yes, de-motivating, to work on something everyday without any sense of being a part something bigger and more worthwhile.
It is fundamentally important then to create a shared sense of purpose, for you and your teams, that is both aspirational and achievable. And of course, this is where company visions are so important – above and beyond the process-driven, operational day-to-day messages that we all absorb in the course of our jobs, these are the transformative ideas that really motivate us.
So, find out what those big ideas are, and recruit the people who are excited by them – and creating motivation will be no problem at all.