Doing things you should but would rather not can feel like eating a celery when you’d rather have fries.
To help you overcome those hump days, here’s an explainer on the science of motivation, so you can move yourself, your team, your clients (and family!)
A bunch of kids stumbled upon the perfect football pitch – an empty plot of land next to a big house to play football. They screamed and cheered and chanted and played there every day after school until dinner time.
In that old house lived a grumpy old man. He didn’t like these kids disturbing his afternoon tea and reading time; it infuriated him. He schemed a cunning plan to get rid of those kids.
One day, after the kids crawled through the fence and arranged their goals against the old house, the old man positioned his chair to overlook the play area and he called out to the kids.
“Hello! I’ve been looking forward to you all day. I do so enjoy watching you play, I’ll pay you each £1 for your trouble, since it’s the best part of my day.”
The kids stared wide-eyed at their £1 coins, thinking of all the sweets and football cards they could buy with their new income. The kids played with renewed enthusiasm for their new fan.
The next day the kids came and the old man was waiting for them, money purse in hand, coins at the ready to dish out. And off the kids played.
On the third day, the old man approached them with coins, but this time he said, “I’m sorry boys, but today I only have 50p to give you each.”
The kids frowned at the coin, exchanged looks, and played, but not with the same noise and enthusiasm. On day four, the kids ran up to the old man to get paid, and as he reached for his pocket he said, “Hello hello! I’ve been looking forward to you coming, so here, I can only give you 20p each today.”
The kids watched the old man place the coins in their hands with scrunched up noses. They carried on playing, with noticeably less vigour than the previous days.
By day five, the kids entered the playground dragging their feet. The old man standing there waiting for them. “Good afternoon chaps, I’m afraid it’s only 5p today. Here you go. Thank you.”
The kids didn’t score any goals, they played with such little effort.
On the sixth day, the old man said, “Hello, how lovely to see you, today I’m afraid I have nothing to give you.”
“We don’t want to play stupid football anymore.” The kids turned and ran home. The old man returned to his garden with a grin, settling into the afternoon with a book and cup of tea. That was the last he saw of the kids.
Why did the kids go from loving football to thinking it was stupid?
The answer lies in what researchers call, self-determination theory which is basically the motivation behind the choices you make. It concerns your inherent motivations, tendencies and needs. We’ll quickly start with you and then move on to the key drivers.Three psychological C's you can't live without Click To Tweet
Three psychological Cs you can’t live without
When it comes to motivation, according to a study published in the American Psychologist, you have three universal needs to satisfy, which are absolutely vital for you to feel happy and content, and critical for your ability to stop yourself from being a jerk or getting depressed. Without meeting these three universal needs you’re bored, disengaged, you’d rather sit on the sofa and binge-watch Netflix, binge-eat junk food and can’t be bothered with anything ever again – this may sound rather appealing, but research has shown, being a lazy bum does not make us feel good.
Competence is not just your ability to do the job but also possessing the attitude necessary to learn the skills you need to get the job done. Hence the phrase, hire for attitude, train for skills, the idea being that a hiring decision should be based on character and attitude, not just experience.
Freedom of Choice
Freedom of choice is about your need to feel independent and free to make choices, because you don’t like your freedom taken away. This one time I bought fries from Shake Shack and it had a hair which was a little too curly for my liking. The lady who served me shrugged when I showed it to her. After sitting down, I thought, I shouldn’t have to eat this, and returned to the lady, asking for new fries. She showed the fries to a man standing behind her with arms folded. He nodded, at which point the lady asked the fry station for a new batch. This lady did not have autonomy.
You want to feel part of something, like a community or a shared cause because we all have an innate desire to connect with others. And you’ve got to care and find what you do interesting. Someone who hates investment bankers shouldn’t have them as customers. But if you’re passionate about supporting self-employed people, you’d love working with them. those on a mission helping them.
What moves you:
Now that you know your three core psychological needs around motivation, let’s unpick how you and your clients are motivated, so you know how to motivate yourself and motivate others.
Extrinsic motivation is when you’re motivated by external events and circumstances. Scientists uncovered a scale of four different types, outlined in the diagram, below.
The top scale refers to their connection, blue indicates cold, red indicating hot – they care a lot. Same with the freedom scale, blue means they have no freedom and red means they’re pretty autonomous.
There are four types of extrinsic motivation, the one on the left is not the best, because the person is not interested in the job or the company, they do the bare minimum – punch the clock, don’t take responsibility for anything and blame others when things go wrong. Management are largely to blame for such lack in motivation, they haven’t made it a conducive environment for employees who have no autonomy. The company probably hasn’t defined their values or mission and how employees are contributing, for them to care.
For extrinsic motivation scale, the far right is the best. This SouthWest airline employee video is a great example of a motivated “integrated” employee.
SouthWest airline goes to great lengths to communicate their value and mission with employees to give them a sense of connection. Employee’s values are integrated with the company’s mission. They’re also given freedom to deliver exceptional service.
This is more straightforward than extrinsic, it’s something on the inside pulling you. Studies show intrinsically motivated people are more confident, interested and excited than extrinsically motivated people. And this manifests in better performance, persistence, creativity and enhanced well-being, regardless of your level of competence.
Intrinsically motivated people seek novelty, love a challenge, stretch themselves and exercise their unique strengths. Like babies, they’re playful, inquisitive, curious, and highly active, without any external rewards. Babies don’t get a bonus for bounding up and down a stool a bajillion times. Curiosity is their natural state.
You must nurture and enhance your inner force because it’s easily stifled by non-supportive external forces like media, negative people, toxic environments, unconscious bosses, and so on. Rewards that are contingent upon performing tasks diminish intrinsic motivation, as do threats and orders.
How to stay motivated
A way of enhancing your intrinsic motivation is by setting small daily challenges. I’m talking really small, but just challenging enough that each day you stretch yourself a tiny bit. For example, simply being consistent with a task you’ve been procrastinating like crazy , like making daily calls to create a new pipeline of prospects. Just doing the bare minimum consistently is a challenge. When you accomplish your set challenge, reward yourself. When – not if – you mess up or fail don’t beat yourself up, it will only diminish your motivation. Give yourself permission to fail at accomplishing the challenge (not to be mistaken with permission to procrastinate actually doing it!).
(You’ll enjoy this post on how to stay on track)
What happened to those kids?
Now that you know what motivates you, you might understand what happened with those kids. First they were intrinsically motivated to play. Then the crafty old man offered them a reward contingent upon them playing (extrinsic reward) and slowly took it away.
What does this mean for you?
When motivating yourself, tap into your intrinsic motivation, which includes the joy of mastering a new skill, the joy of creating, and your purpose. Remind yourself why you’re doing what you do and what growing your impact and ability means to you. For example, I keep copies of reviews from clients nearby, reading them fuels me.
With your team, ensure your values are aligned, give them freedom to make choices and ownership, don’t micro-manage but do challenge them and give them new things to do. Don’t pressure or threaten them; instead, discover their goals and dreams.
Prospects & clients
If you’re selling to other entrepreneurs and self-employed people, it’s likely they are already intrinsically motivated, so you need to tap into their why. With employees, there’s a strong chance their motivation is linked to external demands. Your job is uncovering those external demands, but also explore how you can contribute to their competence, how you can cultivate freedom and develop a connection with whatever it is you’re selling, while awakening their intrinsic motivation.