If you could bottle it, Motivation would be the best selling product on any shelf, because it is the fuel for all achievement. Unfortunately most people attribute motivation to a character trait or personality. We describe motivated people as though it were something they uploaded to their brain, without much understanding of where it comes from.
When top athletes go into a slump they often describe their lack of motivation to a lack of ability to play their sport. So what happened? Tiger Woods suddenly forgot how to swing a club? Obviously not, the intrinsic ability is still there, but something is out of sync; something is crushing self confidence and motivation.
I’ve worked with top athletes and CEOs who have had their motivation dented by failures. These made the person question their abilities. First a whisper of doubt in their head, this negative speak fed on their self-doubt and became a loud dictating voice that affirmed “I am not good enough”. In this article I explain ways that have helped quiet that voice back down to a whisper, and even silence it completely.
Motivation takes many shapes. There are some excellent TED talks in which the speaker inspires their audience with their motivation to accomplish impossible tasks, their passion to change the world and their excellence in what they do. Scientists try and explain how motivation is a chemical balance of neurotransmitters and hormones that interplay to make us passionate about something inspiring. Behavioural psychologists differentiate between external motivators (carrots and sticks) and intrinsic motivation, that lies somewhere within us and is subjective and personal to us. Is it in our soul, our brain, our heart?
Looking at intrinsic motivation is what interests me as a leader and as a coach. I need to figure out what makes ‘my people’ tick so that I can motivate them. But is it that simple? I can tell a motivated person from one who isn’t within 30 seconds of my meeting them. They have a particular aura about them. They are positive, curious, driven, excited, assertive and passionate. As opposed to a demotivated person who is sluggish, negative, withdrawn or aggressive, resistant to change and cynical.
Most of us are neither one extreme or the other. We sit somewhere in the middle depending on our mood. I think, however, that this is temporary. People are largely always on one side of the fence. I am often approached by people who want to find more motivation and yet can’t seem to be able to make it happen. Others have lost it along the way for some reason or another. People who have perhaps lost their mojo, or somehow life seems a little bit like walking through treacle all of a sudden.
A simple way to help guide someone to rekindle motivation is to go through a process of exploration. I find that the key to success is the individual having enough “self awareness” of what’s happening to them, their strengths and weaknesses and to care enough about their state of mind and know there is something that needs righting. Motivation, I find, is part of a triad of factors that if unbalanced, affect all three. Returning all three to a positive and self-fulfilling cycle, gives motivation a huge boost!
Motivation in this model is a combination of Self Efficacy; the Awareness that you have the skills to achieve what you are attempting and Self-Confidence; the Belief that your skills are enough to achieve what you are attempting. Motivation comes from the logical appraisal of the skills-to-challenge gap, and the ego or conviction that you can do it. Your motivation to carry out a challenge is therefore dependent on your self efficacy, that in turn feeds self confidence.
However, if your self confidence is down, the voice in your head will probably tell you that you are ‘not good enough’ even if you are clearly able to on paper; so they are mutually dependent. This too, as a result, kills motivation. It also works in reverse; if you are down and demotivated, your self confidence drops and your energy to pick yourself up and work on your skills (efficacy) drops too. This vicious downward spiral feeds the bad vibes until we become completely flat and apathetic.
Catching yourself in the downward spiral is key to getting back in control. Doubting your efficacy can be addressed through further training and testing of skills. Confidence can be boosted by people around you and mindfulness of your growth and skills development. Motivation can be supported through success in achieving mini-milestones and regular feedback on progress.
Interestingly, ‘clear goals’ and ‘immediate feedback’ are Flow triggers that enhance performance, supporting excellence and effectiveness. Through regular goals feedback, mindfulness and ‘quick wins’ our confidence soars and our motivation grows. Flow boosts motivation through self-efficacy, and motivation boosts flow through self-confidence.
So how do you check in and regain control?
If you are feeling a little low when facing a difficult problem, check your self efficacy first. If it seems that logically you should be successful, but you lack self-belief, you need to stop listening to the negative voice in your head and go try. If necessary, test with smaller problems and slowly build back your confidence through quick wins that give you a sense of achievement (motivators). Enjoy the challenge that is within your reach, and release the Dopamine you need to feel good about yourself. Avoid excessive risk initially, so you don’t get amygdala hijack.
So whether its the motivation you need to lose weight, or get a new qualification, or climb Kilimanjaro, use the above model to help you frame the process. Make sure you can access the right training tools, expertise and resources. Then set short term milestones to stay on track and motivated rather than only look at the far-end goal. Keep measuring progress and reward yourself for these tiny accomplishments.
Keep the negative voice in your head in check at all times, as it can dismantle your confidence castle quicker than you can build it! Positivity breeds positive flow, which breeds performance. Performance and motivation work hand in hand, feeding off each other.