The secret to how motivation works

The holy grail of personal and professional development is perhaps understanding once and for all exactly how motivation works and how to motivate anyone especially yourself. People talk about ‘getting’ and ‘staying’ motivated. How does this happen? Indeed, does it happen or is motivation something different to what we think? In this post, I would like to briefly look at motivation and examine how it works, how we can use it to become better at taking action and better at getting others to take action as well.

Motivation can be defined as an emotion that gets people to take action. In many ways, when people say ‘I’m not motivated. I just sit at home all day’ they are motivated ‘to sit at home all day’. We are constantly making choices. So, in many ways, we don’t ‘get’ motivated, we ‘direct’ our motivation. More correctly, we motivate ourselves in a particular direction.

Dr Anders Ericsson suggested motivation was the most significant predictor of success out there. Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive’ discussed the difference between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation. He explains that in the business world, intrinsic motivation seems to be much more effective than extrinsic motivation. In other words, people are usually far more motivated by internal rewards like challenge, self-esteem or impact than external rewards like money. In particular, he highlighted autonomy, mastery and purpose as three key internal rewards which we seek through action.

From an NLP point of view, we talk about the difference between ‘towards’ and ‘away’ from motivation. Of course, that can be applied to almost any type of motivation. You can either want more autonomy or you can be concerned with losing autonomy. You are either motivated by what you have to gain or what you have to lose. 

The amazing Zig Ziglar once suggested that motivation is like having a bath. It should be something you do every single day. I love that concept as I think that people often think of it as something like jump starting your car. In reality, with the ridiculous amount of things going on in the world that we try to keep track of, it is important that you nurture the kind of emotions you want to continue to have.

I believe motivating someone is an art form and a skill. It is based upon understanding that person and understanding what matters to them. It is also about your ability to transmit your emotion and state to other people. It is about knowing whether or not they are better motivated by fear of loss or desire for gain. It is about discovering what already gets them to take action.

When you listen to Dr Richard Bandler, Zig Ziglar, Jim Rohn, Tony Robbins or Gary Vaynerchuk to name a few, most people feel fired up and ready to go afterwards. The reason is because such experts are talking about things that matter in a way that matters. A motivational quote which successfully motivates a person does so because it speaks to that person’s truth in a way that they value.

The truth is that all motivation is self-motivation. When others motivate us, all they are doing is getting us to connect inside of ourselves with what matters to us and how important it is for us to take action. The ultimate question often seen at the centre of motivation is the question WHY. You ask ‘why’ so you can get the person to access their core values and reasons for taking action. But that is not enough.

For motivation isn’t simply about deciding to do a task. It is about deciding to do a task above other tasks. It implies that we prioritise something over something else. That is often what gets in the way of most motivation attempts. You can motivate yourself or someone else to do something and they may do it unless something else important also comes up. Where does that leave us?

In summary, these are the key steps to motivate yourself and others:

  • You need to understand what the various important tasks are that need to be done and when do they need to be done.
  • Then, you or they must understand why you or they are doing that specific task.
  • You can imagine what will happen if it is done or what will happen if it is not done. You can focus your mind on intensely imagining either scenario.
  • You can speak to yourself or to others in a motivated tone of voice.
  • You can plan for whatever challenges might try and stifle the feeling of motivation and plan to handle them.
  • You can listen to people who make you feel motivated.
  • You can repeat this every day, consistently.
  • This is how you ‘stay’ directing your motivation in a way that helps you have a better life. It is how you get better at directing others motivation too.

I hope this helps you to better understand how motivation works and also how you can become more successful at motivating yourself and others.


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