Have you ever struggled to stop a bad habit (like procrastinating on submitting your expense reports) or start a good habit (like clearing out your emails every day)? Motivation is at the heart of everything you do and everything you don’t do, but wish you did. Motivation is also one of the most misunderstood and abused concepts in human behavior.When it comes to motivation, we’ve been stuck in the Dark Ages. Do you realize that the most common ways used to motivate children, students, and employees were developed in the 1930s? The use of carrots and sticks—or in other words, motivation through rewards or pressure, fear, and threats—is based on B.F. Skinner’s famous pigeon experiments. It’s taken us a long time to learn an important lesson: people are not pigeons.
The most popular motivational theory in the world is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Millions of people believe that the only way to self-actualize and achieve one’s full potential is to work through each layer. But the hierarchy has never been empirically proven, and even Maslow never intended his theory to become the basis of motivational practice. He posed the idea to help shift motivation research away from pigeons and biological drives and instead toward nurturing the psychological needs that undergird motivated behaviors.
For those of us trying to understand our own motivations, this is good news! If you’re looking for a motivation breakthrough, we have entered a new era of research. Motivation science reveals three truths that generate the positive energy and vitality you need to achieve your goals and thrive. Based on this groundbreaking empirical research, Master Your Motivation poses a revolutionary idea: motivation is a skill. You can use the three scientific truths to shift the quality of your motivation, achieve your goals, and thrive.
1. Create choice
You know why diets don’t work? As soon as you tell yourself, “I can’t eat that muffin,” what’s the first thing you want? A muffin! But it’s not about the muffin. Diets by their nature erode your sense of choice. To generate optimal motivation for losing weight—or filing expense reports or responding to emails—you need to create choice: to perceive you have a choice, recognize and feel that you have options within boundaries, and feel that you are in control of your actions. No matter what your goal, you need to feel it’s not imposed on you nor that you are the victim, but rather that this is a choice you’ve made autonomously.
To create choice, ask yourself: What choices have I made to reach this point and how do I feel about them? What choices do I have in order to move forward?
2. Create connection
Keeping with the theme of falling off the proverbial wagon, do you know why you probably don’t stick to a diet? Because you haven’t connected to deeper and more meaningful reasons for losing weight—or filing expenses and responding to emails. We all have an innate need to create connection: to feel a sense of belonging and genuine connection to others without concerns about ulterior motives, align goals and actions to meaningful values and sense of purpose, and contribute to something greater than yourself. No matter what your goal, you need to find a meaningful reason for pursuing it beyond external rewards, pressure, or fear.
To create connection, ask yourself: Why do I want to achieve this goal? How is it meaningful? How does the goal align with my values and sense of purpose? How can I contribute to the greater good through this goal?
3. Create competence
Do you know why it’s hard to maintain a diet? Because you are focused on the outcome instead of how you’re growing and learning. Creating competence is more than getting the job done – competence means you feel effective at managing every-day situations, demonstrate skill over time, and feel a sense of growth and learning every day. Making an intentional practice of learning from your progress emphasizes growth and mitigates beating yourself up over not being perfect.
To create competence, ask yourself: What have I learned? How will I learn or grow from pursuing or achieving this goal?
Notice how you feel
Empirically-proven science supports these truths at the heart of your motivation, but all you need to do is notice that when you create choice, connection, and competence, you feel a greater sense of well-being, are more likely to get into a state of flow, or experience deep-seated peace. This positive energy is optimal for achieving your goals in the long term.
On the flip side, observe that when your choice, connection, or competence is diminished, you feel pressure, stress, fear, or frustration. This negative energy means that you are less likely to achieve your goals – but even if you do, you pay a high cost in terms of your health and well-being.
Master your motivation
Mastering your motivation may be your greatest opportunity to accomplish a routine task, stop bad habits and start good ones, or attain life-changing goals you have dreamt of, if only you had the motivation. Motivation is a skill. Without it, you erode choice, connection, and competence, put your goals at risk, and languish. But when you master your motivation, you have the skill to create choice, connection, and competence and generate the positive energy required to achieve your goals and thrive.
Susan Fowler has thirty-five years' experience as a consultant, coach, and global leader in the field of personal empowerment. She is the creator and lead developer of the Ken Blanchard Companies' Optimal Motivation product line and author of Why Motivating People Doesn't Work...and What Does, as well as the coauthor of six books (three with Ken Blanchard). She is also a professor in the Master of Science in Executive Leadership program at the University of San Diego.