It’s not about the destination
Over the past 18 months, we here at JFDI have learned that the folks who are most successful in our programmes are those who either possess ‘something’ within themselves that pushes them toward success regardless of what’s happening in their lives OR can learn to develop that ‘something’ even if it’s not their natural style. What we’re really getting at here is that people’s MOTIVATION to achieve their objectives or reach their goals really tended to vary based on a wide variety of factors. So, we decided to take a deeper dive into the issue of motivation and why it seemed to trip folks up so much at times.
I’m sure you can relate to what this feels like – you start a new project or begin building a new habit with a hiss and a roar (this is exciting! I can do this!), then it becomes ‘work’ or something unexpected happens and your motivation levels for continuing with the project or new habit fall through the floor. Next thing you know, you’ve gotten totally off-track and you can kiss any hope of completing your project or embedding that new habit goodbye. I would venture to say that every single one of us has experienced this at some point in our lives.
for many people, the project story goes something like this….it starts with a hiss and a roar and then something happens which takes you off track and before you know it, the project is buried.
We decided to start our research into this issue by examining the reasons why some clients who started out ‘hot and heavy’ quickly seemed to lose motivation, drop off our radar and ultimately quit the programme after an average of only 4-6 weeks. Some of the reasons we discovered seemed to involve both external and internal factors. They were things like unexpected events happening in the client’s life (sickness, new business opportunity, family pressure), missing one group accountability session and then allowing this to snowball due to guilt, embarrassment, etc., the excitement of the new project wearing off and the nature of the work needed to complete the project becoming onerous or boring, poor time management or prioritization skills (allowing other tasks to get in the way of moving forward on their project) and feeling constricted by the structure of the programme. Our JFDI programmes are highly structured to enhance both accountability and results, and this doesn’t seem to fit well with some people’s natural styles. What we found was that, over the course of a 100-day programme, 80% of those who stuck with it and ‘did their part’ (ie: attend each group accountability/training, journal at least twice weekly and generally stick to the activity they set for themselves to achieve their objective) completed their project successfully or achieved their goal. The key to goal achievement is regular, consistent activity that creates progress (however small) toward the goal every day. It isn’t the focus on the goal, it’s the focus on the activity that matters.
So, while we had been terribly pleased and happy for our successful graduates, we were left pulling our hair out over the apparent apathy of some clients who seemed quite engaged at first and then, despite our best efforts to reach out and support them, dropped out of the programme completely – a waste of time and money for them. On a recent group accountability call on the topic of motivation, I shared the concepts of extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Folks who are extrinsically motivated tend to respond best to external rewards or ‘carrots’ in order to complete a task successfully. On the other hand, those who are intrinsically motivated complete a task for the sheer satisfaction of it or out of a strong sense of duty. Intrinsically motivated folks tend to have a ‘never say die’ attitude, while extrinsically motivated folks tend to throw in the towel when achieving a particular task becomes mundane or difficult, especially if there is no obvious or immediate reward for doing so. It was during this discussion recently that one client asked, ‘Based on what you just shared, I think I’m extrinsically motivated, but how do I know for sure? Is there some type of assessment I can take?’
I thought that was an excellent question, so I decided to do a bit of exploration about what self-tests or self-assessments existed to help someone determine what type of motivation they naturally exhibit. My search led me to somewhat limited resources – some helpful and some not. I located a psychological measure called the BIS/BAS, which stands for ‘Behavioural Inhibition System’ and ‘Behavioural Activation System’. The BIS kicks in when we face the perceived prospect of pain or discomfort/inconvenience and so can derail our efforts to achieve a goal if the activity needed to achieve the goal is perceived as negative in some way. The BAS pushes us to move toward rewards or pleasurable outcomes. I took the test and decided that the result was a bit wishy-washy as it turned out I was ‘average’ on both my BIS and BAS tendencies. Hmmmm.
Something we then asked ourselves was, ‘Are the results of motivation self-assessments naturally biased toward extrinsically motivated people? While there was no obvious proof of this, it seemed a plausible conclusion, when I looked at a statistic reported on the website Lifescript.com that mentioned 73% of its 13,000 self-test participants to date turned out to be extrinsically motivated. This was confirmed by a study done by (Dickenson 1999) that found 75% of what we do is because of self-interest or perceived gain. So, then, TRUE intrinsic motivation (doing an activity purely for the joy of doing it, not to achieve a reward) would seem to be relatively rare.
I kept searching and located a self-test on a website I’d used many times before in my Coaching business – MindTools.com. Not only did it provide my own score and result, which indicated I was extrinsically motivated (even though I feel I’m very intrinsically / self-motivated – we’ll get to FEELINGS in a bit), it also provided actionable tips I could take to help myself become more self-motivated! Now I was getting somewhere.
When I think back on my career, I know I have been most successful at times when I had an unshakable sense of self-belief and high confidence levels….I approach a goal or a project with a sense of positive anticipation
According to the MindTools article, there are 4 necessary ingredients of self (or intrinsic) motivation. The first and most important of these is self-confidence and self-efficacy. Psychologist Albert Bandura based much of his professional work around the concept of self-efficacy or our belief in ourselves that we can achieve a specific task or be successful in a particular situation. He said, “in order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy…”. When I think back on my career, I know I have been most successful at times when I had an unshakable sense of self-belief and high confidence levels, and I’m certain this will ring true for you as well. When I feel especially confident, I approach a goal or a project with a sense of positive anticipation. On the other hand, when my confidence in myself flags, I often end up with lackluster results. What I’m doing is engaging in ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ type behaviour, which means if I believe I will, I do and if I believe I won’t, I don’t.
If you’re a little lost about how to build your self-confidence, try focusing on what you HAVE achieved (keeping a journal is a key component of our JFDI programmes as it is a great way to record your successes so that you can re-visit those on days when you’re feeling a bit ‘meh’!) and work to your strengths as often as possible! When I engage in activities I truly enjoy, I find myself feeling more confident that when I’m slogging through activities I detest, and I’m sure the same holds true for you.
The second necessary ingredient of self-motivation is positive thinking – both in the moment AND about the future. Positive thoughts help keep us motivated when something isn’t going our way (they can help us re-frame a serious setback as simply a speed bump). When we are in a positive state of mind, we are more creative which means we can better think through a challenge to find a solution (again, a great reason to keep a journal!). They can also help us create a really clear picture of what we want our future to be like – think ‘vision board’.
As a matter of fact, researchers studied the effect of listening to ‘happy’ music when engaged in a given task versus working in silence. They found that those who worked while listening to ‘happy’ music experienced more ‘divergent’ or creative ideas than those who worked in silence! Now, for those of you who cringe at the thought of ‘positive thinking’ and ‘affirmation statements’, what we’re really talking about here is putting yourself in a positive state of mind – through music, activity or even a funny video or two – before you get down to work. A positive mind-set encourages progress, and momentum or PROGRESS toward an objective or goal (no matter how small) is the most motivating factor to keep us in motion.
The third critical ingredient of self-motivation is focus and having strong goals. A key component of our programmes here at JFDI is supporting our clients to set clear, challenging yet achievable goals. When I set goals for myself, however simple, I feel much more in control and able to focus. I often find myself spinning my wheels and feeling overwhelmed when I don’t create goals or objectives to focus on. I’m sure you’ve experienced this as well – you start the month or the quarter with no clear goals and find yourself wasting time, unable to decide what to do next and end up taking action in a rather random way, which is a recipe for failure. On the other hand, during those months when you’ve worked to an actual PLAN, you feel unstoppable! I don’t know about you, but I’d like to feel unstoppable as often as possible. Therefore, I need to set goals and plan!
Now, I know the previous ingredients of self-motivation have all been ‘internal’ things that are under our control, so stay with me with I mention the fourth essential ingredient for self-motivation which is a supportive environment. You can give yourself that little extra boost by surrounding yourself with people who support you and the resources you need to be successful. I realise these are external factors, but for folks who work alone (as many entrepreneurs and small business owners do), being with others who are aware of what you’re working toward on a regular basis can be just the ticket to maintain motivation. It’s called positive peer pressure or accountability! Accountability is a key component of our JFDI programmes and is one of the most-often cited benefits by our clients.
Motivation occurs when we TAKE ACTION. Taking that first step toward achieving a goal or instilling a new habit is the key – it’s the place where the most resistance occurs and if we’re fed up enough with our current state
One of our favourite authors here at JFDI is James Clear. James’ articles are mainly about human behavior and how we can form new habits that stick in order to ‘live better’. James shared his thoughts and research on motivation and one of the most impactful things he wrote was that motivation doesn’t strike out of the blue after we read something inspirational or listen to something positive. Motivation occurs when we TAKE ACTION. Taking that first step toward achieving a goal or instilling a new habit is the key – it’s the place where the most resistance occurs and if we’re fed up enough with our current state that we’re able to push through that resistance and take action toward something better, we’ve achieved something significant! So, the takeaway here is to make it as easy as possible for yourself to take the first step. Then, Newton’s first law of physics takes over – objects in motion tend to stay in motion!
From there, James advocates scheduling the activity you need to accomplish in order to reach a goal or embed a new habit. This point goes back to the ‘focus and strong goals’ bit from the MindTools article – if I sit down at my desk and know exactly what I need to do today because it’s booked into my diary as an appointment, I’ll do it. Schedule time to TAKE ACTION. Make that action part of a daily routine or ritual that keeps you moving toward your goal.
Creating a construct or ‘commitment device’ for ourselves that allows us to receive a reward for doing the activity or a consequence for NOT doing it is also a key piece of the puzzle of forming new habits. For example, hand $20 to a friend at the beginning of the day. If you’ve taken the action you needed to take that day, you get the money back. If not, your friend is $20 richer! There are also websites such as https://www.stickK.com that facilitate this same concept.
So, to bring it back round to our client who prompted this research by asking how he could know for sure if he was intrinsically or extrinsically motived, I’ll share these conclusions:
- IT REALLY DOESN’T MATTER! Motivation is so closely tied to habit formation, that regardless of what motivates us we can keep motivation rolling by simply taking meaningful action every day.
- When we are in action, we ARE BEING the person we want to become (someone who is motivated, proactive, successful, positive, etc).
- So, by practicing or taking that action every day, we BECOME the new habit. For example, my goal is to be a pianist. If I focus on the fact that I want to be a pianst, that won’t help me reach my goal. Rather, if I practice piano for just 20 minutes every day, I am becoming a pianist simply by taking that daily action.
- It’s all about enjoying the journey along the way to accomplishing your desired outcome.
 Concepts shared from the book Drive, the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
 You can find the self-test here: https://www.excelatlife.com/questionnaires/bisbas.htm
 Dickenson 1999
 You can take the test here: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_57.htm