Dr Maike Neuhaus
The 4 questions you should ask yourself in order to maximise your motivation
Do you exercise regularly? If so, do you do it because you love the feeling of exercising or because you know that you should do it in order to prevent diseases?
The origin and thus quality of motivation can differ and is categorised into intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Put simply, when we’re intrinsically motivated, we perform an action due to natural enjoyment we perceive while doing it – the action itself provides us with an internal reward. When we’re extrinsically motivated, we do something for the purpose of receiving an external reward, compensation or to avoid punishment.
Examples of external rewards or compensations include status, financial reward, good grades, loyalty discounts, attention and praise. These concepts fall under the so-called ‘Social-Determination theory’, which was proposed by Professors Richard Ryan and Edward Deci in 1985 and revolutionised the way we think about motivation.
Depending on the source of our motivation (internal versus external), its longevity as well as the level of satisfaction with the action differ. While intrinsic motivation doesn’t tend to fade, extrinsic motivation tends to last only for as long as the external reward remains. Once it’s gone, so is the motivation. Additionally, completing intrinsically motivating tasks leave us feeling happy and satisfied. In fact, if we fully engage in an intrinsically motivating activity posing the right level of challenge, we may experience a state of flow – where we are completely immersed in an activity we do and enjoy to the extent that we lose track of time and forget about the things around us. On the other side, while we might enjoy the reward we gain from extrinsically motivated actions, the actions themselves don’t have this happiness factor on our wellbeing.
So, when you have a new goal and you care about maximising your chance at achieving it, the first question you should ask yourself is this:
1) How can I pursue this goal in a way I naturally enjoy?
It only makes sense that when you have a goal, the first step should be to explore if there is a way to attain it that you feel intrinsically motivated for. It’s about finding your joy factor. Let’s say your goal is to become fit. Most people around you go running or to the gym. But these might not be activities you enjoy. After some thinking, you remember that you’ve always enjoyed dancing when you were younger and decide to take dancing classes as a means to become fit.
Once you identified an intrinsically motivated goal, you can further optimise it by ensuring that it fulfils three criteria: autonomy, competence and relatedness. These three criteria are understood to form part of our psychological drives, whereas our motivation to unfold our full potential/ self-actualise is believed to be a motive rather than a need . I believe that we are most powerful, when we align our drives and motives, because it’s like doubling the force, rather than working against yourself.
2) What is your sense of perceived control over the action?
Autonomy is our sense of perceived control over the action - how much input or say we have over it. Are you striving for that goal because of your own reasons or do you do it in order to satisfy someone else? Are you planning to pursue it in a way that is your way or do you have to work around other people or circumstances much? In the case of our example, this could mean identifying dancing schools in your area that offer enough classes for you to be able to attend, despite your busy work schedule and other commitments. Consider any tweaks your goal may need until you feel like you’re 100% in charge.
3) How competent do you feel at it?
Competence refers to how much your goal aligns with what you are capable of doing – your knowledge and skills. It shouldn’t be too challenging or easy for us to stay engaged. In the case of our example, this could mean that you attend dancing classes that are suited for your skill level.
4) How can you tie your goal to serving your community?
Relatedness is the level of meaning, connectedness to others and a purpose bigger than us. Does the activity you chose have any social meaning for you? Are you doing it together with someone? Maybe for someone? Does it have any other impact on your sense of belonging and/or purpose? Maybe you have a friend who'd love to get active, too, but needs that push - maybe you can support them by taking them with you? Take a moment to reflect on the relatedness factor of your goal and opportunities to enhance it.
 Consider the motive to finish a report while experiencing the need to empty your bladder and you’ll know what I mean with ‘working against yourself’.
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