‘I just don’t feel like it today.’ ‘It was great to begin with, but I lost my mojo after a while.’ ‘I could do it all day long.’ I’m sure you have your way of expressing when you feel motivated or couldn’t be bothered. Everyone always talks about how motivated they are to do something or not.
Wouldn’t it be nice, if we could just set a goal and go for it, without ever having to deal with temptations or losing the excitement we had for it in the beginning? To many, motivation is a mystery and frustration all the same.
So, what is motivation and what role does it play in goal attainment? The world of motivational theories these days is a jungle. I think everyone should start by understanding these five aspects about motivation.
1) Motivation is the driver that makes us satisfy our needs.
Put simply, motivation is the desire that initiates and directs behaviour in response to internal or external ‘needs’. When there is a gap between what you need and what you currently have, you’re motivated to close that gap. There are many different needs, including shelter and food, health and safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualisation – you’ve probably heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs before. Some of them can compete with one another (e.g. financial security versus driving a fancy car to achieve self-esteem), but they most certainly all compete for your attention. It’s good to keep in mind that it might be harder to reach for the stars if you haven’t got the basics sorted and some other, more pressing, needs nagging you tirelessly.
We have several psychological needs, but there is one that you NEED to understand. It’s our psychological need for consistency between who we believe we are and the actions we take. You guessed it – this is about cognitive dissonance and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this before reading further.
2) Sometimes we think we lack motivation, when really we’re just unaware of our other (competing) needs
When our actions don’t align with the beliefs we hold about ourselves, we feel cognitive dissonance, which feels yucky. Cognitive dissonance (or better: what we do to get rid of it) is often the reason why people come off track on their self-leadership journey. It’s the reason we prioritise other things over our actual target. It’s the reason we stay in bed (to rest, relax and be comfortable) rather than going to the gym at 6am. And then we believe we’re lacking motivation for our actual target, when really we’re just MORE motivated for some of our other needs in that moment (AND haven’t already established habits in line with our target behaviour, nor optimised our extrinsic motivation or maximised our willpower – but these are topics for other posts to come).
3) Intrinsic motivation is a goldmine
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.
So, intrinsic motivation sounds like a goldmine, doesn’t it? If you can find a way to align your target behaviour with what you naturally enjoy doing – go for it! Additionally, completing intrinsically motivating tasks leave us feeling happy and satisfied.
4) Extrinsic motivation has shades of grey, some of which are similar to intrinsic motivation
If you’re trying to achieve something that you’re not intrinsically motivated for, don’t despair. Extrinsic motivation can be operationalised to our advantage, too. When our motivation is not intrinsic per se, but it aligns with our values, beliefs and the self-concept, it is called ‘integrated’ motivation. And that is the most powerful type of extrinsic motivation.
Want an example? I don’t overly enjoy the act of brushing my teeth, but I do so relentlessly every morning and night, because health and personal hygiene are important to me. And achieving that is the reward that keeps me brushing.
5) If your motivation is extrinsic, build good habits fast
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. Often, it is simply what gets you going initially, with the rest of the goal journey being up to your willpower and other self-leadership skills.
So, don’t rely on your motivation or complain that you’ve lost it after a while. Fact is that you WILL lose it. So count on it and make sure you build good routines and habits fast while you are motivated.
Have you ever relied on motivation for too long?
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