We all have days where we feel like a famous actor. We think how it’s time to go to work, look at ourselves in the mirror, and ask, “What’s my motivation?”
If you’re having trouble finding motivation to do a particular task, it can be helpful to look at how the task fits into the bigger picture, according to experts. “One of the biggest reasons why only eight percent of people achieve their New Year’s Resolutions is the lack of motivation,” writes Sean Kim in The Next Web. “And the reason why we lose motivation in the first place is not having a strong enough ‘why.’ Discovering our why requires us to dig deeper than the immediate reward of achieving the goal.”
The problem is using only external, rather than internal, factors for motivation, Kim writes in a different piece. “When we depend on external factors to motivate us, we call this The Gazelle Mindset. This is because a gazelle only runs as fast as the lion that is chasing after it. When the lion stops, the gazelle stops as well. Having a bigger purpose will create internal motivation within you that allows you to become the lion, not the gazelle.” For example, shifting from a goal that’s centered on yourself, to a bigger purpose that affects those you love, helps you focus on what you will get out of it, instead of how hard it is, he writes.
To identify these internal factors, Kim suggests asking yourself questions about the completion of the task such as the following:
- How will you feel?
- Who will you be around?
- Who will you become?
- What opportunities will this open up?
Moreover, different people respond differently to internal and external motivations, Kim writes, citing four different types of people:
- Upholders, who work well with both outer expectations and inner expectations
- Questioners, who question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified
- Obligers, who work well with outer expectations, but struggle to meet inner expectations
- Rebels, who resist both inner and outer expectations
On the other hand, it’s also important to pay attention if you’re having trouble motivating yourself to do a particular task, and find yourself procrastinating with other activities, writes Dr. Margaret King, director of Cultural Studies & Analysis. “Most of us recognize that such activities are a stall against work we know needs to be done; but we aren’t motivated to either begin or finish,” she writes. “These busy activities are clues that you’re reluctant to get on with the job because of some discomfort with the task.” In other words, procrastination may be trying to tell you something.
“It’s usually a combination of factors: 1) a challenge to your ability or expertise, which 2) imposes an unwelcome demand on your time, abilities, emotional reserves, or resources,” King writes. “Much of procrastination is a species of protest against these demands and resentment about the fact that forces from the outside have the power to enforce those demands if they aren’t met from your own resources.”
Company culture could also be to blame for a lack of motivation. This is particularly true if you find yourself reluctant to share your ideas or to disagree with the team based on bad experiences in the past, writes Katie Douthwaite Wolf in The Muse. “Maybe your ideas were met with resistance too many times, or maybe you simply fell into the team’s long-established processes, and now it seems that any change would be an unnecessary burden for yourself and your team,” she writes. “Maybe your dissent never got the reaction you wanted. Perhaps no one else on your team agreed with you—or at least, the decision-makers didn’t agree with you—so the flawed project moved forward without any regard to the points you made. And no matter how often you spoke your mind, no one seemed to listen.”
In fact, company culture can shape employee motivation, write Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi in the Harvard Business Review. Three motives are directly connected to work itself and improve performance, they write:
- Play is when you are motivated by the work itself.
- Purpose is when the direct outcome of the work fits your identity.
- Potential is when the outcome of the work benefits your identity.
On the other hand, three indirect motives tend to reduce performance because they distract you from the task at hand, McGregor and Doshi add. “You’re no longer thinking about the work—you’re thinking about the disappointment, or the reward, or why you’re bothering to do it at all,” they write. “You’re distracted, and you might not even care about the work itself or the quality of the outcome.” Those motives are:
- Emotional pressure is when you work because some external force threatens your identity.
- Economic pressure is when an external force makes you work.
- Inertia is when the motive is so far removed from the work and your identity that you can’t identify why you’re working.
Ultimately, people also need to feel that their work is valued and that they aren’t just spinning their wheels, writes behavioral economist Dan Ariely. “If companies really want their workers to produce, they should try to impart a sense of meaning—not just through vision statements but by allowing employees to feel a sense of completion and ensuring that a job well done is acknowledged,” he writes.
Which makes sense. After all, if it’s already hard for an actor to get motivated, how much harder would it be if he knew nobody was watching?
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