It’s not uncommon to struggle with motivation. It’s a tricky beast to tame, but it’s also incredibly powerful. A bout of motivation every day is all you need to sustain a career move or pursue a personal goal over the long-term.
For most people, motivation is fleeting. It drives you to complete a whole week’s worth of work over the weekend without realizing it, but disappears on Monday when you really need to get started with something new at work. It’s hard to control and keep alive when you need it most.
Scientists seem to define motivation as the willingness to do something. It’s a very intrinsic and natural drive to take something new on and complete it successfully. Digging deeper it seems every action and thought we have is guided by our built-in motivations. Psychologists believe that the basis of human behavior is the sticks and carrots the mind associates with different activities. Every decision and behavior is rooted in the mind’s perception of pleasure and pain.
It appears that the mind and body will simply not act till the pain of not doing something outweighs the pain of doing it. Similarly, the rewards of doing something must outweigh the temporary reward of not doing it. This means there are two forms of motivation – negative and positive. But which one works better?
Positive motivation comes from an internal drive to seek out pleasure. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains this well. You’re more likely to act when the results of an action are a direct impact on one of your needs – like the need for self actualization or self esteem.
Some people respond very well to positive stimulation. Thinking about the pleasures of being financially independent or well recognized within an industry can push people to achieve impossible feats in their career.
You can create positive motivation by either reminding yourself of the benefits of a task or by setting up rewards for yourself for completing something. It’s the equivalent of setting up carrots or thinking about the carrots as you go about doing what you need to do.
For example, visualizing a thinner, better looking version of yourself could push you to get up and exercise in the morning. At the same time, you could probably reward yourself with a bottle of wine if you meet your weekly targets at work. Both these methods are positive and can really get you to meet the targets you set.
“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.” – Lou Holtz
Negative motivation is about punishment and fear. It’s the sort of motivation that gets you to quit smoking because you’ve witnessed someone struggle with cancer. Of course, not every motivation needs to be dramatic or dreadful. You could be motivated to stay at your job because you don’t want to lose the house, or could be paying the bills on time because you want to avoid the penalty.
Negative motivation is likely to work just as well as positive motivation, but for some people it’s a lot more effective. Certain people are driven by fear and anxiety. The looming threat of loss is too much to bear for some individuals and they tend to take action more quickly in such scenarios.
You can apply negative motivation by reminding yourself of the consequences of not doing something. You could also apply this sort of motivation by setting up punishments for not completing some task. Working over the weekend because you didn’t complete an assignment over the week or seeking out criticism from friends to help you improve your work are both examples of negative motivations that propel action.
“Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes, it’s built on catastrophe.” – Summer Redtsone
Which one is better?
So, which of the two types of motivation work best? The good news is this is an area of psychology that has been well researched and there is a definite answer. In the 1940’s B.F. Skinner published a number of academic studies that showed the effects of what he called “positive and negative reinforcement.” Skinner’s studies were based on experiments on lab mice that indicated how human beings responded to reinforcement.
The research found that both types of reinforcement were abundant in the systems created to extract work. Some people responded better to positive reinforcements like rewards, while others responded better to negative reinforcement like punishments. Researchers Kelly J Bouxsein, Henry S Roane, and Tara Harper expanded on this study and found that a combination of the two types worked best. It seems the average person is best motivated when there is a little bit of reward and a justified amount of punishment for completing or not completing the task at hand.
You can apply this knowledge to better motivate yourself in the future. At work and in your personal life there’s likely to be a system of checks and balances that motivate you to do things. But you need to go beyond this and create a sense of personal motivation. Take the time to understand yourself and set up a system of rewards and punishments that will push you to achieve more.
Which type of motivation works better for you? Please leave your thoughts below!
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8 Things You Can Do Right Now to Get Your Motivation Back
Welcome to our new normal. A time in our lives that a year ago we certainly didn’t see coming that most of us probably wouldn’t have chosen for ourselves; but here we are. As the days away from each other carry on and more and more bad news comes our way, it’s easy to lose your motivation and waste energy doing things that aren’t helpful like worrying and fighting with people on the internet instead.
Nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus crisis is harming their mental health, according to the Washington Post. While many of us had routines set up to deal with stress in the past, the stress we are facing during this time is unlike anything we’ve experienced before. It’s easy to find yourself in a downward spiral, and that’s the most challenging time to stop the momentum and turn things around. If that’s the case, keep it simple and start to reach for little things to help you feel better and climb your way out.
Here’s a reminder of a few simple things you can do right now to start getting positive momentum going your way:
1. Find someone who was in a similar place and made it to the other side
Whether you’ve been unmotivated to workout, eat healthy, make sales calls or simply do anything, you can find someone who has been there and made it to the other side. Look up some great TED talks, go on YouTube and look up people that motivate you, google them to find their websites. There are short speeches and much longer talks all over the internet, you just need to find someone who you relate to that speaks to you.
2. Do something that you love
When we’re unmotivated, it’s easy to get out of the habit of doing what we love. Sometimes just getting out of bed or away from the tv feels like a chore. Think back to a time in your life when you felt great – what were you doing? What do you absolutely love to do that if you had the time, you would do all day and not realize any time had passed at all?
Figure out a way to do whatever that is, or a modified version of it if it is something that you aren’t able to do at the present time. Spending time doing what you love will get your mind off of anything that is wrong and allow you to find inspiration.
3. Don’t overcomplicate it
Keep it simple. When we’re stuck in a rut, we’ll give ourselves every excuse to not do something. Say you’ve gained some weight; you might tell yourself you need to find the perfect trainer and wait until you have time to cook your meals from scratch each night before you do anything else. Stop trying to overcomplicate it and keep it simple by finding one thing you can do right now, however small that may be. You don’t have to wait until the timing is perfect and the stars align for you to start moving in the direction you want to go.
4. Get up and get moving
This is probably the last thing you want to do right now, but once you are up and moving, your blood will start flowing. The hardest part is getting started. Day one, get up and do anything to get moving. This is the hardest day if you haven’t in a while because getting up is really the hardest part. Day two, do a little more. Once you start, you’ll build momentum and get back in the habit.
5. Reset your focus
It’s so easy for worry to set in and for our minds to wander to places of what we can’t control. This is not motivating or helpful and we always have a choice to redirect our attention. There is always something we can do right where we are, so bring your focus to the solution instead of the problem and figure out the next step of what you can do.
One step at a time. Step one, take your attention away from what you can’t control and what you can’t do. Step two, ask yourself questions like “What can I do?” and see what comes to mind. Follow through with the answers you find.
6. Listen to your favorite music
Not much can lift our spirits and put us into a positive vibration more than our favorite music. Feel free to sing along. Find a song that pumps you up and make that your theme song. Put it on anytime you feel down or unmotivated.
7. Expand your knowledge
“In times of change, the learners will inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Quote by Eric Hoffer. In times of change, there is great loss but also great opportunity. Continually learning opens you to new opportunities and leads you to paths you may not have otherwise found.
If you’re already a meditator and got away from it, take some time to come back to it. If you’ve never tried, it can be as easy as setting a timer for five minutes (or less, feel free to start with one or two minutes) and focusing on your breath. Listen to the inhalations and exhalations. Silently say to yourself “in” as you inhale and “out” as you exhale. Even taking a few minutes to do this can help you to calm down and allow your mind to refocus.
When we’re unmotivated, our momentum starts moving in the other direction. Slow down that momentum by trying one of the ideas above. Once you’ve slowed down the momentum, get it moving in the right direction and you’ll be well on your way.
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