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MASTERING MOTIVATION IN UNCERTAIN TIMES

Updated: May 31



It has been a little over three weeks since Boris Johnson announced lockdown in the UK. Whilst our country's awesome key workers have kept us safe and the country running, the rest of us have busied ourselves learning new ways of living and working; we’ve picked up new and old hobbies, spruced up our homes and gardens and have embraced home schooling and remote working. The energy and adaptability we have demonstrated during this period should be celebrated. However, as time goes on it can become all too easy to end up feeling like doing nothing, other than taking another trip to the fridge or watching another boxset on Netflix or endless repeats of Dads Army or the Vicar of Dibley on UK Gold – or is that just me!

The antidote to all of these things, of course is motivation.

So, here’s an explanation of motivation and six rules for mastering motivation and achieving success and growth in lockdown and beyond.

WHAT IS MOTIVATION?

Simply put, motivation is an inner state that activates our behaviour. It enables us to learn, develop our talents and skills, make plans, set goals and maintain our wellbeing in the face of an ever changing stream of opportunities and threats. In a nutshell, motivation can help us to thrive in life. However, when our motivation is depleted, our functioning and wellbeing suffer too, leaving us feeling like we are just about surviving.

WHAT MOTIVATES US?

One of the most well-known theories of motivation is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow proposed that, in addition to basic needs e.g. water, food, shelter and security etc. everyone has a set of more nuanced personal needs e.g. connection, accomplishment which is topped off with self-actualisation. Maslow, referred to the first four needs of his model as deficiency needs because he felt that these needs arose due to deprivation. Whereas the fifth he referred to as growth needs, which he argued do not come about from a place of deficit, but a desire to become our best self.

More recently, author and business management guru Dan Pink, in his bestselling book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, argues, in the modern world where the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy are more or less satisfied, people are more motivated by growth needs. Pink highlights that autonomy, mastery and purpose. This trio he says, are the most influential needs in guiding our responses to every day events and motivation.

· AUTONOMY: The need to direct your own life and work

· MASTERY: The need to get better in something that matters

· PURPOSE: The need to work in service of something bigger than one’s self



Although not too different, Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi tackles motivation from a slightly different perspective with his theory of “flow”. Csikszentmihalyi argues, most of our actions require motivation, highlighting two basic motivation types: intrinsic and extrinsic.

· INTRINSIC MOTIVATION is when you do something because you love it. Csikszentmihalyi said the highest intrinsic motivation is a flow state where self-consciousness is lost, and time means nothing. For example, a pianist plays a concerto without thinking, a runner getting ‘into the zone’ during their race, or a writer immersed in the process of writing their book. Intrinsically, motivated activities, Csikszentmihalyi argues, also make us happier.

· EXTRINSIC MOTIVATION is when your motivation to succeed is controlled externally. That includes doing something to avoid getting into trouble or working hard to earn more money. This type of motivation is short-lived. A good kind of extrinsic motivation is when you are practicing to get better but you still need someone to validate your efforts e.g. a line manager or coach.

THE MISSING FACTOR

Maslow, Pink and Csikszentmihalyi’s theories on motivation whilst useful only explain two factors that determine motivation e.g. intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. According to, Helle Bundgaard, and Jefferson Roy in their excellent book “The Motivated Brain” there is a third factor that contributes to maintaining motivation – “Motivation Capability” or the “M Factor” as they describe it.

This factor they argue, is our own ability to identify what gives and what takes away our motivation - and what we can do about it. It is the ability to know what to pursue and what to avoid in order to become or remain highly motivated.

When we focus on all three of these factors, we can then realise our true potential and mobilise sustainable motivation ij ourselves and others to succeed and grow. However, knowing is only half of the battle, the other is about doing. With this in mind, here are six simple rules that can help us master motivation.

SIX RULES FOR MASTERING MOTIVATION

1. GET ‘IN THE ZONE’ - Getting in the zone or flow happens only when you do something challenging. If it’s boring or too easy to do, you just can’t reach that special state. Getting into flow sounds great in theory, but mastering the skill of flow is not. However, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances.

a. Have clear goals, outcomes, and expectations

b. Choose your one most important task

c. Create the right environment e.g. turn off your tech

d. Do something you love

e. Focus on the process, not the goal

2. MOTION CREATES EMOTION - Keeping things moving, even when you don’t feel like it is a great way to change how you and others feel. This can be as simple as going for a jog, to the gym, or just bouncing up and down on the spot or dancing around whilst listening to your favourite music. Keeping thing moving fosters a positive mental state and encourages others to do the same.

3. RADIATE POSITIVE ENERGY - When it comes to motivation and inspiration, you really get what you give. So help someone in need, or volunteer in your own community. Another great way to radiate positive energy is to wear a smile. Research has proven that smiling is not only a part of our universal language but an effective way to lift our mood, and not only does smiling look good on you, but it’s also contagious!

4. ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE - An attitude of gratitude is about finding the silver lining, even on days where nothing feels like it is going right. It is a tool that we have instant access to whenever we choose. Research also shows gratitude raises our happiness by as much as 25%. To make gratitude a habit, start small. For example, focus on finding one small thing that you appreciate between the time you wake up in the morning and as you get ready for bed at night. This could be as simple as being grateful for an awesome quality a friend or colleague has, your trip to the gym, the weather, or your favourite song played on the radio at the perfect time.

5. TAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF - Take the time in your day to decompress and immerse yourself in activities such as walking, listening to a podcast, watching a TED talk or reading a book, article reading or blog. The emotional connections you might make through these forms of intentional procrastination might just be the thing to spur you onwards and upwards.

6. SELF-REFLECTION - Motivation begins with self- reflection. This positive action allows us to explore and understand our purpose, who we are, what we value and what we need. Through understanding these things, we are better able to identify the steps we need to take to achieve our full potential and our goals.


THINK POINT

"Your life today is the result of your attitudes and choices in the past. Your life tomorrow will be the result of your attitudes and the choices you make today"

- Author Unknown

SUMMMARY

Mastering your own and others motivation is powerful practice that can pave a pathway to achievement, personal growth and wellbeing. However, like anything worth doing it is going to take intentional practice to master.

· What ONE thing have you learned from reading this today?

· What kind of attitude will you choose?

· What ONE positive action will you take right now that will keep you motivated to succeed and grow?

As ever, I would love to hear your thoughts.


Darren Whysall

Executive Coach and Coach Supervisor | Barclays UK

References

Bundgaard, H., and R, Jefferson. (2014) The Motivated Brain. Motivation Factor

Covey, S. (1999). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon & Schuster

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). Flow: The Psychology of Happiness. Rider

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behaviour. New York, NY: Plenum 

Nakamura, J., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2002). The Concept of Flow. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 89-105). New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press. 

Pink, H, D. (2009) Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Riverhead Books

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