“You don’t overcome challenges by making them smaller but by making yourself bigger.” – John C. Maxwell
When it comes to getting results, it takes motivation and ability. Motivation makes things happen. Where there’s no will, there’s no way.
I dedicated a full chapter on motivation in my Getting Results book, but I want to give you an introduction here. If you can master motivation, you can deal with life’s setbacks, as well as inspire yourself to always find a way forward, and create new experiences for yourself, and follow your growth. In this post, I’ll demystify motivation and give you the tools that really work.
Motivation Techniques for Results
I have tested practices for results. First let’s start with some context. I didn’t learn motivation from theories and books, although I’ve tested many models and I’ve read a lot of books. I’ve learned how to motivate myself and others by dealing with some of the worst motivation issues day in and day out, over years of practice. As a Program Manager at Microsoft, I’ve lead distributed teams for more than 10 years. Along the way, I’ve experimented and tested the best ways to motivate and inspire out of necessity. Turning my projects into thrilling epic adventures and helping people unleash their best is one of my most important success patterns.
15 Ways to Motivate Yourself and Others
Before explaining more about motivation, I want to give you some proven practices you can use for improving your motivation. Here are some ways to find your drive and get results:
- Connect to your values. This is the ultimate secret. If you can connect the work you do to your values, even in small ways, you can change your game. One of my values is learning and growth. I find ways to grow my skills in any situation.
- Find your why. Figure out a compelling purpose. Turn this into a one-liner. For example, when I fall off the horse, I remind myself I’m here to “make others great.” This gets me back on track, sharing the best of what I know.
- Change your why. Sometimes you’re doing things for the wrong reason. Are you doing that task to get it done, or to learn something new? Just shifting your why can light your fire.
- Change your how. You can instantly find your tasks more enjoyable by shifting from getting them done, to doing them right. I think of it as mastering your craft. Make it artful. Sometimes slower is better. Other times, the key is to make it a game and actually speed it up. You can set time limits and race against the clock. Changing your how can get you out of ruts and find new ways to escape the mundane.
- Remember the feeling. Flipping through your head movies and scenes is one of the fastest ways to change how you feel. Remember the feeling. How did you feel during your first kiss? What about laying on the grass on a sunny day?
- Shift to past, present, or the future. Sometimes you need to be here, now. Sometimes, the right here, right now sucks. The beauty of shifting tense is you can visualize a more compelling future, or remember a more enjoyable past. At the same time, if you catch yourself dwelling on a painful past, get back to right here, right now, and find the joy in the moment. You’ll improve your temporal skills with practice.
- Find a meaningful metaphor. Find a metaphor that fuels you. Maybe you’re the “Little Engine that Could.” Maybe you’re “in your element.” The most powerful thing you can do is find a metaphor that connects to your values. This is why I turn my projects into “epic adventures.”
- Take action. Here’s a secret that once you know it, can change your life. Action often comes before motivation. You simply start doing an activity and then your motivation kicks in. Nike was right with “Just do it.” For example, I don’t always look forward to my workout, but once I start, I find my flow.
- Link it to good feelings. Find a way to link things to good feelings. For example, play your favorite song when you’re doing something you don’t like to do. It has to be a song that makes you feel so great that it overshadows the pain of the task. It’s hard to tell yourself you don’t like something when it feels so good. A similar approach is to find your theme song.
- Impress yourself first. This is how people like Peter Jackson or James Cameron or Stephenie Meyer inspire themselves. They make the movies or write the books that impress themselves first. They connect their passion to the work and they don’t depend on other people setting the bar. Their internal bar becomes their drive.
- “CHOOSE” to. If you tell yourself you “HAVE” to do this or you “MUST” do that or you “SHOULD” do this, you can weaken your motivation. The power of choice and simply reframing your language to “CHOOSE” to can be incredibly empowering and exactly the motivating language you need to hear. Choose your words carefully and make them work for you.
- Pair up. This is one of my favorite ways to make something fun. One person’s painful task, is another’s pleasure. Pair up with somebody who compliments your skill or who can mentor you and get you over the humps.
- Change your question. Sometimes you need to change your focus. To change your focus, change the question. If you ask yourself what’s wrong with this situation, of course you’ll find things to complain about. Ask yourself what’s right about the situation and you can quickly find the positives and get your groove on.
- Fix time for eating, sleeping, and working out. Sometimes your body or emotions are working against you because you’re not giving them a break or fueling them the right way. One simple way to improve results here is to find a routine for eating, sleeping, and working out that supports you.
- Play to your strengths. Spending too much time in your weaknesses wears you down. Spending more time in your strengths helps you renew your energy and find your flow. It’s the place where you can grow your best. Success begets success and this helps you build momentum.
Now that you have some methods for motivation under your belt, let’s take a step back and understand why these work. By the time you finish this post, you’ll know how to tune and prune motivation techniques that work for you, as well as see right through reward systems that just don’t work.
Pain and Pleasure for Motivation
We move towards pleasure. We move away from pain. It’s that simple. We do more to avoid pain. Keep that in mind when you find it tough to change a habit. Change can often be temporary pain.
Masters of motivation skillfully associate pain and pleasure. Whether it’s the words they use, the thoughts they think, the images they visualize, or the actions they take … they stack up pain deliberately to move away from behaviors or habits that they don’t want anymore, and they stack up pleasure to help move them towards new behaviors that they do want, or to reinforce good habits.
Intellectual, Emotional, and Physical Motivation
Just thinking about pain and pleasure is a good start, but there’s more to it. This pain and pleasure motivational drives can be physical, emotional, or intellectual.
- Physical – When you touch something hot, you move quickly to get away from the pain. Physical pain and pleasure is quick, powerful, and obvious.
- Emotional – Some emotions are painful: sadness, shame, remorse, regret, guilt, anxiety, fear, horror. Some emotions feel good: joy, eagerness, zest, enthusiasm, happiness, ecstasy, euphoria.
- Intellectual – Thinking isn’t feeling, but your thinking influences how you feel. This is where your thoughts – your metaphors, experiences, and associations — can translate to pain or pleasure. The same experience can mean different things to different people. Are you full of fear or thrilled with fun as your roller coaster approaches the apex?
Your mind, body, and emotions play off each other. Your thoughts create your feelings. Similarly, your thoughts can react to how you feel. If you’re feeling anxious do you tell yourself something bad is going to happen or do you remind yourself you get the jitters on your second cup of coffee? When you recall a fond memory, you make your body feel good. If your body feels good, then your thoughts might say, hey, this is a good thing.
This is why sometimes you can’t think your way into something. For example, your mind wants one thing, but your body wants another. You tell yourself working out is good for you, but your body just doesn’t want the pain.
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation
This is one of the most important keys to understanding motivation. When you understand the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, you can inspire yourself with skill. Here’s what you need to know:
- Intrinsic motivation – Intrinsic is inside you. Your rewards are internalized. For example, intrinsic motivation would be doing something for the sake of feeling good or a sense of personal satisfaction. The reward might simply be a job well done. Intrinsic motivation would also be doing something because it connects to your values, such as adventure, or truth, or learning.
- Extrinsic motivation – Extrinsic is external. This is when your rewards are externalized, such as money or applause. You depend on external things and feedback to justify your actions.
One of the ways people lose their motivation is they get rewarded for something they already enjoy. They start to externalize their motivation. The key here is to shift to more intrinsic motivation and cut your dependencies on extrinsic motivation.
Carrots and Stick Motivation
One of my favorite lessons from Stephen Covey was about carrot and sticks, which Covey referred to as the Jackass Theory. Covey asked us what kind of supervisor do you need when you have a job that you are passionate about and is using your talents and you feel you are appreciated.
Covey’s point was that people are volunteers. You want them to contribute their greatest, unique contribution. While carrots and sticks can work for simple things, inspiration is a better model. Instead of extrinsic rewards, shift to internal drivers by connecting to your values and your purpose.
Work Happiness and Job Satisfaction
There’s actually a pretty simple frame for improving job satisfaction, but it’s not common knowledge. The following factors dramatically impact work satisfaction:
- Skill variety
- Task identity
- Task significance
What I like about this frame, aside from simplicity, is that I’ve found it to be true time and again. Whenever somebody is not enjoying their job, it can almost always be traced to one or more of these factors. You can find more on work happiness at Work Happy Now.com.
Where to Go From Here
We’ve covered a lot of ground. I’ve compacted and distilled a lot of precious lessons and insights that will help you master motivation for you and for others in any situation. While there are more details I could elaborate on, I want you to have a simple Cliffs Notes version that will serve you the rest of your life.
I do recommend supplementing yourself with the motivation chapter when you have time, as well as reading my related post on Discipline vs. Motivation. Sometimes knowing is way more than half the battle and when it comes to motivation, I find this is especially true.
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