Motivation and Technique


image“A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms.” – Zen Shin

One of my mentors gave me a simple, but effective lens for analyzing effectiveness.

Ask the question, ” Is it motivation or technique?

Motivation is whether you want to do something.  Technique is your method.

When you’re not achieving the results you want, you can ask whether it’s a motivation issue or a problem with the technique.  By knowing the issue, you can improve your results.

Is it the Wrong Technique or a Lack of Motivation?

Here are examples of two ineffective scenarios:

  1. You have lots of motivation, but the wrong technique.
  2. You have the right technique, but lack motivation.

If you have motivation, but no technique, you end up spinning your wheels.  You waste time doing something that’s ineffective.  Eventually, you’ll run out of steam.

If you know that the technique is the issue, then you can adjust your technique or explore additional techniques.

If you have no motivation, but you have the right technique, your results will be limited.

Knowing and doing are two separate things.

Do You Really Want to Do It?

For example, you might know what to do, but you won’t do it, or you won’t do it well.  You’ll drag your feet or you’ll go through the motions, but your heart won’t be in it.

A simple cutting question is, “Do you want to do it?”.  Sometimes you might surprise yourself.  You might find you actually don’t want to do something, even when you thought you did.

Identify Why You are Stuck So You can Move On

The sooner you know why you’re stuck, you can either switch gears or switch techniques.  You can also use this lens when you’re analyzing the behavior of others … “Do they want to do it?” … “Do they know how?”

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  1. Too true JD. Even someone with a whole bag full of enthusiasm won’t accomplish much without the right technique to back it up.

  2. Hi J.D. I think this can work specially well when you feel trapped by a project. If the issues primarily lie on the motivation side it may be that you need to extricate yourself from the project (or job) as a whole and do so quickly.

    Your last sentence caught me by surprise and changed the flavor of the entire post for me. Understanding the difference between those two issues when dealing with someone who seems to be difficult can keep you from making huge mistakes in your dealings with them. I’ve often found when groups break down there tends to be a large assumption that the ‘other guy’ doesn’t get it or is stupid. More often there was no reason for the ‘other guy’ to care (or you didn’t care about what was important to the ‘other guy.’ Same result).

  3. What happens alot, for me anyway, is that the first scenario kind of winds down into the second scenario. For example, I start out with a ton of motivation but not knowing HOW (spinning the wheels, as you’ve said). I learn everything I can but by then, I’m burnt out. I have the technique, but I’m no longer interested. It often feels like the planets have to be aligned for things to happen, lol. I’d guess that alot people do get stuck in that cycle.

    Because of that, I don’t think it’s effective to put so much focus on being motivated, since motivation will wax and wane. I think self-discipline is far, far more important.

  4. Great distillation and very practical.
    Now i can easily reflect on what happens to me.
    For situations i am doing dull stuff (no motivation) i seem to have good technique (usually) otherwise i just stop doing it, but when it is mandatory i first look for ways to make it very fast through it (technique)

    For situations where i have motivation i often lack technique and then get disappointed by results, on other hand when i have the right technique doing motivation … heaven 😉

    What a punchy post! Resonated w/me tons. Insight at its best.

  5. JD, after months of reading your work, I am learning. I’m dealing with a situation which is cogent to this post. Though I didn’t articulate my approach as eloquently as you, I have applied this concept: “The sooner you know why you’re stuck, you can either switch gears or switch techniques.”

    Thanks for the validation.

  6. Ah! this distinction is so important. Without motivation, everything just feels like a drag. And motivation with wrong technique will never get you ‘there’. In fact, the faster you go, the farther you will get from success since you are headed in the wrong direction.

    Sometimes, motivation is high for technique which is comparatively less effective from group of right techniques. Do you still switch to the most effective one, or stay with the one which gives you most motivation (in hopes that you can set off the difference by working hard – happily)?

  7. Hi J.D,

    Great article. Motivation and technique are both needed in order to get the results. Lacking in either one will cause us to be stuck in the same place. I had a great read and thanks for sharing.


  8. I imagine technique needs to be assessed and upgraded more than motivation, but I could be wrong — if you possess great technique in something but are only going through the motions, you’d be best off switching activities completely, or getting to the next level of technique if the activity still interests you.

    I suppose if you are lacking in both motivation AND technique you will be barking up the wrong tree, resulting in robotic or zombie behavior. And that can’t be good.

  9. Hi JD .. good points .. sometimes also people are in a bind .. ie they know where they want to go, but are ‘overwhelmed’ or just have too much to do – I feel that way now …

    but I know if I keep going, one step or one tick off the list .. all will be accomplished, not today may be .. but sooner than just wilting under the mix. The clearing will come.

    Thanks – they are good points .. work some specifics, then work some more specifics, and the project will come to fruition ..

    All the best Hilary Melton-Butcher
    Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

  10. @Hilary: I empathize. Far be it from me to channel J.D., yet…I re-read something this week that was epiphanous. Though I’d read Zen of Results a half-dozen times, it’s as if I’d never before seen something. On the third page he relates an anecdote which sets up the rest of the book. It reads in part:

    A Short Story –“Deliver Incremental Value”
    …When I glanced into my rear-view mirror, I thought about our enormous backlog. It felt like a great weight…It was at that moment that I realized what bothered me most about our backlog. It wasn’t the backlog itself. It was the mindset…The problem with a backlog is rot. What if, instead, we viewed it as an input stream, but we actively triage delivering value each day? My colleague’s eyes lit up. The light-bulbs went off.
    …The mindset was the key. We were once again in control of our results.
    …Think in value delivered over backlog burn-down!

    Holy correlated wait stats! “Think of the backlog as an input stream.” What a magnificent way to re-frame the challenge, eh? There’s much more cogent to your post:

  11. Certainly an important distinction. To speak to Valerie’s comment about the stars being aligned and movitation.

    Knowing where your motivation comes from can help you generate it for example. Tools for this are
    1. What questions are you asking yourself?
    2. what are you focusing on?
    3. What’s the end vision and do you emotionally connect with it?

    Controlled and generated motivation is about finding that fire and then flowing it into what you are doing. Discipline gets you through the times when you can’t connect with that, but it takes energy rather than generating or sourcing it.

    I found that when I lack movitivation asking myself “How can I make this enjoyable?” leads to many more answers. There are a host of other questions as well. Usually that’s about tying things back into my purpose, mission, values, or individual needs. This presuposes that you know a little about these things, which is why they are important to have in the first place. They help with motivation and direction.

    The questions change your focus. When you are focusing on an end vision that jazzes you, then motivation is not an issue.

    For example, I used to be responsible for organizing the Microsoft Knowledge Base in the 1990s. That was a lot of busy work taking products and terms and normalizing them so they were consistent.

    I have a central need to help people. When I thought about doing it for myself, I lost energy. Why bother? I know where eveything is. It’s just messy. But when I thought about customers and how much trouble they would have finding things and then tied that into my own feeling of frustration when not being able to find things, it generated a lot of energy. I was fixing it for “them”, which for me was motivating. My focus on the frustration was energy which I then urned into motivation.

    Plus, I have needs to be intense and to organize things so even if the end result was off, I was living those needs.

    So coming from the purpose of helping other people and putting that through my needs for intesity and organization, I created a lot of fire for a long time. And I can still connect with it when needed. It’s what drives me to write book and technical documentation even today.

    I working on this for my own blog now actually. rediscovering this movtivation so it doesn’t take constant discpline to accomplish it. When I started thinking about it, I’ve not been very motivated. But over time, I’ve been changing my focus and that’s making a big difference.


  12. Hi JD,

    My immediate reaction upon reading this post is that I rather be in the position of having the right motivation and the wrong technique. It is easy to learn technique but motivation is something that is harder to get, at least in my mind.

    To be filled with a passion to do something is far more rare than we think. Otherwise, we would see a lot more happy people in the world.

  13. JD
    I get so excited about ideas that come my way and I just latch on, but often do not have the right techniques to transform my enthusiasm into results.

    I can see all the yelling about health care reform in the USA is mostly about promoting defeat and blurring the real…but shouting back only makes me hoarse and no one hears me…

    I can not ignore it as I want people to understand my/our situation and the costs and the research I have done.

    I want others to stop lying – I need honestly

    I lack good technique when I am too fervent in my motivation. Even my hands shake and I can hardly think…

    Another great post Thank you

  14. @ Louisa

    There have been some things I spun wheels on where in retrospect I should have found the right mentor.

    @ Fred

    I do see motivation often as an issue when dealing with other people. Shared goals or shared values can go a long way, just like conflicting goals can obviously get in the way.

    @ Valerie

    I used to underestimate self-discipline. I have a new respect for it. There can often be a difference between what you want to do and what’s the right thing for you to do.

    @ Alik

    Thank you. I agree, there is a sweet spot when motivation and technique come together.

    @ Positively Present

    Thank you. It’s one of the frames I use a lot in my day to day.

    @ Jimmy

    I think you honed right in on the key point. It really is about using the lens to know when to switch.

    @ Avani

    Great question. I’m a fan of process over product (even though I’m very results-oriented.) I’ll tend to pick the tecnique that’s more motivating, unless I’m really optimizing for efficiency.

    @ Vincent

    Thank you. Precisely. Motivation and technique are key to results.

    @ Jannie

    I like your thought process. Really good point on switching activities if you just don’t have the motivation.

    @ Hilary

    You’re right, sometimes slow and steady wins the race. Sometimes the technique itself of ticking off progress is part of our motivation.

    @ Rob

    I like your story and examples. I think asking “how can I make this enjoyable?” is very helpful, as well as connecting it to your values, such as helping other people.

    @ Nadia

    I like your precision. I do think there’s a high correlation to living your passion and happiness.

    @ Patricia

    Thank you. It can be frustrating when you want to make things happen, but you don’t have the right techniques. Part of what’s helped me is expanding my network. while I can figure out a lot on my own, I finding pairing up can often make things more fun.

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  17. hi jd i read some of your posts i liked reading most of them .
    coming to the concept of “motivation +technique” i think it definitely helps one when stuck in an issue the change in perspective helps us to get on track or see the opportunities which lie camouflaged in front of us,which could be easily picked up otherwise with change in perception.
    avani mehta told is true
    we often stick to the technique thats more comfortable for us to do.
    here is where we should make radical shift from pot pleasure oriented technique to result oriented technique rot,the main issue i think is making the result oriented technique pleasurable ,what means to be done for that bob has explained it in clear terms

    great post jd

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