What is Motivation?

Motivation is a curious thing. It seems to mean different things to different people, and these definitions vary widely in both the scope and scale. To some it seems that motivation covers everything including both Aspiration and Inspiration as well as motivation, to others, it’s just about offering recognition for progress made and encouragement to continue.

Even dictionary definitions vary.

Given the importance of motivation in achieving results, I wanted to share my thoughts on motivation, and what we need to do to get the best results possible.

The definition of motivation that I like best is the following one from the business dictionary.

Internal and external factors that stimulate desire and energy in people to be continually interested and committed to a job, role or subject, or to make an effort to attain a goal.  Motivation results from the interaction of both conscious and unconscious factors such as the (1) intensity of desire or need, (2) incentive or reward value of the goal, and (3) expectations of the individual and of his or her peers. Read more here.

I created this image because I think its important for us to see the components and to understand their contribution, and as a picture paints a thousand words I personally found this very helpful.

What is motivation

What I like about this diagram is that it shows that whilst rewards, incentives, and encouragements are important, they are only one-third of the equation.

If there is no desire, then no amount of reward is going to create enough motivation for us to be successful, and the probability is we just will not start, we won’t do it as we have no interest.

If the expectation is that we will fail, then again, whilst a big incentive might get us to start as soon as we start to struggle we will probably look to quit as we lack the confidence that we are going to be successful, and confidence and belief are crucial in order for us to be successful.

Which means that in order to truly motivate ourselves, our teams, or our companies we need to work on all three components.

  • We need to work on building the desire and need.
    Sometimes we can do that by attaching other things to a task or goal.  Before I ran my first marathon I had no desire to run one. I had been asked a hundred times and each time I said no, I had no interest in it. But when I found that 7 of my friends were going through chemotherapy I wanted to do something, and I decided I would look to raise money for charity by running a marathon. That gave me the motivation to start and keep going when things were tough because I had a strong sense of purpose.
  • We need to show a high probability of success
    The best way I have found to do this is to come up with a simple plan, one that we can believe in, one that shows us how we will be successful. In my experience people are not afraid of hard work, they are afraid of failure. So if we can show how success can be achieved it will definitely motivate people to start and give them belief.
    As an example, I helped someone write a book in 6 weeks by showing them that if they just wrote a 1000 words a day, in 40 days you would have a 40,000-word first draft completed.
    They knew they could easily write a 1000 words in a day, they just hadn’t joined the dots to see that if they did that for 6 weeks then they would have the first version of the book ready.  Now they could see how they would be successful, they became excited and dived right in.
  • We need to have a reward for achieving the goal
    When it comes to rewards it doesn’t have to be money, it can be just recognition. One of our basic needs is to feel valued and receive recognition for a job well done. However, I will say, getting a bonus for achieving a goal does always feel very nice.
    It also shows the value that someone puts on the achievement.

All three components are needed to create maximum motivation, but building desire and belief are difficult, it can take a lot of time and energy, whereas offering bigger and bigger incentives is a quick and easy path to go down, but in reality its never going to be as effective.

If I could only focus on one element, then I would focus on showing the probability of success rather than offering more cash, because, for me, belief is the single biggest predictor of success.

However, for the best result, we need all 3 components.