What Is Motivation?

February 17, 2017By
Looking Over Skyline

How does motivation affect your life?

Motivation is an interesting aspect of human life.

Go on any business blog and you’ll probably see some tips on staying motivated.

Heck, I’ve written blog posts on staying motivated in the business world and in life.

The tips on those business blogs are often great and actionable. I hope the ones that I’ve written have also been helpful.

Those tips are great, but recently I was thinking about what motivation is and how it affects us. Why do we lose motivation at some moments while seemingly getting it at others.

I wanted to dig a little deeper…

The Definition

Here is a good definition of Motivation:

The reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.

This is another good one:

The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

The first one is interesting because it implies that we need a reason to be motivated. The second takes another route by just proposing that people have a general desire or willingness to do something.

Both are probably true depending on the person and their motivations.

And both affect the way we live and work and the way we interact with others. They affect the way we lead others.

Motivation People

Motivating people is not easy. We’re starting to see that it’s incredibly difficult to motivate people. Even with monetary incentives, it’s a challenge to motivate people. Most incentives backfire.

There is the classic story about a parent asking a child to pick weeds in the front yard for pennies. The child quickly realizes that if they pick just the tops that the weeds will continue to grow and the money will keep flowing.

As humans, it seems that we like to be in control. We like to know what we’re doing and we attempt to control, in various ways, what others around us are doing.

We tell people what they should do. We tell them how they should live. There is a lot of unsolicited advice floating around in our world.

And we don’t like it.

The reality is that we can’t control what others do. We can try. Some try very hard. But in the long-term it just doesn’t seem to work.

Autonomy is one of the basic principles of life it seems. Humans like their freedom from control. We don’t like others telling us what to do.

Short-Term Motivation

It does seem that short-term motivation can achieve short-term success.

Let’s say that you really want to hit your sales numbers this year. There are just a few months left and you need a way to push through.

So you offer an incentive or you figure out a way to motivate your team to push a little harder with the promise that once the goal is achieved that things will go back to normal or the way they were.

That can work in business. It seems to work in sports. It works in many ways.

But over the long-term those incentives rarely work. People always fall back on autonomy and what they are motivated to do.

Reaching Our Highest Potential

Some argue that one of the principles of human nature is for each individual to reach their highest potential.

Along with survival, it seems that we have an instinct to become the best possible version of ourselves.

As children, we come into this world with motivation to learn. We see things for the first time. We want to know what they are and how they work and how they affect us.

Even as we get older we seek knowledge. We seek to learn about ourselves and the world around us. We read. We watch. We ask questions of elders.

But this instinct seems like it can be deterred.

I remember graduating high school and having the feeling that I was done with school. It seemed like all the learning was over and that I was ready for the real world.

Obviously that’s not the case. Learning is something that happens throughout life.

Like plants, humans are either growing or wilting. Learning is growing for humans and if we’re not learning we’re wilting away or dying.

Final Thought

It seems that motivation is very tricky. It’s something that’s deeply imbedded in each of us. We’re all different, but also the same.

We mostly want to grow and become the best person we can be, but that can mean different things to different people. We don’t often want to be told what our best self is. We want to figure that out for ourselves. We want to try new things. We want to do what we want to do.

That obviously makes it challenging for leaders to motivate others to do something.

It seems that a key with motivation is to connect with others that have similar internal motivations as ourselves. You might be able to add people to the team and motivate them with short-term incentives. But in the long-term that can backfire and cause issues.

It’s obviously a challenge to find others that share the same motivations, but that’s probably a key to successful teams and businesses.