There are almost as many theories of what motivates us humans as there are stars in the sky. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. However, look at the Wikipedia article on Motivation to get a small glimpse into the world of motivation theories.
I’ve read a bunch of them, and I find few of them memorable or useful. I think David McClelland’s popular theory is a little disheartening. He states that we are motivated by a need for power, affiliation, and achievement. Those don’t feel motivating to me, but maybe I am not in touch with my inner power-hungry self.
The theory that I like best is Dan Pink’s in the book Drive. He states that we can foster intrinsic motivation through autonomy, mastery, and purpose. These are simple and make sense to me.
Let’s start with autonomy. We all like to do things our own way. I use a cool demonstration with a dog leash to illustrate how much more we struggle against authority when the leash is short and we aren’t given a lot of freedom. It’s not any fun to follow someone else’s procedure to the letter.
I, for one, like to be able to show some creativity that plays to my own strengths and interests. Otherwise, I feel like a robot. Henry Ford did not understand this concept. He asked, “Why is it every time I ask for a pair of hands, they come with a brain attached?” Not. Interested. If you want to motivate me, you let me engage my brain and my hands.
I totally get mastery. When I take on a new task or action, I will do it over and over again until I have mastered it. The rhesus monkeys in Harlow’s experiment that we discussed last week are a good example. I still have the wooden Soma cube that I spent hours figuring out as a child. Every now and then, I will pull it apart and put it back together just because I can and want to. I have mastered it, and it feels good to solve it.
The final piece is purpose. It’s a big one! We started out the year setting goals and finding our Big Why as described by Simon Sinek in his book Start with Why. I have published a blog every week this year because I have a sense of purpose in creating and completing them. My granddaughter is one year old. I will be long gone before she is old enough to be interested in the concepts that I teach and discuss.
That thought saddens me because I know how useful leadership concepts are in creating positive relationships and a successful and peace-filled life. I desperately want her to have this information. The only way I see it happening is if I take everything that is in my head and put it on paper. This year is a sort of love letter to my granddaughter, any future grandchildren, and to you! It feels like a legacy – which is very motivating.
When trying to get someone else to do something, it’s a good idea to create autonomy, mastery, and purpose for the person doing the task or action. What can you do to give someone more control over the task? Does the thing have to be done a certain way, or is there some wiggle room for the person to do it his or her own way? Does the person have the opportunity to master the task? Is the purpose of the task clear to the person performing it? We can help others by creating Pink’s three conditions as often and as much as possible.
It’s also worth using Pink’s three motivating conditions to evaluate our own lives. Can you use one or more of them to motivate yourself? If you aren’t motivated to do something, why are you doing it? I don’t mean that in a “you should stop doing it” sense, although that could be the answer. However, many times we must get through something hard to reach an ultimate goal. We can find ways to motivate ourselves using autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Purpose is always the ultimate motivator for me. If I can find a way that an action helps me to achieve my goals, then I can power through it.
We can make life easier if we are willing to create a motivating environment by fostering autonomy, mastery, and purpose for ourselves and others.
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