What motivates you? There are thousands of possible answers, but two characteristics sum up what doesn’t motivate us: the promise of rewards and the threat of punishment—or the consequence of not completing a task.
Rewards actually force us to view work in a limited way, and offering incentives constrains our perception and ability to produce anything. In a TED Talks presentation, lawyer Dan Pink illustrates the problem with a test involving a candle, matches, and a box of office studs: divided into two groups, volunteers were to figure out how to light the candle without spilling wax on the table. The researchers offered money as a reward to one of the groups if they were able to solve the problem.
The solution—much more easily found by the group that would not receive the payment—was to empty the box and fasten it to the wall with the tacks, serving as a support for the candle. The money-driven group took longer to complete the task and, as the researchers noted, had difficulty finding creative solutions.
To avoid falling into traps like this, you can rely on little psychology tricks and boost your motivation. Know-how:
Watch your progress
A system created in the 1950s by management consultant Peter Drucker suggests that we must set concrete goals to achieve personal growth, an important motivating factor.
Give up generic goals like “being a moral person” or “spending more time with the family”. Drucker’s theory, also known as SMART, is a way to help you manage goals and brings together five concepts that serve as a guide:
– Specific: separate very direct and detailed goals to be able to fulfill them;
– Measurable: “quantify” your performance and try to analyze how much progress was actually made after the activities;
– Achievable: do not set unrealistic goals. Choose challenging goals, but close to your reality;
– Realistic: Realistic goals consider and recognize unforeseen events and things that cannot be controlled along the way. Keep this in mind;
– Timeout: don’t forget to define how long you want to complete the objective and try to keep the tasks according to the chosen date.
Consider learning one of your main goals
By investing in our personal growth, we gain knowledge in certain subjects, and mastering a tool or system is also often very motivating. Entrepreneur and author Seth Godin suggest that, before we even begin this process, we should ask ourselves “ what will I learn by doing this? ” Try to delimit three learning possibilities and focus on learning them all the way through.
Analyze your habits — and your life
Alan Webber, the founder of the business magazine Fast Company, leaves two lists in his pocket: one lists reasons to get out of bed, and the other lists reasons to stay up at night. Lists are another motivator and serve to track your goals. If your responses are not so positive, you need to reassess your motivations. When you get out of bed wanting to do chores and go to sleep dreaming of new projects and ideas, chances are you’re on the right track.
Don’t mix work with reward
Procrastinating is especially tricky because, by putting off a task, we also deprive ourselves of the satisfaction we could get by finally completing it. This ends up creating the idea that certain jobs are undesirable and we often determine our own rewards to be able to continue until the end: a visit to the mall or an afternoon at the pool, for example.
In the book The Now Habit ( unpublished in Brazil), Neil Fiore has a more efficient solution to end procrastination: when starting a job, change the expression “I have to” for something like “I choose to do this”. Jobs that we choose to do? The idea turns tasks into something more positive, almost like a hobby, and doesn’t “trick” your brain with rewards that only serve to postpone the work itself.
Apply the three elements of motivation according to psychology
Psychologists have identified three essential concepts for personal motivation: autonomy, value, and competence.
In a University of Rochester study, Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan argue that we gain more motivation when we feel “in charge.” After research, they noticed that the perception of autonomy also generates enough energy for individuals to pursue their goals.
When we stay close to personal values and beliefs, we can also keep motivation high. In a test at the University of Virginia, researchers described an intervention made among high school students: one group had to write about how science related to their routine and the other was only supposed to summarize what they learned throughout the semester. The members of the first group had a significant increase in grades and showed greater interest in classes. In other words, understanding the importance of activity in your routine is already an incentive to increase your motivation.
And the last factor, competence, was observed in several studies by Carol S. Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University: she concluded that competence arises when we recognize the basis of our achievements. In their surveys, those who considered talent more important than “hard work” were more likely to give up on their goals. Believing in the potential of persistence and effort, therefore, helps to stay focused.