Where Motivation Comes From

Where Motivation Comes From

Theme suggested by Renyung Ho, Terrific Mentor

What motivates us is a wish, desire or need to be happy. Few people know what makes them happy although those who have learnt from life’s experiences understand that it is not only the superficial and material things we mostly aspire to when young. These things are important for physical and moral comfort and for the avoidance of discomfort and pain. In a sense they are the negative motivators. Without some basic material security we enjoy life less than we might. Without food we could starve; without adequate shelter we might get physically sick; without a living wage we are deprived of job satisfaction.

The irony is that happiness is like a butterfly. Chase it and you won’t catch it; sit still and it may alight on you for a while. Lasting happiness is achieved only by consistently giving to others. It doesn’t mean you don’t take from them too, but your giving needs to exceed your receiving. Mentors know that people who devote more than 60% of their lives to the interests and welfare of others are generally happy; those who devote more than 40% of their lives to themselves are generally not. More for others invariably brings greater happiness.

If most people never reach this simple but elusive conclusion what motivates them in their daily lives? We strive to achieve things because we want to, probably because the consequences will be in some way rewarding, or because we are frightened of not achieving them. But what makes us want to achieve?

Some or all of the drivers already within us or planted in us by other people. The most basic are desire and fear. Desire can be physical – to achieve sexual contact or acquire money or goods we want or (think we) need. It can be emotional – to obtain love or self-esteem or confidence we don’t (think we) have. It can be selfish, like all of these, or it can be altruistic, for the benefit of others, although most altruism has an element of self-reward. Nothing wrong with that. Our selfish instincts are there for survival. They are only wrong when they deprive others more than is reasonable. ‘Reasonable’ is a figure changing all the time.

To be motivated we need to know our purpose. Childhood provides us with many purposes – to be successful in the eyes of others, to fulfil a set of moral and ethical standards we have been taught are desirable for society, to “be the best we can”. These ‘apple-pie’ objectives are useful but generally don’t last beyond the age of about twenty-five. Some ideals will stick and there are high-minded people of all ages but the business of living is inevitably a little corrupting and a certain healthy cynicism about the world’s declared standards is essential if we are not to be tripped up by con-artists and mountebanks.

Purpose remains important if we are to be motivated. Doing things pointlessly is not going to make us happy. Odd that job descriptions rarely include the purpose of the business, the department or the job itself. When they do they ignore all but the most financially-based objectives. Compared with the business’s vision they look almost contradictory.

Once a clear purpose is established the powerful motivators of learning, encouragement and achievement can be used to spur progress towards the destination. These are what successfully motivate people. Fear of failure, job loss, humiliation, deprivation, work for a time but quickly become counter-productive. They are used more today than they were fifty years ago. The consequence is that very few people persevere in a job, life-long service is derided, loyalty is thought weakness and happiness at work is sadly rare.

In such a climate self-motivation becomes difficult. That is why we should teach everyone the Alf Tuck story. Mr Tuck was a professional roof thatcher in Dorset, England. When I asked him – several times – if anyone other than he knew what a magnificent job he had done re-thatching our house in 1946 he replied “It doesn’t matter. I know it.”

I have found doing something to the best of my ability to be the greatest motivator in my own life. If you want to read the Alf Tuck story please ask for it.

How wonderful if it could become your motivator, too.