Can we motivate people?

The word motivation comes from the Latin ”movare” and means “moving. Moving from A to B, like an arrow or a vector with two components, a certain direction and a certain force or duration.

The direction shows us what you are motivate to, and the force shows us how much you are motivated for.

People are seldom completely motivated or totally unmotivated as a whole. One might display less motivation for work, but at the same time being very motivated for hobbies.

Our prime and strong motivators are well known: sex, money of material possessions, power and status. Even if we tend to deny they are. In average we strongly adapt our behavior to gain one of these or avoid the loss of these motivators.

There are 4 ways of how people display behavior, by  coercion, considered to be the lowest level of motivation. As a matter of fact people aren’t really motivated at all, to perform the task in the first place.  Often the person has little of no choice but display a certain behavior, think about slavery or force labor e.g. in prison.

Extrinsic motivation: motivating people to perform a task, by a reward, or the prospect of it, be it material gain, bonus, promotion, a medal, or praise. This is a strong motivator, but there are two problems:

1. people stop displaying the behavior as soon as the reward is  no longer there.

2. people quickly adapt to a certain level of reward and want a stronger reward next time in order to display the same behavior. No adequate reward, no behavior.

Intrinsic motivation: the behavior which people display without having to be rewarded extrinsically, things they do for fun, for themselves, things they enjoy. Of course this kind of motivation is more powerful and people who are intrinsically motivated tend to display it more frequently since they are not dependent on the presence of a reward or the prospect of it.

Inspiration: generally seen as the highest form of motivation. People will display a certain behavior even if they have to pay a price for that. Inspiration of comes from a person they admire or respect, a value, or an event that changes their thinking into the direction of the behavior.

Many people like to listen to motivational speakers or read motivational books. Often these only give a temporary motivational boost and people fall back in their old behavioral pattern after a few days or weeks. Let’s face it: if you go to listen to motivational speaker or read a motivational book, you weren’t intrinsically motivated to start with, because this is extrinsic motivation.

Now I have heard many athletes stating how motivated they are, but it the end, I tend not to listen to their words, but rather observe their behavior and watch their actions instead. Often I spot is a discrepancy here. Being motivated is about what you do, not about what you say.

Myself, I spend little time motivating people, in the long term is has to come if you want to succeed, it has to come from the inside.

For more reading on this topic:

Maslow, A.H: A Theory of Human Motivation.

Higgins, E.T: Beyond pleasure and pain – how motivation works.

Laming, D: Understanding Human Motivation – What Makes People Tick?

Hayden, J: The Motivation Myth.

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