Exploding the myths of motivation


Perhaps you've accused someone of lacking motivation, or maybe you've heard someone else use that phrase. The problem is it's bad psychology: People do not lack motivation. So if we're ever going to help people who are perceived to be lacking in motivation, we'll need to explode this old myth.

Allow me to elaborate. The word motivation literally means "a reason to move," and pretty much every move we make has a reason behind it. We eat when we're hungry. We drink when we're thirsty. Hunger and thirst are basic motivations for everyone. They are reasons to move.

So what's going on when we know we're supposed to act, but we don't? For example's sake, let's consider an outside sales rep who finds it hard to make cold calls. This person does not lack motivation to cold call - she knows she needs sales or she'll starve. Therefore, she certainly has motivation.

But if her sales manager adheres to the myth that she's not motivated, he'll probably try all sorts of methods to increase her motivation. These techniques may work, but only short term. Moreover, these methods usually result in job burn-out.

Let's explode the motivation myth with the help of a word picture. Let's equate motivation with a tire. It's a certain size that seems to fit our sales rep, and it moves her along in the direction she wants to go; In this case, making sales.

But when our sales rep turns to go down "Cold Call" lane, she encounters a rather large obstacle that the tire won't go over, and she stops.

Her boss sees she's not moving, so he sends her to an exciting workshop where she learns to "pump up" her motivation. The next day she's very enthusiastic and pumps up her tire so huge she makes it over the obstacle with no problem, and she continues down Cold Call lane. This makes everyone happy.

But the enthusiasm from her workshop lasts only a few days, and by the end of the week all the extra air has leaked out of her tire and its back to its normal size.

Unfortunately, the obstacle on Cold Call lane is still there.

On Monday she tries pumping up her tire, but the excitement from the workshop is gone. She's back to her normal self. Frustrated, her boss tells her she lacks motivation. He even thinks about letting her go.

Perhaps this sounds familiar, but I have a question: Why should anyone waste their energy artificially inflating their motivation day after day?

The energy it takes to pump up one's motivation to unnatural levels would get a much better return on investment if it were used elsewhere.

The good thing we can explode this motivation myth and find a better alternative.

Going back to our analogy, if our sales rep were to figure out how to remove the obstacle in her way, her natural level of motivation would be more than sufficient to get her down that road. (Wouldn't it be great if her boss saw it that way, too?) Again, people are not held back by a lack of motivation, but by the presence of obstacles.

In reality, most obstacles we face are within us. Many are fear-based, and for that reason we don't enjoy facing them. After all, we don't often like admitting we have a fear.

It was for this reason that Dennis R. Rader and I wrote the book Living Toad Free. In that book we used a Toad as a metaphor for an obstacle. This has huge psychological advantages. First, we're bigger than Toads. That gives us an edge right off the bat.

Second, by looking at any internal obstacle as an external Toad, we gain a clearer perspective of what might be done to remove it. Something like a fear inside of us is intangible and has no borders, so we don't know how to get our mind around it, let alone our hands. But if we view fear as a Toad, we not only separate ourselves from it but we can see ways to get past it.

Bottom line: Everyone has motivation - their own reasons for moving. What slows people down or stops them altogether is not lack of motivation, but the presence of obstacles. Rather than waste energy artificially inflating their motivation, people do much better if they identify the obstacles and figure out how to get rid of them.

And it's perfectly okay to ask for help. Especially if you find some really big Toads.

This is adapted from Dan's forthcoming book, Exploding the Myths of Motivation, available here soon

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.