Motivation can be measured by this equation: “EXPECTANCY x VALUE / IMPULSIVENESS x DELAY”. Increasing either or both of the 1st two factors and / or decreasing either or both of the 2nd two, increases motivation. Motivation is higher for goals that are rewarding for the pursuit than for those where the reward comes at the completion of the goal.
A Failure At Goal Setting
Has this ever happened for you? You decide you want to make a change, so you set a goal. Perhaps you wanted to improve your diet and eat healthier. Or you wanted to lose weight. Maybe you wanted to pay down your debt and start a savings fund. Or you had some other goal that was important to you.
I have chosen those goals and others at different times. But, I’m sorry to say, things didn’t always work out the way I planned. Sometimes, I began working on a goal right away. However, in the back of my mind, I seriously doubted that I’d ever reach it.
At other times, I started working on the steps to a goal and I was sure I could achieve it. But when I examined it more closely, I saw that it wasn’t that important to me after all. I realized that I only chose it because it sounded good or because someone I loved or admired suggested it.
Sometimes this happened. I selected a goal that I was fired up about, something I truly wanted to achieve. It was a stretch, but I knew I could make it with enough effort. However, somehow I couldn’t get started. I was unclear on what to do first. More frequently, I let other matters distract me and keep me from beginning. Eventually, I forgot about my dream altogether.
Why You Need Motivation
Have you had any experiences similar to mine? If so, a major issue for both of us is motivation . . . either getting motivated to begin a goal or staying motivated to keep going when things get hard. To start and stick with a goal requires motivation.
Fortunately, research in goal-setting suggests some things we can do to improve our motivation to achieve our BIG goals.
Motivation = Reasons For Action
To understand motivation, it helps to know the root word, motive. Motive means “a reason for action.” It’s the “why” we do what we do (or don’t do). Psychologist Robert Biswas-Diener tells us that our “ultimate success is not just a matter of what we want, but why we want it.” [Biswas-Diener]
If we have clear reasons for pursuing a goal, motivation is high. If we are unclear, motivation is low. [Burchard]
Intrinsic Or Extrinsic Motivation?
Research in positive psychology points to two types of motivation – intrinsic and extrinsic. One is inherently satisfying and leads to a larger payoff in terms of positivity and well being. The other has been shown to be frequently accompanied by anxiety and interpersonal problems.
Intrinsic motivation “is internal and driven by your own interest or enjoyment.” [Grenville-Cleave] You do it because you enjoy it or the activity is rewarding in itself.
Extrinsic motivation “is external . . . driven by external incentives and disincentives”. [Grenville-Cleave] You do it because you’ll be rewarded (in some way) when you’ve reached the goal or punished if you don’t make it.
Bridget Grenville-Cleave in her book, Positive Psychology, lists a number of benefits of self-motivated, that is, intrinsically motivated, goals.
- greater confidence
- improved vitality
- more interest
- enhanced performance
- increased persistence
- greater creativity
- higher self-esteem
- increased general well-being
This means you are far more likely to strive for a goal if it involves activities that you find rewarding, rather than working solely for some future outcome. You are motivated.
A Tool For Amplifying Motivation – The Procrastination Equation
Piers Steel, one of the world’s leading researchers on the science of motivation and, specifically, procrastination, has developed an equation using “the most deeply researched elements of social sciences’ strongest motivation theories” [Steel] to determine why we procrastinate. It goes like this: “Expectancy x Value / Impulsiveness X Delay”. [Steel]
We can use this tool to eliminate or at least decrease procrastination. We do so by increasing our motivation. You improve motivation (and minimize procrastination) if you can increase either or both of the first two factors: Expectancy – that is, how confident you are that you can achieve the goal – and Value – how much you really want it.
At the same time, you can increase your motivation by decreasing one or both of the second factors: Impulsiveness – your tendency to jump from one distraction to another – and delay – having no deadline or having a deadline too far in the future.
If you really want to stoke your motivation, work on all four at the same time – increasing confidence and desire while decreasing any impulsiveness and delaying tactics.
Putting It All Together
When you combine intrinsically motivated goals with the Procrastination Equation, you have a formula for expanding motivation.
Choose goals that you find rewarding for their own sake, not to achieve some external reward. If you clean the house because you are expecting your in-laws and don’t want them to get a bad impression, you are externally motivated. But if you clean the house because you like having a tidy house, that is internal motivation. If you train for a race because you want to win first place, you are externally motivated. If you train for a race because you like how you feel after a training session, you are internally motivated.
Often, we use externally motivated goals as a way to get “what we really want”, more than as a desire for a specific outcome. Robert Biswas-Diener & Ben Dean suggest we follow the “goal chain” by examining “your reasons for wanting the extrinsic goals to find out what you want at a fundamental level.” [Biswas-Diener]
Let’s say your goal is “to get a better job”. Why do you want a better job? “So I have more free time.” Why do you want more free time? “So I can learn to play the guitar.” There is your intrinsic motivation — to learn to play the guitar. Set that as your goal, then.
Minimize Delay And Impulsiveness
A good way to minimize delay is to set a clear, short deadline. If you want to learn to play the guitar, you’ll have to practice. Set your 1st practice session today or tomorrow (presuming you have a guitar). To avoid impulsiveness, determine when you’ll practice. “I’ll practice each day at 3:00 PM” or whatever time you decide.
It’s also a great idea to put your guitar out where you’ll see it and it’s easy to get to. [Achor]
Maximize Confidence And Desire
Why do you want to play the guitar? So you can be the hit at parties? To enjoy singing with the family? To experience the gratification of learning a new skill?
The more positive reasons you can come up with for learning how to play, the more likely you are to succeed. Your reasons increase the value part of the equation and help fuel your desire. Make a list of all the reasons you want to achieve your particular goal and keep adding to it as you come up with others.
OK, you have this burning desire but how confident are you that you can reach your goal? Remember almost anything is achievable if you break it down into small enough steps. Perhaps you set a mini-goal to learn one chord. Or to call a potential teacher. Or to join a class. Don’t focus on the long-range goal of playing the guitar. Focus on what you can do right now. As you take these small steps, your confidence and your motivation grow.
Choose The Right Goals For You
Think about your BIG goal . . . the one you are working on (or NOT working on) right now. How’s your motivation? If you are not advancing on it as you want to be, consider these factors that can influence your motivation.
Is it an intrinsic goal — something you are pursuing for its own sake because you find it joyful or fulfilling or gratifying? Or did you choose it because someone else suggested it or because you think the result will let you get what you “really want”? If that’s the case, can you rework the goal to improve your internal motivation?
Is it something you value? If it is externally motivated, it might not be. Again, consider if you could alter it to make it of value to you. Or consider replacing it with a goal you want for yourself.
How confident are you that you can achieve your goal? If you deem it worth pursuing, find ways to break your goal down into tiny steps – so easy it’s hard NOT to do them.
Motivation Is Key
Without motivation, there is no action. Understanding what motivates you is key to your success in pursuing your goals. A goal that rewards your effort only in the completion is not motivating. Choose a goal that is rewarding in the effort, then break it down into small, easy-to-do steps and get started right away. That is the key to high motivation. And that is embracing the Excelerated Life™!
Excelerated goal setting — planning and achieving BIG goals — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing, of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
Achor, Shawn. The Happiness Advantage. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2010
Biswas-Diener, Robert and Ben Dean. Positive Psychology Coaching. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007
Burchard, Brendon. The Motivation Manifesto. New York: Hay House, 2014
Grenville-Cleave, Bridget. Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide. New York: MJF Books. 2012
Steel, PhD, Piers. The Procrastination Equation – How To Stop Putting Things Off And Start Getting Things Done. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. 2011