Bruno Mars is not alone when he wakes up singing,
“Oh, today I don’t feel like doing anything. I just want to lay in my bed.”
That’s just human nature, and some days it’s harder than others to entice ourselves to get to the gym or drag on our running shoes like crack fictional investigator Kinsey Millhone, who runs if only to be able to eat Quarter Pounders whenever she feels like it.
But the one who wins the ongoing battle of wills within us is ultimately the one that signals success or failure. And those who can overcome that internal naysayer more often than not stand a better chance of seeing successful results, no matter the mission.
I want it. I really, really want it.
Consider Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”. The holiday tale about a boy on a mission starring Peter Billingsley has now become a cult classic on TBS, in part from its marathon run on the cable network every Christmas Eve, but also because of its heartwarming message about Christmas dreams that do come true.
And when it comes to motivation, few can match the determination and focus of Ralphie, who wanted nothing more for Christmas than a Red Ryder BB gun, despite myriad warnings about the gun’s safety. He wrote classroom essays about it, sat on a department store Santa’s lap to ask for it and placed ads for the gun strategically throughout the house for it his mom and dad to see in time for Christmas.
Ralphie was motivated to invest so much effort into enticing his parents to buy him that gun because he was motivated by desire, and in the big picture could imagine himself with his Red Ryder, chasing burglars away as he starred in his own Wild West show, circa 1940.
For Ralphie, the gun itself was an external, or extrinsic motivation, but the process of acquiring it was intrinsic motivation (or internal) as the fantasies of owning it gave him so much pleasure that writing essays seemed as if it was no work at all, even for a boy who viewed homework as an elaborate plot to steal his young joy.
And through his efforts, Ralphie ultimately merged the two main sources of motivation that drive virtually everything we do.
The same holds true for an Olympic hopeful, who strives to be the best he or she can be in hopes of earning a bronze, silver, or gold medal, but in working toward the goal sees intrinsic rewards in the lean, mean fighting machine that he or she has become.
Most goals are reached by using both forms of motivation.
Intrinsic motivation: For the simple love of it
Those projects we tackle where we look up at the clock, hours after we’ve started, and have no idea where the time has gone because we were so involved – that feeling is intrinsic motivation, and wouldn’t the world work better if all of us felt that way about everything we do?
Imagine saying, every day, I don’t go to work, I go play. When looking at new challenges, seeing them in that light is a great way to make them happen.
Seeing a challenge as a chance to become a better person is an excellent motivator, whether it’s a gourmet cooking class, a math problem or mastering a new dance move to look killer on the dance floor. The satisfaction of success is an internal motivator, and is in itself the reward.
Extrinsic motivation: From the outside
For Olympic athletes, the idea of a gold medal at the end of a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice is the driving force behind the action. The idea that he or she is the best in the world, and has the endorsements – and bling in the form of medals to show for it – is the reward that comes at the end of a hard-won battle.
To motivate through workouts, we often have to envision those rewards coming to fruition to make it happen, to find the strength to get moving.
What’s in a reward?
But how do rewards in general motivate? Not so well, it turns out. Studies have shown that although we all love it, it turns out that money is not the best reward. A teenage girl who is offered $10 for every pound she loses might be more inclined to see being able to fit in a great prom dress, or land her dream date, as a better motivator than the money.
Once money enters into the picture, the task takes on the illusion of work, and that is seen less favorably. One classic study asked lawyers to help low-income people with their legal needs, some being offered a very low wage for their services, others being asked to perform the services for free. Turns out, the offer of money transformed the task from good deed to work, and made that control group less likely to agree. The motivation wasn’t money, it seems, but the good feelings that came from within for doing something nice.
Threats of punishment also don’t work as motivation, it seems. Instead of making people more inclined to work harder, the looming threat of some form of punishment usually backfires. Nerves caused by the thought of failure usually lead to more slipups and mistakes rather than less. Fear is only a great motivator on a show like “Fear Factor,” and there, it’s the money that’s the true motivator.
So what is the best motivator? That depends on the task at hand.
How to get (and stay) motivated
To get you on the right track, consider the following tips:
- Have a goal in mind. Whether you want to fit into the same size clothes as you did at your high school graduation or you want to be able to run with your kids, pets, or grandkids at the park, the goal is the thing to keep in mind to help secure positive results.
- See and track improvements. Getting on the scale every Monday to measure pounds lost or realizing that running a mile suddenly turned into two miles without much extra effort can provide the impetus needed for getting over hurdles of discouragement, sure to come no matter the goal.
- Take a break. If you’ve been working really intensely, you’ll be likely to be even more invested in the coming days if you take a day to recover from a hard workout or take an afternoon to replenish energy stores with a coffee break if you’ve been writing day and night trying to reach a big deadline.
- Focus on how seeing the goal to fruition will make you a better person. The knowledge that comes from making good food choices or learning which forms of exercise offer the best health benefits makes you a better person. Knowledge is money.
- Reward yourself. Many people find that by setting up rewards as part of a process – new earrings for 10 pounds lost or new bike gear after taking on that steep climb without stopping – will help make the road to success just that. A real success.
The more motivation…the merrier
Everyone tends to have a dominant type of motivation.
For some folks, they could care less about attention, accolades, and what other people think. They are motivated intrinsically. They simply want what it is they want for their own reasons. People like this don’t need to be carrot-and-sticked in order to achieve a goal.
On the other hand, you have those of us who are all about the rewards, attention, and bling. We are extrinsically motivated. We want what we want because of how it will make us look in the eyes of others. We have a strong desire to be able to show off our awards, jewelry, or body. We like be the envy of others, or at least receiving the praise of others.
So, does it matter whether you’re more intrinsically or extrinsically motivated? Does being more motivated one way limit your success and results?
No, not at all.
What matters is for you to know whether you’re more motivated from within, or if you derive more of your motivation from external factors.
You then take that knowledge and put it on steroids. Boost your most dominant motivator until there’s little room left to improve it. But, don’t stop there. After you’re done playing to your strength or dominant type of motivation, spice up your weaker area. Think of how you can double your less dominant type of motivation. Why? Because the more motivation you have and can cultivate, the more success you’ll experience. And that’s the whole purpose of motivation – to help you more easily and swiftly achieve your goal.
Whether your desire is to lose 20 pounds, sculpt gorgeous abs, or increase your income by 100% within the next 6 months – motivation will make it happen for you. Increase your motivation and you increase your results.
(Photo credit: Man Running with Focus via Shutterstock)