There are many models for understanding people’s motivation. This article explores how they may be driven by the following factors.
They may be driven by their personal values, their beliefs or what they feel is important in life.
They may be driven by a sense of purpose or a mission they want to accomplish in life.
They may be driven to do things that give pleasure to themselves or other people.
They may be driven to deal with the pain that they or other people may be experiencing in life.
They may be driven to achieve something that, in the widest sense, is profitable for themselves or for other people.
If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.
Describe a specific situation in the past when you were motivated by personal values, purpose, pleasure, pain or profit.
Describe the specific things you did to translate the motivation into action.
Describe the specific benefits – for you and for other people – of translating the motivation into action.
Sometimes it can be useful to tap into people’s drivers to enable them to work towards a specific goal. Bearing this in mind, let’s explore the following factors that motivate people.
Many people are driven by their personal values. These motivate them to focus on what they believe is important in life or to follow certain beliefs.
People who perform courageous acts, for example, sometimes find it unusual when others praise their efforts. They have certain values and take the opportunity to translate these into action. Such people say things like: “It was the natural thing to do.”
Imagine that you are mentoring a person who wants to shape their future. One approach is to help them to focus on their deepest values. You can, for example, invite them to do the following exercise.
People choose their values in different ways. They may choose to follow certain values, for example, after reflecting on what they believe is important in life.
People’s values can be strongly influenced by the culture they grow up in during their formative years. They may then adopt certain belief systems that influence their behaviour.
Belief systems can be a positive influence, because they provide a strong driving compass that enables people to do fine work. They can, however, be a negative influence.
Why? They sometimes stop people seeing reality. As the old saying goes: “Do people believe what they see or do they see what they believe?”
Civilisations have died in the past because they stuck to their belief systems and denied the reality of what was happening around them. Ninety-nine percent of the data showed that they were heading to danger, but they preferred to focus on the one percent of doubt. This led to disaster.
Oil companies will only change their policies, for example, if they see or are told that changing to clean energy will make them more money. This is because their corporate values are about making profit. Let’s move on to another motivator.
A person may be driven by a sense of purpose or a mission they want to accomplish in life. Pursuing this activity often brings meaning to their lives. They can refer back to this core compass when things get tough in their lives or work.
Peak performers often follow one of their passions and translate this into a clear purpose. They may want to help other people, climb a particular mountain, pass on knowledge to future generations or whatever.
Great teams also have a clear purpose. They may aim to find a vaccine for an illness, build a successful prototype, win a sporting trophy or whatever. They have a compelling reason for being.
Many people now cite the quote that may or may not have been said by Mark Twain. “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
Some people wait for a purpose to appear, but this seldom happens. People are more likely to develop a purpose by doing things they find stimulating. Those who follow this route often believe that:
“A purpose is something that you develop. It is not something that you find.”
Such people do not always start by being absolutely clear on the career they want to pursue. They are passionate, however, about something they want to explore or do.
They therefore throw themselves into gathering experience on their chosen theme. This can lead to them finding a more specific purpose.
Imagine that you are mentoring a person who wants to shape their future. One approach is to help them to begin focusing on their deepest purpose. You can, for example, invite them to do the following exercise.
People love to do things that give them great enjoyment. They also like to give pleasure to other people.
The pleasure principle is a term that stems from Freudian psychology. It says that people are motivated towards pleasure and away from pain. Hence it is sometimes called the pleasure-pain principle.
There are many exercises people can use to tap into this drive. One invites them to focus on the things that give them positive energy. Here are some of the things they write.
The things that give me positive energy
in my personal or professional life are:
Being with our children … Gardening … Listening to the sound of our waterfall … Singing in the choir … Taking walks by myself … Playing the guitar … Cooking for our family … Caring for our horse … Doing exciting projects at work … Sleeping deeply.
Imagine that you are mentoring a person who wants to shape their future. You can, for example, invite them to do the following exercise.
Energy is life. Doing more of the things that give them positive energy can increase their motivation. It can also increase their strength to deal with challenges they meet in their life.
People are sometimes motivated by pain. They may only go to the dentist, move on from a job or change their lifestyle when the pain is unbearable.
Pain can also act as a motivator to help others. People who have empathy with others who are experiencing hardship, for example, can translate this into action. They may then channel this energy into working to improve people’s conditions and build a better world.
Looking at your own life, has there ever been a time when you were motivated by pain? If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.
People may be driven to achieve something that, in the widest sense, is profitable for themselves or other people. The immediate reaction is to think of money as the profit. Certainly this is the case for some people and companies, but there are many other kinds of prizes.
Sometimes the profit is to feel better, to improve one’s health or to see other people grow. Sometimes it is to feel you are living a good life and leaving a positive legacy. It is to sleep with an easy conscience that you are doing your best to help both present and future generations.
People are motivated to do things that they believe will bring benefits. Here is one example that illustrates the principle.
During the 1990s I worked with a task force that successfully introduced a wellbeing programme into a big company. The biggest challenge was getting the programme signed off by the Directors.
The task force were savvy. They believed the programme would help with wellbeing, motivation and retention. When presenting the approach to the Directors, however, they began by outlining how it would maintain or even improve profitability.
The task force had done their homework. They were able to show how having healthy employees would impact the bottom line and also attract talented people.
You may or may not agree with this approach. The programme was immediately backed by the Directors, however, and produced many other benefits.
People like to do things that are, in the widest sense, profitable. This highlights a key challenge when working with decision makers in business and other fields. It is to show how it is profitable to care for life on the planet to ensure the survival of the human species.
As mentioned at the beginning, there are many models for understanding people’s motivation. If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.
Describe a specific situation in the future when you may be motivated by personal values, purpose, pleasure, pain or profit.
Describe the specific things you can do then to translate the motivation into action.
Describe the specific benefits – for you and other people – of translating your motivation into action.