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Recently we wrote about motivation. What it is, where it comes from, and what you can do if you feel it slipping.

Today we’re sitting down with Dr. Albert Viljoen, Coaching Practice Lead at Sanctus, to get deep into the weeds with it. Big questions, quick fire style, on everything you need to know about motivating yourself and people around you. Let’s go.

How does motivation affect performance?

There have been plenty of studies done on motivation and performance at work that suggest motivated people enjoy greater job satisfaction, increased performance at work, and a general willingness to succeed which can be infectious.

Obviously, this is super beneficial for organisations and the teams that operate within them. But motivation is fickle. It fluctuates. And performance at work usually doesn’t allow for that as an option.

“Even when people feel a strong intention, or really value the standard of their performance, they won’t actually perform their best if they don’t have motivation. So in many ways, there’s a direct correlation between motivation and performance.”

“People can still perform well with low motivation, but there’s only so long you can push yourself. Long term, a lack of motivation will reduce performance levels and could lead to things like burnout much more easily.”

What are the different types of motivation?

There have been many noble attempts to categorise motivation into neat little boxes. Power, fear, family. Achievement, security, adventure.

“I tend to look at it in quite a simplified way: you can either be driven by a push or a pull. When you reflect on what makes you feel motivated, the answer may be quite negative. ‘I don’t want this outcome’ or ‘I want to avoid these consequences’. ‘My career will be in jeopardy if I fail’ or ‘my family will struggle if I’m not successful’.”

“This helps people map where their focus and drive is. Most of us are more susceptible to negative motivators, the threat of pain, or fear – these are among the strongest motivators of all.”

“In my experience, negative motivators don’t necessarily create lasting results. It’s just not sustainable: you’re constantly running on adrenaline, trying to run away from something. But when you’re running towards something, there’s more of a pleasurable outcome at the end of it, a feeling of achievement, rather than just another temporary moment of relief.”

How to increase motivation

I personally feel motivated some of the time. But I struggle with it dissipating or fading. I feel like I’m often looking for a quick solution to get it running again, but in terms of artificially increasing motivation or extending its lifespan, you’re kind of limited aren’t you?

“It’s like saying: how do I fall asleep? You don’t, you can’t really make yourself fall asleep as and when you want to. What you can do is set the conditions for it, and then hopefully, it happens naturally.”

“Motivation is similar: you can’t necessarily force yourself to feel more motivated. But all of us have certain conditions that allow our motivation to be ignited. We just have to be aware of what those are, and crucially, what isn’t working for us.”

This is one reason working with a Coach – and if not, actively practicing being present – is so useful. To be tuned into your environment, consciously noticing what gives you strength, energy, and drive, being in touch with who you are, understanding what motivates you. And when motivation does come, protecting your time and energy so you can make the absolute most of it.

Can motivation be negative?

“A person might have really strong motivation. But their motivations may be quite narrow. They don’t necessarily take care of themselves. They’re all drive, drive, drive, and might neglect their health, wellbeing, or relationships.”

“Sometimes our motivation needs to be tempered. Are you sure you really want to get up early every day this week and be busy from the moment you wake up to the moment you stop? I mean, you could. But should you? Should you run 10k before lunch every day or do you need a break?”

“Even if you feel motivated by the outcome, or motivated by the result, we have to bear in mind we’re organisms, not invincible machines.”

What to do when your motivation is low

“Low or no motivation is often a case of people forgetting about or losing touch with what gives them energy, what makes them feel alive.”

“It’s useful to think back to when you did feel motivated. What was it about that moment? What were the conditions? What was it that didn’t just get you out of bed in the morning, but kept you going?”

“Someone might say ‘my work motivates me’. But when we ask ‘what about your work motivates you?’ it’s less clear. It’s not always obvious what is it about our jobs (or lives) that we like, until we lose touch of it.”

“What can often help as a first step to reigniting motivation, is taking the pressure off of having to be motivated. Which sounds counterintuitive, but sometimes the reason we don’t have motivation is because we should just not do as much.”

“There’s a cultural pressure to always want to be productive when we might be exhausted or overwhelmed or on the verge of burnout – and what we really need to restore our motivation and energy is simply a good solid period of recovery.”

How to motivate someone with no motivation

Depending on where you are in your life you may have experienced this with people you’re responsible for managing at work, or perhaps tiny human offspring at home who simply won’t get out of bed/put their flipping socks on/leave the house/eat a vegetable, no matter how compelling a case you make.

“Getting in touch with what we like and what we want, what we enjoy, what excites us is really important. Give that person time and space to rediscover their spark, however small it is. Remove the threat of negative consequences and the fear of failure and encourage them to just try stuff. Experimenting with things gives us an opportunity to feel energised and excited and think: ‘oh, this actually gets me moving’.”

How to find what motivates you

“This is sometimes a bit tricky, because we’re not always sure. What is it about my situation that is giving me energy? With work, we might think it’s the money or the status, but we need to reflect on it, and that’s where coaching really helps.”

Motivation’s a big complex beast, and finding it is a challenge in and of itself. Forget motivation for a moment and ask yourself simpler questions: Where do I get my energy from? What makes me feel excited? What are my values?

And this may not be a simple case of asking the question and noting the answer. Motivation has plenty of layers you can peel back. A big goal at the moment for people my age is owning their first house. What you find is, it’s not even about owning property. It’s the status, or the feeling, or being a homeowner.

Why’s that important? Well because, you know, the security, or because my parents expected it of me, or because everyone else is doing it. OK so why is it important that you fulfil your parents expectations? Or the expectations of your peer group? Why is security such an important value to you? See – it’s a bit of an onion.

“How far you go with it doesn’t necessarily support you in terms of motivation. Sometimes it’s useful to ask the big existential questions as a way to make sense of things. But it doesn’t necessarily support the conditions that will take you where you want to go.”

“Even if you understand the context, that doesn’t necessarily give you the the energy – the energy is often provided by other things.”

How to stay motivated

Motivation is often the consequence of an action being taken, rather than a perfect set of criteria that allows you to start things in the first place.

“Very often, it’s the adrenaline rush we get from already doing and achieving things that keeps us going. A big part of motivation is the physiological response: your body boosting your feel good hormones. It doesn’t matter whether the thing that drives you is winning a game of football on the beach or playing the stock market. It’s the same thing with different outputs. Then it’s just about chasing that feeling.”

We go into a bit more detail about getting and staying motivated in our last piece of content on the subject. From working definitions to personal experiences and a look at what’s actually going on in your brain when you feel motivated. You can catch up with all that here.