Don’t settle for less when it comes to personal motivation

When Susan Fowler, David Facer, and Drea Zigarmi first developed Optimal Motivation™ they thought they would face an uphill battle convincing managers and organizations to adopt a fresh approach to motivation in the workplace. That’s why they were so surprised when people embraced it immediately.

As Fowler shares, “We came into this thinking that we had to sell people on a new paradigm of motivation. So a large part of our design was focused on explaining the new science and rationale behind it. What we’re finding is that people don’t need convincing; they know in their heart of hearts what is right.”

What Fowler and her team discovered is that people have a longing for this information. They have a deep seated yearning for a different way of approaching their work.
“When people heard about it, they told us, ‘Yes! I knew in my heart that this was true but I never had a way to express it.'”

What is this yearning?
Fowler explains that there are six basic Motivational Outlooks that people bring to work—three that are suboptimal—Disinterested, External, and Imposed—and three that are optimal—Aligned, Integrated, and Inherent.

Each of the three suboptimal outlooks has its costs, says Fowler.
A Disinterested Motivational Outlook is where you just don’t care, and you are going through the motions. This may seem like a neutral position at first but it is really giving away a piece of your soul.
“People recognize that they don’t want to give up a vast majority of their waking time to work that isn’t interesting to them. And people know in their core as human beings that this is not what they are about. So they are yearning for something that has meaning.”

An External Motivational Outlook is where people justify their actions for an external reward—money, incentives, power, or status. But even if they rationalize doing something in exchange for some form of external reward, they are selling out.
As Fowler explains, “What people begin to realize is that winning to gain status over someone else or trading time for money feels empty. The end might seem to justify the means, but they’re getting beat up by the means. After a while it’s hard to get out of bed every morning and it’s hard to have any kind of sustained vitality or energy.”

Imposed is the third suboptimal Motivational Outlook. With this outlook, behavior is driven by fear, shame, or guilt. People with this motivation are afraid of disappointing others, including themselves and their own expectations. That takes a toll physically, mentally, and emotionally.
“Not looking out for the emotional well-being of our people hurts individuals and organizations in terms of increased illness, stress and disability claims—not to mention the opportunity losses of productivity and creativity,” explains Fowler.

The search for a higher quality of motivationSurprisingly, when the Optimal Motivation authors talk with people about how they are motivated on their current tasks and responsibilities, people recognize right away that much of it falls into the Disinterested, External, or Imposed Motivational Outlook.

And that’s when people also realize the amount of emotional labor they have been using to constantly self-regulate—finding ways to avoid feelings of pressure, stress, anger, disappointment, guilt, or shame. “So we are naming what people are yearning for and giving them a way to meet the needs that they have. We are teaching people a way to have a higher quality of life where they don’t have to use as much emotional labor. We are giving them skills around that.”

The process begins by understanding that people have three psychological needs—Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence. And the degree to which you are able to fulfill these three needs directly correlates to feelings of well-being and corresponding positive behaviors.
“If you have clarity on what you value—for example, a life purpose, or a work purpose—and if you understand what brings you joy and what you love to do, then you have a higher quality of life and well-being. You may still require some emotional labor from time to time to self-regulate, but it is emotional labor that you’re willing to do because you see how it is related to higher quality motivation.”

Unhealthy alternatives
You can also use the same process to begin to identify what constantly creates a need for reframing. In Fowler’s experience, it can be a particular system in the organization, or a particular work relationship and the way you go about dealing with a person.
“We spend inordinate amounts of time just overcoming our feelings of being imposed upon, or just overcoming the emptiness that comes from external motivation. It’s like we are using all of our emotional labor on low-level tasks just to muck around with low-level motivation.
“That might help us cope but it’s not helping us experience the energy, vitality, or sense of positive well-being that comes with higher levels of motivational outlook. Those come from mindfulness, developed values, and a noble purpose, for example.
“Developed values means spending your time and money on what you truly value. It’s being purposeful about it and living what you value. If you’re not, you get caught in a suboptimal Motivation Outlook at work where you’re doing it for the money or you’re doing it so you don’t feel guilty.”

In Fowler’s experience, when people don’t find authentic replenishments, they often turn to unhealthy ones. That’s when you find yourself overeating, over-drinking, or engaging in other unhealthy behaviors.
“That’s why people often appear so needy. If your Relatedness needs are not being met at work—and they’re probably not—you’re going to find yourself making dumb choices outside of work, hanging around people who are not good for you, or engaging in other unhealthy or unproductive behavior.

Subtle, but equally damaging
There’s been a lot of brain research recently that shows people’s reward centers light up when they experience some of these external rewards, but it’s important to remember that just because it lights up, that doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing says Fowler.

Yes, striving for perks and promotions may keep you motivated for a while, but at what cost? People driven primarily by external motivators don’t achieve the sustainable flourishing and positive sense of well-being that you get with higher levels of motivation.
“People know better,” says Fowler. “I remember one person who realized that they were driven by external rewards and when one of those rewards was threatened, the person even said, ‘I don’t feel good about myself in insisting upon this, but I want it just the same.'”

Take the conversation to a higher level
“You never want to be the one encouraging a person’s need for external rewards—even when their brain lights up. Don’t settle for motivational models that try to find other ways to manipulate or trick people into giving more. Why not take the conversation to a different level? ”

As a leader, you need to think beyond that. How could you make it their choice? How could you help them understand the higher purpose in building relationships? How can you build additional competence? Shifting to an Optimal Motivational Outlook is always more fulfilling than just achieving the next external reward.
“Optimal Motivation is attracting organizations who want to lead at a higher level and they see this as a paradigm shift for being able to do that. That’s the message I really want to get out there!”

Source: Ignite Newsletter, Ken Blanchard Companies, June 2013
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