Motivation: The Do It Yourself Model

In The Winner’s Brain by Dr. Jeff Brown and Dr. Mark Fenske, the authors discuss what makes winners different from the rest of us. They studied many high performers, from successful business owners to Olympic athletes, to find out how they are wired – and how we can build some of the same skills and become more successful ourselves.

Managers are continually wondering how to motivate workers. Brown and Fenske would argue that the best employees, the winners, motivate themselves. The write that “motivation is the fuel that keeps your Effort Accelerator going and keeps you…trained on the things that are important.” Intrinsic motivation is driven by your personally chosen, internal rewards. Its counterpart, extrinsic motivation, consists of behavior in order to earn external rewards or avoid punishments. Intrinsic motivation is the key to two critical success factors: persistence in the face of obstacles and joy in what you do.

In The Winner’s Brain, motivation is divided into three phases. The first is the Mapping phase, where you set your goals and map your trip. In this phase, you spend time comparing objectives to see which ones are the most important to you. You weigh the risks and calculate outcomes and decide on your path. You’ve decided what your reward will be.

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The next phase is the Rev phase, where you “turn the key, adjust the mirrors, and give the engine a little gas.” You move from intention to action, and it feels good. You get a surge of dopamine, a chemical reaction that is triggered when you do something that feels rewarding. Then you shift into the Drive phase, where you cruise along purposefully toward your goal.

Setting goals and taking action feels good, and most of us get a thrill when we start a new project, diet or habit. The difference between winners’ brains and average ones is that the thrill doesn’t wear off for winners. Their intrinsic motivation keeps them going when things get dull or go wrong. They have the ability to cycle through the motivation phases over and over again to keep the good feeling going.

Many of the rest of us get discouraged when the first surge wears off. Practicing the violin for hours every day is hard and boring; if we develop muscle aches from the new workout or find the writing hard, we don’t persist. Sometimes, we discover that our motivation was extrinsic after all. When our spouse doesn’t notice what we’ve done, or we don’t win the prize or finish the marathon even after our hard training, we get discouraged.

Tapping into your own intrinsic motivation is the key to success and a happy career. What makes it so interesting is that two people could love the same job for two – or four – very different reasons. Debra might love working as a programmer because she loves solving problems; coding feels very creative to her. Sandy loves programming because she gets to develop tools that make her users more effective on the job – she loves seeing her products in action in the company.

Loving what you do for its own sake makes you more productive and efficient, in part because you’re always looking for better ways to do things. It makes you more creative, too, because you’re motivated to tweak your methods even if you’re doing fine. What would happen, I wonder, if I tried it this way? That’s how innovation occurs, and why intrinsic motivation can work magic.

Extrinsic motivators don’t produce magic; in fact, they can hinder performance. Studies have shown that people who perform tasks with the promise of a reward – no matter how generous it may be – consistently perform worse than those who try to master the task for its own sake.

If you don’t feel the connection to your job, what can you do? Spend some time thinking about the parts of your job that are intrinsically rewarding (surely there are some.) Could you form a team of people with different motivations and trade or share tasks? Divide and conquer based on what you love to do.

What motivates you in your work? Leave a comment to let me know.


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