We talk about ‘motivation’ a lot, but what does it really mean? Motivation is the inner force that impels us to move towards a goal. If this inner force is strong, we will move purposefully towards the goal. The discipline and hard work required to achieve what we want will feel worthwhile. We will be prepared to persist in the face of challenges and difficulties – because we really want to get there. Inspiration takes over. If this inner force is weak, we will move fitfully towards the goals, being easily distracted by other things, and ready to give up or change tack when progress seems slow or hard. When we are under-motivated, we can easily be under-mined: distractions and difficulties loom large and the voices that tell us we can’t (whether our own or other peoples’) sound persuasive. Inertia takes over.
Motivation is, basically, about what we believe is worthwhile putting our love, energy, time and other resources into. One classic theory of motivation (formulated by Victor Vroom) is called ‘expectancy theory’, and I think it’s helpful in clarifying some basic facets of motivation. Expectancy theory suggests that the force or strength of an individual’s motivation to do something depends on two key factors:
• How important or desirable the outcome or reward of doing it is to the individual. (Vroom called this ‘valence’)
• How sure the individual is of gaining the outcome or reward as a result of his or her actions. (Vroom called this ‘expectancy’.)
Check this out in your own experience. It makes sense, doesn’t it?
• If you don’t particularly want something, you won’t be very motivated to go after it: it won’t seem worthwhile putting in the energy (and other resources) required to make it happen. You may even be against, or resistant to, a particular outcome (say, the responsibilities of wealth or fame) – resulting in a negative motivation: a motivation to avoid that outcome.
• If you don’t really expect something to happen, you won’t be very motivated to go after it: it won’t seem worthwhile putting in the energy (and other resources) if you don’t think you’ll get what you want – however badly you want it.
Say I came to you and said: ‘How about some serious wealth? I’ve got a simple real estate investment structure that will get you there – but it’ll take discipline and work.’ If wealth isn’t particularly important to you (you’re already wealthy, or you believe that making money is ‘greedy’, say) you won’t be very motivated to put time and work into my structure – however convinced you are that it is effective. On the other hand, if the idea of financial independence is highly important to you, but you don’t really believe in me or my advice (perhaps you’ve fallen foul of real estate scams in the past), then you still won’t be very motivated to put in the work. If you have neither the valence (you don’t want wealth) nor the expectancy (you don’t believe you’ll get it this way), you’ll have no motivation to check out my advice at all! But if you’ve got the valence (you want to be wealthy) and the expectancy (you believe my structure will get you there), you’ll be highly motivated to give it a good try!
If you have a head for maths, you can use a simple formula to calculate your motivation, using this theory.
F = V x E Force of motivation to do something = Valence x Expectancy
V (valence) can be a plus or minus number, on a scale from 0-5, say. If you are indifferent to the outcome (you couldn’t care, one way or the other), this will be a zero. If you are very positive towards it, it might be a 5. If you are very negative towards it, it might be a –5. This means that F can come out as a negative number: your motivation is actually against whatever the thing is.
E (expectancy) is a ‘probability’, which (in mathematical terms) is a number between 0 (no chance) and 1 (certainty). This means that if you multiply any number for V by zero (you’re sure the outcome won’t happen), motivation will be zero. If you multiply any number for V by 1 (you’re sure the outcome will happen), the force of your motivation will depend entirely on how big a number V is (positive or negative). If you are only ‘half sure’ of getting the outcome (multiplying V by 0.5, say), the influence of valence will be halved: whether you want the outcome or not, you feel less strongly about it, because it probably won’t happen anyway!
Don’t worry about the maths, if it’s not your thing – but it’s worth getting to grips with the basic point. In order to motivate yourself, you need to set goals that you really value (high valence) and be convinced that you can achieve them (high expectancy).
• Our goals need to be congruent with our core values – or their valence will be reduced: we won’t ‘really’ want our target outcomes.
• We need to visualise and affirm our goals – so that we increase our expectancy that they can be achieved.
• We need to believe in success (to raise its valence) and believe in our success (to raise our expectancy).
Do you really want to succeed?
There are all kinds of reasons why a particular success goal may have de-motivatingly low valence for you: why you ‘don’t really want to succeed’.
The costs of success may genuinely be higher than its benefits. We’ve said that motivation is a matter of working out what is ‘worthwhile’, and this requires some form of cost-benefit analysis. If pursuing a particular success strategy will cost you more than it will gain you – it’s not worthwhile. This is why congruent goals are so important: it won’t be worthwhile to gain wealth, fame or promotion if, in doing so, you lose relationships that are important to you, or your integrity, or other things that you value.
De-motivation isn’t necessarily a bad thing: sometimes, it’s a warning message, telling you that you are going after the wrong thing – or going after the right thing in the wrong way…
Mostly, however, the problem is one of sabotage! You tell yourself you want to succeed – but something is also giving you the opposite message. Taking financial success as an example, let’s look at some of the thinking that might sabotage your desire to build wealth. Tick any that apply to you - and take the counter-arguments on board.
I don't deserve to be wealthy
You wouldn’t believe how common this is! Right up there with ‘I don’t deserve to be happy’ and ‘I don’t deserve to get what I want’ and ‘I don’t deserve to be loved’.
Of course, it’s quite rare to hear people actually say these things out loud – but that’s what their low expectations and passivity often mean. Low self-worth and self-punishing are absolute killers of the desire to succeed, and the motivation to do something about it. And sorry, but there’s no magic wand for this one: it goes very deep into our beliefs about the world, and the messages we’ve absorbed from others (particularly in childhood).
If you become aware of these feelings – that you don’t ‘deserve’ to have whatever it is you want – you need to build your absolute right to pursue happiness (like anyone else) into your positive affirmations. You need to work hard at visualising yourself enjoying achievement of your goal – until you’re used to the idea! Focus on the benefits to others, at first, if that helps. Share your goals with positive, supportive, encouraging people – and only with positive, supportive, encouraging people!
And if you still can’t get past feeling guilty at the thought of success, to the point where it’s holding you back, you may want to see a counsellor. There’s no shame in this: you’re just dealing with a blockage, so that your life can ‘flow’ the way it’s meant to.
I don’t need to build wealth
Because you’ve got a pension or superannuation fund? Some savings? Some shares? Sorry, but that’s not how it works. If you want to retire on an income above the median wage, you need significant assets. In Australia, that means $800,000 and owning your own home. (And that’s in today’s dollars.)
What’s your plan to build up those kinds of assets by the time you retire? If you’re already there, well done – but are you doing as much as you could be, with what you’ve got?
I’m not comfortable being materialistic/ambitious
You’re right: our success goals and strategies must be congruent with our core values. But this particular congruence issue may be based on a misconception. You don’t have to be ‘materialistic’ (let alone ‘greedy’) to pursue wealth. Creating and building wealth is about financial responsibility. Today in Australia, there are less than six taxpayers per pensioner, and if demographic trends continue, within 20 years, there will be less than one taxpayer per pensioner. Wouldn’t you like to take yourself out of that set of statistics?
Creating and building wealth also empowers us to give something back to our community. Helping children at risk by funding the Toogoolawa homes and schools has been one of the most personally rewarding ‘investments’ I’ve ever made. What causes are you passionate about, that could do with some extra funding or business skills? (I guarantee you won’t have to look far.)
My peers will rib me
Yes. You will set yourself aside from the majority of people, who don’t set goals, don’t take risks – and retire on the poverty line. You may need to redefine your relationships with your peers, as you pursue goals which may be beyond their expectations. It’s up to you to decide what’s more important, and what your peers have a right to demand of you.
The groups in our lives (family, friends) often try to protect us – but they also try to control us, to keep us within their boundaries: sometimes we have to break away in order to get clarity and movement on our own, individual values and goals.
Do you really believe you can succeed?
There are all kinds of reasons why your plans to pursue a particular success goal may have de-motivatingly low expectancy for you: why you ‘don’t really believe you’ll succeed’.
General ‘downing’ statements by others (or by your own inner voices) are real motivation killers. It is very easy to listen to voices from other people – especially those who are significant in your life – which say, or imply, ‘You can’t do this’ or ‘You’ll never amount to anything’ or ‘You’re not good/smart/attractive enough’.
These things don’t have to be said to us today: most of us have a fine collection of them, stored on mental tapes ever since our childhood – and we can rewind and replay them any time we are facing a challenge or daring to dream. Some of these tapes – from parents, siblings and teachers – get played so often that we start repeating the messages ourselves. It becomes a habit to believe that we can’t succeed, or don’t deserve to. (Fortunately, it’s a breakable habit, as we’ll see below.)
Fear of unknowns, risks and challenges – and your own ability to cope with them – are another major motivation killer. Some people welcome risks and challenges and thrive on uncertainty: some people don’t. Just be aware that we can lose motivation if we lack confidence in ourselves to deal with the unexpected and difficult things that may come along. Like the early explorers, we may be steering by charts that have big blank areas – with the warning ‘Here be dragons’… And we’ll stop ourselves dead in the water. Unless we cultivate a spirit that says: ‘I will be able to fill in the blanks and fight the dragons when I come to them!’
I know all too many people who have been put off real estate investment out of fear of having to deal with ‘nightmare tenants’, or fear of future tax changes – when with a little more understanding, planning and management, the problems will never materialise.
Focusing on past failures and mistakes reinforces all the self-downing tapes and insecurities. It’s all too easy to forget that mistakes – in the form of trial, error and adjustment – are how human beings learn. It’s all too easy to believe exactly the opposite: that if you’ve made a mistake once, you’ll make it again. Not true!
Remember Thomas Edison, asked how he got over his 1,000 failed attempts to make a light bulb? ‘Those weren’t failures,’ he said. ‘They were lessons in how not to make a light bulb!’ Colin Turner notes that: ‘No one really enjoys failure. Yet the practice of remembering and re-living past failures is so common that you would think that some people actually enjoy it.’ If we feed our mistakes over and over again into our memory banks, they become one of those self-downing tapes we carry about with us – and allow to drag us down.
Specific sabotaging thoughts can undermine our belief in our own possibilities of success – often, before we even start. Again, taking wealth building as an example, let’s look at some of these.
This isn’t an excuse to be passive – it’s an opportunity to be creative. Most people become wealthy using other people’s money! Look at the public companies: the dot-coms of the 90s, the great start ups: McDonalds, KFC, Ford, Microsoft, Dell Computers. They all started with an idea and a goal. The money followed. And it can for you too.
I don’t have the education/skills/experience
In my experience, a positive advantage. Having coached thousands of people, I’ve found that tertiary-educated people and professionals (solicitors, accountants and the like) get bogged down in the detail and miss the big picture. They focus on eliminating all the risk rather than making creative deals. Or they get such a bad case of ‘analysis paralysis’ that they end up doing nothing. Back yourself – if only as far as it takes to give it a fair try.
Sorry: really not buying this one. In my experience, there’s no such thing as an unsuccessful person – although there are plenty of people who use unsuccessful strategies for living and building wealth (like negativity, reactivity and blaming). The point is: you are who you are – but you can change your strategies. The difference between a ‘successful person’ and a ‘failure’ is that the successful person doesn’t give up...
Something has to ‘happen’ before I can get moving
If this is true for you, you may be operating from a reactive strategy. You’ll need to change that: to begin to look for opportunity instead of waiting for it to knock. You can.
150 Signposts to Success
I’m just sceptical
Good! Another positive advantage. You ask the tough questions that will prepare and protect you as you pursue your goals. There are sharks out there: you’re right to be wary. But there’s a fine line between being sceptical and being cynical. If you genuinely don’t think it can be done (no expectancy) or you can’t see any point doing it (no valence) – then you have a problem. But if you’re still excited by the goal? All I can say is: there are sharks out there – but you won’t get anywhere unless you put a toe in the water...
My personal life is difficult at the moment
Sorry: another positive advantage! Often there is no better time to refocus than when your comfort zone has been shaken up, and you’re motivated to make changes.
Increasing the desire
So how do you boost your motivation, if you find yourself procrastinating or flagging? One approach is to enhance the valence of the outcome. Here are some tips.
• Adjust your goals so that they are as specific, attractive and compelling as possible. The easier they are to visualise (and hear and smell and feel), the better. Make them irresistible!
• Dwell on your goals. Cut out photos from magazines that get close to the feel-good factor of what you want – or go take that test drive! Gather success stories that prove how positive and life changing achieving your goal will be. Visualise your goals daily: day-dream about them.
• Share your goals. Tell others (whom you trust) about them. If you’ve ‘gone public’ with something that means a lot to you, it will be much harder to pretend, later, that it’s really no big deal. You’ll have co-opted yourself – and others – to keep you accountable. (How’s it going? Are you still excited about it: if not, why not?)
• Take the goal-planning process seriously. You listed benefits (to yourself and others) of achieving your goal. Were these benefits congruent with your core values? Were they important enough? Were they immediate enough? If all your benefits are very long-term, they may not keep you going through short-term rough patches: build in some short-term benefits.
• Offer yourself rewards. As well as the benefits you hope to gain from achieving your goal, why not build in a few ‘bribes’ (OK, call them ‘promised rewards’ or ‘incentives’) along the way? Each time you achieve a specific goal or milestone on the way, reward yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back and something you value: celebrate your achievement in some way! The feel-good factor this creates is absolutely essential in keeping you going, especially towards longer-term goals.
You may want to complete a course of study for the benefit of your self-esteem and your career prospects, say – but how about awarding yourself a treat or celebration with friends, for milestones along the way: an assignment completed, a good mark earned – or whatever? Or if you are wealth building, and the benefits are financial independence and a new house (say) – why not promise to buy yourself something special for every financial milestone reached or project completed? You’ll know what rewards will make you feel good. They don’t have to be big, but they have to be meaningful for you – and they have to be earned by meeting a pre-determined milestone or short-term goal.
Turning off the failure tapes
The other approach to boosting your motivation is reinforcing your expectancy: your belief that you can and will succeed. Here are some tips for turning off the failure tapes and re-tuning your brain to positive messages which bring success.
• Listen to yourself – and feel free to change your thinking! The most basic technique for neutralising negative thinking is ‘stopping’. When you hear yourself (aloud or in your head) saying something self-sabotaging or self-downing – just stop and say ‘No!’ firmly. Rephrase the thought immediately, turning it into a positive affirmation – or just replace it with one of your positive affirmations. You can give other people, whom you trust, permission to do this for you, too. It may be a bit irritating at first, but every time you say something negative about yourself or your plans, they will pull you up short. (Eventually, you will have to start thinking positive just to avoid the annoyance!)
• Watch yourself. The visual equivalent of ‘stopping’. If I’m learning to surf and I get a picture of myself falling off the board – I close my eyes, see the picture, mentally frame it like a painting with a black border – and deliberately put a red cross through it. (Making it zoom away into the distance also works.) Then I visualise myself catching the perfect wave with perfect technique! (Some top golfers use similar techniques to ‘put bad shots’ behind them – literally!)
• Watch your language! Don’t be content with ‘stopping’ obvious thoughts such as ‘I’ll never be able to do this’: begin to change the way your mind works. Get into the habit of adding the word ‘yet’ to any negative or limiting statement you hear yourself make. (‘I don’t know how to do that – yet.’ ‘I haven’t got the capital – yet.’ ‘Nobody knows my name – yet.’) This may seem trivial, but it prevents your mind from shutting down options: your intuition keeps working on what it does not – yet – see.
Another useful one (particularly in discussion with other people) is getting used to saying ‘and’ instead of ‘but’. Rather than disagreeing or denying, you are simply adding more information: again, helping your mind to keep options – and potential new insights – open.
• Read and listen to motivating material. Fill your head with heroes – not hard-luck stories. Know that if they did it, you can.
• Laugh at yourself! When you hear that Inner Critic or Inner Doubter fire up in your head, have a bit of a chuckle – as if to say: ‘Cheeky so-and-so; stirring again, eh?’ Laugh it off.
• Chunk the task. If the negative voice is whingeing about the size of the task (as it tends to do), break the task down into manageable chunks: small goals that you know you can reach. A series of small wins gives you the success habit – where even one big shortfall can set up a negative mindset.
• Celebrate your wins. Recognise and reward every step, every bit of progress, every milestone, every achievement, every piece of learning, every problem overcome. It’s the only way to remind yourself that you have chalked up successes, and can chalk up successes: you have a ‘track record’ of success. It’s too easy to forget. It feels good – which gives you even more motivation to succeed again next time. And it helps you to let go of your fixation on final results – and to enjoy the journey.
• Be your own advocate. There’s a very effective counselling technique which gets you arguing on your own behalf – against the negative tapes. Find a person whom you trust, and explain what you are trying to do. Get that other person to ‘play’ you and state (on your behalf) your negative ideas about success: get them to ‘play’ your habitual objections, self-downing statements and so on. Your role is to be the friend trying to counter those arguments, to give encouragement, to empower them (you) in your pursuit of success.
This is useful feedback: you will hear and see yourself in the person of your friend – and may discover some negative habits and ideas you weren’t aware of in yourself before. You will also be forced to find and make encouraging, positive and empowering statements to your friend (and yourself): hearing yourself say these things aloud can be very powerful! The whole process can also be fun.
Try the ‘be your own advocate’ process.
One of the most important things about believing in your own success is self-acceptance. We’re all on a journey. We’re not starting out perfect and equipped and ready to take on the world. We’re learning – all the time, all our lives. So if you catch yourself holding back, in your success journey, because of fear or doubt or low self-esteem or negative thinking – give yourself a break! Don’t beat yourself up because you beat yourself up… Pat yourself on the back, because you’ve gained some hard-won self-awareness. Do your best to change the negative tape for a positive one. Argue with yourself – but kindly. You’re doing the best you can with the knowledge and resources you’ve got, and you’re gaining a little more every day. You may not have got where you want to go (yet), but you’re on the journey. And that’s already a win.