What Triggers Motivation?


In the 1980s, French neurologist Michel Habib was studying several cases of apathetic patients — people who had been active and normal when suddenly they became passive in life.

They had simply lost all motivation. “It was as if the part of their brain where motivation lives, where élan vital is stored, had completely disappeared … There were no negative thoughts, there were no positive thoughts. There were no thoughts at all. They hadn’t become less intelligent or less aware of the world. Their old personalities were still inside, but there was a total absence of drive or momentum. Their motivation was completely gone.”

The above case and quote are in the book, “Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg.

Going on from the anecdote, Duhigg makes a case that motivation and control play intertwining roles. People enjoy choice, and when they are no longer choosing, they lost motivation in whatever it is they are doing. For example, Duhigg uses the instance of being caught in traffic on the freeway. Even though taking the next exit will probably mean a longer commute home, you take it because it means you chose and you have control.

“Motivation is triggered by making choices that demonstrate to ourselves that we are in control,” wrote Duhigg. “The specific choice we make matters less than the assertion of control. It’s this feeling of self determination that gets us going.”

But motivation goes deeper than simply control. It requires ones self to be invested. Duhigg writes that, “to teach ourselves to self-motivate more easily, we need to learn to see our choices not just as expressions of control but also as affirmations of our values and goals.”

By giving our actions larger meaning, while assuming control of the situation, typically the human being is more motivated and willing to act. And this starts with asking why — huh, sounds similar to a blog I wrote a while back on why the why is important.

Duhigg explained we need to prove to ourselves that the choices we make have meaning. “When we start a new task, or confront an unpleasant chore, we should take a moment to ask ourselves ‘why,’” he wrote. “Why are we forcing ourselves to climb up this hill? Why are we pushing ourselves to walk away from the television? Why is it so important to return that email or deal with a coworker whose requests seem so unimportant?”

As the week progresses, Affiliate, ask yourself what motivates you to be productive, to accomplish a task. Figure out the why behind your tasks, then take control and find new motivation to get everything done.

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at heather@peakemedia.com.