I started to think about this when I was playing a couple of Kinect games. Stay with me here, it is relevant!
The dancing game – at which I was pretty bad, being a) not very good at dancing or aerobics (not putting myself down here, just not good at moving fast in a coordinated manner. That’s why I’m a runner) b) not used to this kind of thing. But the avatar dance trainer stayed really, really positive, even when it was clear I was doing badly. “Yo, you nailed that move,” he shouted. Well, no, I didn’t. If anything, the move nailed me.
Moving on … I also tried out a fitness “game” – more of a set of workouts, but fun and interesting. The best thing about it was, though, that as well as getting the visual feedback on your movements that both games offered, in this one you got realistic feedback at the end. If you did well, you were told so. If you did badly, you got something along the lines of, “this wasn’t quite what we wanted, but you can do better next time!” Just the acknowledgement that it wasn’t the best go ever did motivate me a lot more.
So, realism and trustworthiness is obviously something that motivates me.
Short-term motivation and long-term motivation: chocolate or freedom?
I decided to undertake a scientific examination of this phenomenon. Well, no, I didn’t: what I actually did was as the question “what motivates you?” on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I wanted to see what real people who I actually knew said.
And the range of responses showed first of all that there is a difference between long-term and short-term motivators. The popular answer “chocolate” didn’t mean (I think) that the respondent was motivated to do a good job, to achieve and excel, by a mountain of chocolate. But yes, a little sweet reward or some such is a great motivator to get something done. And tea, cakes and, indeed deadlines work in this way too.
Although … deadlines … is that more about having a job where you do have deadlines to hit? I would like to bet that the type of deadline you have in your job – if you enjoy it – is down to the motivators that work for you. Anyway, the long-term motivators are the interesting ones: recognition, praise, kindness make one group, which covers social or personally orientated motivators. Family, and even, from one respondent, cancer, show a deeply personal motivator which is probably about life achievements more than simple workplace ones. And then there is the set including independence, achievement and freedom (that’s my one) which are more to do with the person themselves and their own interaction with their world (as opposed to interaction with people as such).
Do we see money in there? Well, it is mentioned, but it is not mentioned by anyone first.
Here’s the scientific bit: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
This all comes down, in the end, to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs or Maslow’s Triangle. In an article written in 1943 (andl also explained well in this Wikipedia article), Abraham Maslow posited that we have a hierarchy of needs, and that the lower ones need to be fulfilled before the higher ones. So our basic needs are the really basic ones – shelter, food, breathing, and next up are security of employment, body, health, property and family, among others. So our money need really disappears right at the bottom, or is maybe mixed into the one above. After these basic needs come love and belonging – family and friendship ties, then esteem, which includes self-esteem and the respect of others, and at the top, self-actualisation: creativity, spontaneity, morality, problem-solving, etc.
You can see that most of the motivators my respondents talked about came from the upper levels of the triangle. Of course, when our health is threatened, we drop “down” a couple of levels, but then I suspect those who are motivated by their illness are actually reaching for esteem and self-actualisation, beating the illness and claiming their selves back.
Unpacking my motivators
So, when I “unpacked” my feelings towards my Kinect games (other consoles are available), I could see that I’m motivated by trust and truthfulness. When I was employed, I responded best to managers who were realistic but trusted me to get on with it , while speaking up if I was overwhelmed. Likewise, I wanted to trust them to give me the right work and leave me to it. I wasn’t motivated by relentless optimism, and nor am I motivated personally by being shouted at, which is why I avoid the boot camp kind of exercise regime and hate being micro-managed. Now I work for myself, I can go up to the self-actualisation motivators and enjoy being creative and in control of sorting out my own problems. Freedom is a big one, too – I love having enough work to do to keep me busy but being able to do it when I want to, within my clients’ deadlines, and being able to go to the gym (or stop and write a blog post) if I want to. Yes, I will get my head down and plough through a big project if I need to, but I know myself well enough to understand that that kind of rigidity is not healthy for me for more than a day or so at a time.
Count your blessings and Know Thyself
Of course, all those people who answered my question – and I – are lucky. We have enough money to live on (although I live happily on a lot less than I used to – I’d rather have freedom than fancy things or a car) and so our basic needs are covered, leading us to be able to be all esteemful and self-actualising. But when we’re thinking about all of this, it’s worth remembering that not everyone is so lucky, and giving something back if we can.
And: Know Thyself. Have a proper think about what motivates you. Look up Maslow and read up on him. Are you getting what motivates you out of your job, career or lifestyle? Are you in a position where you can change that? Is it worth having that chat with your boss about how you are really motivated? (although I wouldn’t recommend being asked to be paid in chocolate coins …
In summary …
So it turns out
- we are not motivated by money … unless we really don’t have any and we work our way up a hierarchy of levels to find more fulfilment
- short term motivators (chocolate! tea!) are different from long term motivators (family! freedom!) but both are useful
- it’s good to sit down and have a think about what motivates you – it can be really useful in your career and life in general
I hope you enjoyed this article – please let me know by commenting, and/or using the share buttons you can see below. Thank you to everyone who responded to my original question!