My friend Akeela recently sent me a link to a blog that she thought I would be interested in; quite right, as the blog was about motivation – but not, “Jim”, as you are or I know it. It was one of those too frequent and classic articles which seek to redefine everything and appear new and fresh and cutting-edge, but, alas, is not.
The article was claiming, contrary to the popular view that one needed motivation, that one did not! That motivation was massively over-hyped – in fact motivation was an ‘addiction’ – and that we would be much better off without it. One got the sense that motivation was for puny weaklings who couldn’t function properly, or as he put it: “Both the lack of motivation and the reliance on motivation to take action are addictive and deceptive. They are fear-based reactions.” For those of us who have been working in and with motivation for a number of years, this came as a bit of a shock! As did his alternative proposals: replacing motivation with other mental tools like – “your intelligence, your common sense, love for yourself, your concern for those you love, your integrity, your values, your dreams and goals”.
Where does one begin to explain the absurdity of all this and why it is all so misleading? Perhaps the first place would be to remind everyone of why we want motivation. Not because it is addictive or because we are co-dependent on it in some way; no, it is because it feels good, and it feels good because it feels right. Human beings were made to be motivated and not being motivated is an abnormal state – of which more anon. You would no more say that we should not allow joy or happiness or love to contaminate our family relationships because they give us a false impression of what is really happening in our family, would you? Hey, everyone, don’t show your partner ‘love’ because it’s ‘addictive and deceptive’ – when you are with your wife use ‘common sense’, or when you are with your husband use ‘your intelligence’ (he hasn’t any, obviously) and that will give you a better result? This is barking mad.
Second, the option not to be motivated and not to seek motivation leads to the abnormal states I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately these abnormal states are all too normal, too frequent and too apparent in the world in which we live. We don’t need a ‘passion’ guru to start instructing us to avoid motivation when most organisations are designed to do precisely that! That’s exactly their problem. What happens when you do activities for prolonged periods of time without really wanting to do them – in other words when you are not motivated – in other words when you work for a company and can’t wait to leave (sound familiar?) – is that you become stressed and ultimately you become sick. How useful, then, is it to have some guru advising in advance of getting such a tedious job that you need not think about enjoying the job – being motivated – instead we can adapt to the tedium and cut through using intelligence, integrity and values?
Of course, the third reason this is so cock-eyed is the ambiguity in the list provided of alternatives to motivation. Using our intelligence is one thing; but using our dreams is another. And here is the real deception: for dreams are the primary source of the real motives to change within us. For it is from dreams that our desires, our imaginations and our expectations are fuelled – and these are what stoke our motivation. Thus it is that we have some guru denigrating motivation, as this were not so important, and then by the backdoor surreptitiously introducing motivation in a more primary form. How integrous is that?
To be fair to the ‘guru’ there is perhaps one sense in which he may have a case. There is one aspect of motivation I don’t like myself: namely, “ra-ra” motivation. The kind of motivation that is generated by doing extreme things that allegedly take you ‘beyond your comfort zone’. You’re an office clerk – go and parachute from 10,000 feet and show ‘I Can Do It’. All this does seem pretty pointless, and in my experience leads to short-term bursts of motivation which rapidly fade when the subject is back in the routine environment once more.
We need a proper understanding of motivation – its real science (Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, for example) and its real art (the application of motivational diagnostics for example). And in this sense we really must resist these snake-oil gurus who try to pretend that they have something better than motivation – motivation is core to our feeling good about ourselves as human beings. Don’t be without it! Drink up!!