The Anti-Motivation Strategy (Part 2):  Feeding the Beast

Employee-Motivation resized

We ended last week’s post by asking, Can’t we just get positive? Won’t that keep us motivated?

Sure, it will help. Check out this  Time article on How to Motivate Yourself: 3 Steps Backed By Science. Step One is “Get Positive.”

Most of us can match Norman Vincent Peale and his self-help classic The Power of Positive Thinking from two columns, although most of us haven’t read the book, and nobody we know practices it. For a more recent take on the subject, we might try Positive Psychology evangelist Shawn Achor and his book The Happiness Advantage. (Google it — it’s all over the place. Here’s his TEDx talk, which is well worth a look.)

The Happiness Advantage is full of good news and great advice, not to mention lots of quotes you can add to the conference room wall or to a PowerPoint. Here’s a sample:

“If you observe people around you, you’ll find most individuals follow a formula that has been subtly or not so subtly taught to them by their schools, their company, their parents, or society. That is:  If you work hard, you will become successful, and once you become successful, then you’ll be happy. This pattern of belief explains what most often motivates us in life.

“The only problem is that this formula is broken.

“[N]ew research in psychology and neuroscience shows that it works the other way around. We become more successful when we are happier.

“It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.

“The Happiness Advantage… is about learning how to cultivate the mindset and behaviors that have been empirically proven to fuel greater success and fulfillment. It is a work ethic.

“Happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change. It is the realization that we can.

“When we are happy – when our  mindset and mood are positive – we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful.

“Data abounds showing that happy workers have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, and receive higher performance ratings and higher pay. They also enjoy more job security and are less likely to take sick days, to quit, or to become burned out. Happy CEOs are more likely to lead teams of employees who are both happy and healthy, and who find their work climate conducive to high performance. The list of benefits of happiness in the workplace goes on and on.”

Yes, Positive Psychology’s insights about happiness will make a difference, and they’re good science to boot. (For more on the science of positive thinking, check out this Huffington Post article.) And yet… we can practice all that positive psychology and still our motivation eventually wears out, and we find ourselves reaching for articles like this one that asks “ How do I recharge my depleted motivation?”

The problem is that, positive or not, we keep playing the motivation game the same way we always have, which is basically:

Motivation means get pumped up and stay pumped up.

And to do that, you have to keep feeding the beast.

Lion feasting

That’s our formula for how we practice all that science and scholarship:  feed the beast; feed it to awaken it; keep feeding it to keep it awake. It works, as far as it goes. Trouble is, it doesn’t go very far. Here’s a totally random sample of one, two, three, four articles telling us that motivation will last two, maybe three days at best.

That’s it?! All this trouble and we’re only motivated for two or three days?!

We can do better. How? All this time while we’ve been searching for the psychological and neurological Holy Grail of motivation, we’ve been avoiding another hugely important aspect of motivation science.

We’ll look at it next time.

Author: Kevin Rhodes

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for over 30 years. Drawing on insights gathered from science, technology, disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, neuroscience, and psychology, and also from his personal experiences as a practicing lawyer and a “life athlete,” he’s on a mission to bring wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s