During a recent workshop, Dr. Russell Ramsay offered the following definition, “Motivation is the ability to generate emotions about a task that promote follow-through.”
I’m struggling with this definition. I think it’s partly correct in that motivation promotes follow-through. When we are motivated, we want a specific goal, and we’re willing to work hard, or even suffer for it. Athletes endure painful training, because they want to perform at their best.
But I don’t think motivation alone is sufficient to promote follow-through. Many people sincerely want to achieve their goals, yet they are not able to follow through on the necessary actions to achieve those goals. I don’t believe these people desire their goals any less than those who are more successful at follow-through. If anything, their desire may be even more intense, and more painful when they can’t act on it.
On the flip side, we often delay tasks, waiting until we “feel” like doing them. We are waiting for the right mood, for the right emotions, that will propel us to act. But we may never feel like doing many of these tasks. Who enjoys scooping the cat box? Doing taxes? Submitting expense reports? Yet, we often find that once we get started on these aversive tasks, we generate the desire to keep going. We might even enjoy the work, just a little bit. In these situations, the desire to act only comes after we get started. Motivation follows action.
So how important is it to be motivated? Ultimately, we have to want the end result, or else we wouldn’t subject ourselves to doing aversive tasks. I propose that there are two kinds of motivation: Motivation, with a capital “M,” which is necessary but not always enough to propel us to act; and motivation with a lower case “m,” which is not necessary for action, but often comes about as a result of action.
Most people can generate Motivation. That’s usually not the problem. Problems getting things done usually come about when we wait for motivation.
So what is that elusive something that enables us to actually do the work, whether or not we feel like it? I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer. Different people and different situations require different approaches.
What do you think?