Companies spend a lot of time and money trying to motivate their employees.
But when was the last time a mug with your company’s logo or a coffee shop gift card made you truly excited? Real motivation doesn’t come from external rewards—it comes from making some shifts in how you think about your situation, says San Diego, California-based personal empowerment expert Susan Fowler, author of Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work . . . And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Energizing, and Engaging.
“Give a whale a fish and it’ll jump as high as you want. Give a pigeon a pellet and it’ll turn 360 degrees. That whole animal behavior theory is what the workplace is built on. We’ve got to get away from that because we’re not pigeons and we’re not whales,” she says.
If you’ve lost your motivational mojo recently, take heart. Changing the way you think and adding a few key habits can help you get it back.
Fowler says that if we want to thrive at work—and in our lives—we need to shift our thinking from rewards and incentives to values and purpose. The key to realizing that purpose lies in what she calls “MVP": mindfulness, values, and purpose.
By being mindful of your surroundings and how you’re feeling, you will be more open to the value of the overall job and how your role has a benefit to someone or something. Once you make the connection between what you’re doing and how it relates to something that matters to you, you’re going to be more motivated.
Most boring or unpleasant tasks have some redeeming quality. You may be doing some rote job, but perhaps it gives you a few hours away from the phone so you can think. Perhaps you have to have a difficult conversation, but once it’s done, you will have taken a step toward solving a problem.
Look for the bright spot and you’ve begun to clarify why you do what you do every day, says Fayetteville, Arkansas-based performance expert Andy Core, author of Change Your Day, Not Your Life: A Realistic Guide to Sustained Motivation, More Productivity, and the Art of Working Well.
As you get a better handle on how what you’re doing relates to a greater purpose, find ways to acknowledge progress. If you’ve hit a milestone or achieved a goal, mark your success in a way that makes you happy, says Core. Creating incentives for yourself can help you “get moving and make progress, then that energy can really get you in a better state,” he says. But the incentives have to be meaningful to you rather than imposed upon you by someone else.
Whether it’s a supervisor, coworker or even a spouse or partner, you need someone to acknowledge your efforts, or it’s natural to lose motivation. In a 2008 study published in The Journal of Economic Behavior and Motivation, three groups of people were paid to perform a simple task. The first group’s work was acknowledged, the second group’s was ignored, and the paper on which the third group did the task was immediately shredded. While the people whose work was acknowledged kept going, it took nearly twice as much money for the other two groups to continue to participate. If your work is ignored or disparaged, it’s tough to keep going.