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The ONLY Motivation that Actually Works

Quite often, I hear and read that the only real motivator that drives people to work and perform is money. I find this statement to be preposterous because one has to only look around and you will find scores of people who toil tirelessly in fields such as teaching and social service, when they are not paid even close to what they are worth. Again, who determines just how much is the worth of a particular job, work or service is not clearly discernible. There are professions where people are paid many times what they are worth and others where they are barely paid what they deserve. Yet society accepts it as the norm, but the driving force behind each of these could be resoundingly different.

Values, morals, personal ethics, integrity, honour, fear all play a role – why else would everyone not take easily to crime? And then there are minor factors that play a role like environment, location, proximity to residence, ease of commute, etc. (too lengthy a list) which can lead to monetary sacrifices for other marginal benefits.

Motivational theories abound and we have been reading about them through various years of schooling and higher education. They are either based on natural forces such as desires and needs or on rational forces such as self-identity and meaningfulness. Motivation can also be categorized as intrinsic (internal) or extrinsic (external).

The objectives are however different. External motivation is often to attain a desired outcome whereas intrinsic motivation is often to explore, analyse, learn and observe. The former leads to the achievement of the outcome whereas the latter leads to the fulfilment of purpose or self-desire.

Managers are expected to motivate their employees. Leaders are expected to motivate their followers. And the HR fraternity are expected to make a group of people understand their common goals, facilitate knowledge transfer, enforce acceptable standards, adapt to new behaviours and changing environs even as they unleash the potential in people. This has led to a spate of reward and recognition (R&R) schemes, incentive programs, employee engagement programs, and the like.

There is no doubt that in the short term, extrinsic motivation not just has a role to play, but delivers results although not easily measurable. But do they last? With the free play of natural and rational forces on employee minds, all extrinsic motivation fails to last.

Motivation can be defined as forces acting either on or within a person to initiate behaviour. The word is derived from the Latin term motivus (“a moving cause”), which suggests the activating properties of the processes involved in psychological motivation ( In reality motivation cannot be directly measured but inferred from the response to internal or external stimuli.

So what is the real motivator? The only real motivation is that which is intrinsic. It can win over extrinsic motivation at any given point in time. No external motivation can persuade a person to do what is not internally acceptable to him or her.

The only real limitation on your abilities is the level of your desires. If you want it badly enough, there are no limits on what you can achieve.

– Brian Tracy

The Self-determination Theory (SDT) is concerned with the choices that people make without any external persuasion or interference. In a nutshell, SDT identifies Competence, Relatedness and Autonomy as the three innate needs that need to be satisfied. Not in any particular order. Autonomy is the need to be the causal agent for one’s own life, but not necessarily in isolation. Relatedness brings in the need to be connected to and interact with others. Competence seeks to control the outcome and gain proficiency or mastery in the action.

Extrinsic motivation has unfortunately (or otherwise) become such a profound part of our lives on a day to day basis, that more often than not, even those who are self-motivated seek it unmindfully.

We are thus looking to be rewarded, praised, applauded and acknowledged for our efforts in order to continue with the current level of performance or raise the bar. Such is the compelling force of external motivation that its absence now makes a person feel ‘de-motivated’.

No one can feel de-motivated if the sole driver is intrinsic motivation.

The only real motivator!

We forget that we are the causal agent in our life.

We need to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves for our own sake.

We have to both dream and fulfil our dreams ourselves.

We have to review and track our life and make appropriate modifications.

We and we alone are responsible for our actions.

How can we let another determine our behaviour or actions?

There is a strong correlation between self-motivation, personal goals and achievement. In order to get properly motivated it helps to spend some time thinking about your personal goals and what you want to achieve in your life.

How can you NOT be self-motivated, when -

  • It defines who you are, gives you an identity

  • It helps you identify your purpose, set your goals and make your plans

  • It gives you a sense of direction in life

  • It builds capacity to withstand difficulties and accept challenges

  • It keeps your enthusiasm going.

  • It gives you a sense of fulfilment.

Watch this video till the end where Pink in his TED talk states that “there’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”

The author, Rajesh Seshadri, is an internationally recognized Certified Leadership Coach, Certified Success Coach and Certified Life Coach. He is also a NLP Master Practitioner, facilitator and therapist. The basket of therapies is holistic and integrative adopting techniques from Psychotherapy, NLP, Silva, Gestalt, Hypnosis and Silva UltraMind. Additionally, he is a seasoned corporate professional who continues to serve as a whole-time Director and Board Member. You can contact him here.

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