Humans were once hunter-gatherers. They knew if they didn’t get up and hunt (or gather) they would die. Today, few of us urbanites are driven by the threat of extreme hunger, thirst or deprivation. Our battles and challenges are in pursuit of glory, praise, success, a sense of meaning or perhaps the greater good.

That’s why motivational training is complicated: each person’s driving forces are different. You have to motivate yourself by identifying what does it for you and then using it effectively. First complete the quiz below, and then read further.

Quiz: Assess your motivational style

This quick self-test will help establish the driving forces behind your motivation. Work through the list below and ask yourself how much each factor spurs you on to succeed when facing a particular challenge. Score each one on a scale of one to five – with one not at all motivating and five being very motivating.

I thrive on...

1. Making friends and interacting with others (affiliation)

2. Doing things without the help of others (independence)

3. Doing something very well (excellence)

4. Doing something to secure prestige, position or status (success)

5. Competing and being the best (winning)

6. Intimidating or threatening others (aggression)

7. Receiving positive feedback (affirmation)

8. Achieving control over others (power)

9. The thrill and excitement of intense situations (stress)

10. Avoiding negative consequences or repercussions (punishment)

What drives you?

The factors to which you assigned a four or ?ve are your primary drivers and should be considered whenever you take on a challenge. Generally no single factor always dominates – it’s usually a combination of drivers or different drivers at different times. But by pinpointing your most powerful drivers you can use them to enhance your motivational state.

Always bear in mind different activities suit different motivational pro?les. If you enjoy interacting with people and making friends, should you become a stamp collector? Ideally, no – unless you join a stamp-collecting club. If you’re spurred on by working with others, should you become a marathon runner? No. Rather play a team sport that really motivates you to perform.

The message? Start understanding your speci?c motivational pro?le then act on it for optimal motivation and success.

The many faces of motivation

Most people struggle with self-motivation. Firstly, they don’t see how their past experiences work against them. And secondly, they don’t understand their own unique challenges.

What is a unique challenge? Basically, we go after what we really want. Think about it: if we could get all the fun, love, sex, money and status we desire without lifting a finger, we would turn into vegetables. But each of us is speci?cally motivated by different things.

Some people are driven by praise, others by challenges, accolades or status. Many individuals are driven by money – usually those who don’t have enough or who think they don’t have enough. Others are pushed by the prospect of new leisure experiences – yes, these may require

buckets of money, but the experience is the driver, not the cash itself. And of course, there are always those who are motivated by competing against others.

Let’s look at some of the most common drivers in more detail...

1. Competition – ‘I want to win!’

When training a young boxer a coach usually pits his charge against competitors of a similar strength. Why? Because the probability of success is higher and at an early stage of his career the boxer needs to feel constantly motivated by regular wins. Over time, though, the coach will pair this boxer with stronger opponents and the probability of success drops. You see, in adulthood you need to lose and be constantly challenged to stay hungry – and motivated – for success.

Competition is a strong motivator for many people. But it can also lead to embarrassment because someone has to win and someone has to lose. People who are motivated by competition can be easily demotivated if they don’t win or can’t be the best. That’s why, at motivational schools around the world, camaraderie and the process of competing are celebrated. At the end of a “race” the winner turns around and thanks the competitors who came in second and third place, saying “Thank you for participating and for pushing and challenging me to succeed.”

Tip: Try to focus on the process of working towards your goals instead of the competition. And when you achieve a goal, appreciate the achievement without thinking about how anyone else has done. Remember, the outcome of winning doesn't need to be the primary focus.

2. Affirmation – ‘Please praise me!’

If you’re motivated by praise and positive feedback from others, you can use a technique called neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) to drive yourself forward more effectively. It means you use the voice in your head as a motivational force. Stop putting yourself down or berating yourself for making mistakes – rather remind yourself you’ve created an opportunity to learn and congratulate yourself on growing through the experience.

Tip: If you know you're motivated by positive feedback, you need to cut out critical self-talk. Praise yourself for a job well done. Say “I did well” or “What can I learn from this?” rather than “l failed again”.

3. Punishment – ‘I want to be good‘

Some people are strongly motivated by the drive to avoid potential punishment. But many companies and employers use the “stick” approach (as opposed to the “carrot”) too often. They impose rules and restrictions that prevent employees from living, enjoying and exploring life. Like overly strict parents, these employers are demotivating.

Tip: If you're stuck in a demotivating work environment, shift your focus to hobbies and after-hours activities that stimulate you and encourage exploration. Yes, you have to make ends meet, but in the meantime explore your options and look for a new position that drives you to use your skills – like that hobby you enjoy.

Healthy motivation

Although all forms of motivation can work well, the “healthiest” motivational style is probably intrinsic motivation – being motivated by the means and not the end. The process of working towards the goal becomes more important than the goal itself.

Extrinsically (or outcome-) motivated people need to achieve the ultimate goal in order to persevere. If they can't win or hit the target perfectly they're likely to give up or make excuses for not participating at all. But process-motivated people stay stimulated and keep going regardless of the outcome.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with being motivated by an outcome or a goal. You can work hard and be driven by the goal of building a career. But if you're motivated by that extrinsic factor alone, you may never be satisfied with what you achieve – especially if it doesn't turn out exactly as you expected. Conversely, if you're motivated by the process of going for the goal, you're more likely to stay motivated and be satisfied in the end.

Most importantly: don't overdo it. Healthy motivation is a balancing act. Why? Because too much motivation can quickly turn into a self-destructive force that finds you pushing yourself too hard. Focus on the process of moving towards your goal, reward yourself for doing your work well and find the healthy middle ground that keeps you challenged, stimulated and ultimately balanced.

Sowing the seeds of self-motivation

If you place a six-month-old baby on the floor, what does she do? Almost immediately she’ll start to crawl around. She’s driven by an innate need to explore the world and feel competent when dealing with what she finds.

This innate need in all humans is the basis for motivation. When does this begin and how do parents secure good motivational development in their children? It starts with nurturing the child’s need to explore in a safe environment.

If your child reaches out to explore an electrical socket, it’s a bad idea to pull him away or slap his hand. Try this instead: act as if you’re touching the socket and mime getting a shock. Overreact to this; pull a funny face and yowl in mock pain. By doing this you’re encouraging the child’s exploration. In fact, you’re giving him something interesting and new to explore and something to learn from – such as Daddy’s funny face.

The dos: Of course you need to protect kids from danger, but by allowing and encouraging them to explore you’re helping them to become go-getter adults. This way they will always feel stimulated and excited by the experience of exploration.

The don’ts: Remember that critical forces in childhood can feed a limiting inner voice that says “Don’t go for it” or “Why bother?” well into adulthood. Parents should avoid being either too harsh and strict or overly smothering. The more a child is punished or prevented from exploring, the higher the chance he’ll be sitting around as an adult wondering why he can’t get going – and this “punishment” comes from a disapproving family, school system or peer group.

Similarly, overprotective parents who panic or stop kids from venturing too far are limiting their offspring’s confidence and exploration. Rather feed your child’s motivational force with a healthy supple of freedom, security and encouragement.

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