Core Motivators

Change is hard.

“The only constant is change.” — Heracles of Ephesus

It is both validating and frustrating to me that I am not the only one that continues to struggle with getting things done within the context of life balance. Let me explain.

We all struggle with getting things done.

In order for our lives, and our work, to progress the way we want them to, there are certain things that actually need to be accomplished. Do you want to improve staff morale? You need to get executive buy-in, establish a baseline, identify interventions, etc. Is it time to implement an important change? Your to-do list includes performing a needs assessment, writing the business case justification, drafting the project charter and communication plans, etc. Usually, there is more to do than we can fit into a day.


In fact, everyone seems to be drowning in “To-dos.”

Whether at home or in the office, having a list that is too long is overwhelming and anti-motivational. Narrow your to-do list to just 2 or 3 important items you want to accomplish today. That means 2-3 items that, if you get just those done, you will feel accomplished. (Have more? Narrow them down by setting boundaries.)  

In our last newsletter, we introduced you to the research of Dr. BJ Fogg from Stanford University. We talked about increasing your ability to make a change by utilizing the six simplicity factors to help you succeed. Odds are, you are trying to improve something in your life right now, so making it easier to do, setting yourself up for success, is a mindset you can practice immediately. But what about those big changes you haven’t started yet?

How do you turn a “To-do” list into a “Done” list?

To actually get going in a work environment — to reach down inside and find the strength and energy to change direction — there are three core motivators you should know about: Sensation, Anticipation, and Social Cohesion. Each of these has two sides: pleasure/pain, hope/fear, and acceptance/rejection. ( Knowing these not only makes it easier for you to get going, but can also help you motivate your team and organization.

The first core motivator is Sensation, with the dual nature of pleasure and pain. It is very motivating to do things that would avoid pain, like addressing performance issues so you don’t get fired. On the other side, being recognized for your achievements is a pleasure that motivates most professionals.

The Anticipation motivator is slightly more abstract, with the outcome not being as certain. We can hope that the new product will bring in more customers, and so we give it a try. The fear of something bad happening to your bottom line can also be motivational, prompting a change of course or intervention.

Social Cohesion motivation is gained from the sense of acceptance you feel from your peers when they support your project or idea. Fear of social rejection, however, can keep you from expressing a concern or challenging an idea in a group meeting.

There are many ways to motivate yourself, and others, to change.

When you spend quality time thinking about the changes you want to make, and applicable human motivators, you improve your chances of success. Here are some ways this knowledge is directly applicable in your work life:

Pleasure: Can you show how there will be recognition by peers or an outside agency?

Pain: Can you demonstrate how frustrating it is to work under current circumstances?

Hope: Do you reflect your belief that this change will make things better?

Fear: Do you have examples of what could happen if you don’t change?

Acceptance: Is everyone else in your field doing this already?

Rejection: Will your vendors, customers, and competitors look askance at you for not changing?

These are just some examples to think about within the context of the three core motivation categories in the Stanford behavior model. Change is hard, and having a toolbox full of direct interventions can support you and your team in the absence of more intrinsic motivation.

In our next newsletter, we will talk about how to kick off a change by utilizing triggers. In the meantime, I’m sure you have a list of things you use to personally motivate yourself, like mine here.

I would love for you to share your motivational techniques in the comments section below. I’m always looking for new ideas!

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