Personal power and motivation

Drumnbass_2A while ago, I wrote an article on motivation¬†around the fact that my son, Dominic, was failing at school and the comment from one of his teachers that he wasn’t ‘motivated’ to do his exams.

Here is what I wrote:

‘Motivation doesn’t exist inside the person. It is a reason for doing something that comes with the activity.
I don’t yet know what needs to happen for my son to work harder at his exams – or even if he wants to. But if he finds a motivationless way out I’ll post it here.’

The Reverse Thinking point was that ‘motivation’ is a meaningless word. All it really means is that we don’t have a reason for doing something. That we can’t connect up our emotions to that particular activity. And Dom could never seem to find a convincing reason to do his school work.

But Eureka! We found something! Dominic spends hours in our garage on his mixing desk playing around with drum & bass tracks. He also learnt guitar for years. So last week I took him to the Basingstoke College and they accepted him on the Diploma course in Music Technology. Instead of doing A Levels he is going to do something he is really good at, and which he likes to do.

Result: one happy 16-year old who is really excited about College and is working hard to get the GCSE results he needs to be able to follow his passion.

Nice for me to know that Reverse Thinking can work for my son as well as my clients….

Got any motivation inside you?

The_gameYesterday I called up my 15 year old son’s tutor at the school. I wanted to meet with him to find out why Dominic isn’t doing so well at his exams this year.

‘He isn’t motivated’ said the teacher.

Now I have spent a lot of time studying motivation. In fact I once ran a coaching workshop for employees with ‘motivational’ problems. And I have concluded that it doesn’t exist. That people who use the word ‘motivation’ are really talking about something else. They would be better off using words like ‘desire’, ‘interest’, or ‘reward’.

So when someone fails to show up for work for the third time this week that is telling you that they have more interesting things to do than come to the office. It’s not that they don’t have any motivation to do the job; they just don’t have a reason to.

If an alcoholic breaks his promise not to drink any more it’s not because he lacks ‘motivation’. It’s just that getting drunk is so nice, compared to other things he could do, that there is no reason why he should give it up. As Gregory Bateson once said, the alcoholic’s problem is not alcohol; it’s sobriety.

I don’t know yet why my son isn’t working harder at his grades. But I do know it’s not because he isn’t filled with motivation (he has plenty of that for his Saturday job, skate-boarding, and chasing girls). It’s more likely that school work isn’t interesting enough. Or that he doesn’t see the point.

Some people – including psychologists who ought to know better – talk about motivation as if it were a pep pill. Something that gives you lots of energy and galvanises you into going to the party you wouldn’t otherwise go to. Something that a highly-paid consultant can give you if you sign up for enough sessions.

Now, if we apply Reverse Thinking to this idea we get something like this:

Motivation doesn’t exist inside the person. It is a reason for doing something that comes with the activity.”

If you want someone to work for you, you are going to have to give them an advantage for doing so. Or, else, you are going to have to take away the advantages they have for not coming in (why would anyone in their right mind go to work if they knew they were going to be paid anyway?).

If you want to quit drinking you are going to have to find another activity that is more rewarding than alcohol. Or you are going to have to find out the hard way that getting drunk every day is going to take you to a lot of bad places you’d rather not visit.

I don’t yet know what needs to happen for my son to work harder at his exams – or even if he wants to. But if he finds a motivationless way out I’ll post it here.



The language of the possible

More gems from Dr Ellen Weber, who has been writing up on how using language that focuses on what we can do rather than on we think we can’t, triggers brain mechanisms that help us solve problems. If we use worry-based language like ‘I don’t have the time….’, ‘Nobody’s going to help me…..’, or ‘It’s never been done before…..’ then we are effectively slamming the brakes on our ability to overcome challenges. That, in turn, keeps us from desirable states allied to excitement and satisfaction. Instead we will be heading straight for emotions associated with frustration and stress. And that is not emotionally intelligent.

When we are working with emotional intelligence, focusing on what we can do right now rather than in some mythical, worry-free, future, we are always going to be using words like ‘I’d like to….’, ‘I could….’, ‘I’m going to find a way to….’ rather than words like ‘never’, ‘nobody’, ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’. Phrases in the first set keep us in the here and now and focused on the possible. While worry-based language keeps us in the there-and-then, gazing at the impossible.

How does Bodymind react in either case? If you are going for it then you are going to experience a release of serotonin – a mood booster. Taken in tandem with other chemical releases, you will be provided with the energy and concentration you need to sustain your efforts. If you have gone down the other route then your emotions are blocked and Bodymind will, eventually, be forced to respond by releasing ‘stress’ chemicals associated with the crisis alert. The effect of cortisol, in particular, will be to shut down the thinking centres in the pre-frontal lobes. And that will leave you worse off than before in terms of solving those problems.

There is an enormous amount of research coming out at the moment, mostly in the USA, which shows precisely how the brain works to keep us in a high-performance state when we align the way we think with Bodymind intelligence. And how non-alignment leads to so-called ‘stress’ and disease states. I will be coming back to some of that research – and what it tells us about personal fulfilment – over the next few posts.