As New Year’s resolutions fade, let’s talk about motivation
I have no wish to climb Everest. It’s dangerous, cold and ruinously expensive. But it was a podcast with one of the world’s top Everest guides that made me realise something that actually I’ve always known, and unlocked my motivation to do something I had despaired of ever getting round to.
Adrian Ballinger¹ said that they’re often approached by wealthy, fit, hugely driven people, and have to gently tell them they are absolutely not ready for Everest. “But if we book it for this future year, you may be ready by then, if you now plan to do these things first.” In other words, get something aspirational in the diary, then commit to the steps you’ll need to get there. It’s not a difficult concept, is it?
I’ve noticed a few stories recently in which people have quite suddenly made a change or pursued an objective because they were exposed to something they probably knew already. It set me to wondering why that happens; not the “ah-ha” moment of sudden enlightenment, but the “duh-uh” moment of surfacing something already-known, in a way that made me change my behaviour. Was there something here that could help enhance the motivation of ourselves and others?
Fortunately, this University is stacked with world-class expertise in the matter. Over a coffee I chatted with Professor Martyn Standage, Director of the Centre for Motivation and Health Behaviour Change². He explained a few concepts that seemed to fit with my experience. First was the idea of optimal challenge level, neither too easy nor too hard, which of course is why even Olympians set intermediate goals on a longer path. Those intermediate goals should be enjoyable and rewarding in their own right. This was probably the biggest bit of reframing for me; the first step really isn’t that hard, but it would take effort and it would be fun.
It’s also a lot easier to get motivated for something that we value as important, central parts of our own identity, which prompted a lot of resonance in my story as the new realisation brought my family into it. Maybe the centrality of calendar commitments helped, as that’s how my life runs nowadays!
I’m in year 2 of my 3-year process, and the year 3 goal is still in the calendar (in pencil). Even if I don’t get it done, or if it slips to year 4 or 5, I’ve already had a great time, learned a lot and found unexpected benefits in taking the steps along the way. Maybe it’s hard to force an unlocking like this, but if our own motivation or that of our team mates is blocked, perhaps it’s useful to reflect on how we’re framing the challenge. What does it mean to your innermost self, where is the route, and what is there to enjoy about the path along the way?
Learning and Organisational Development Manager, Workforce Development Team, Department of Human Resources