The Launch Pad #2 – An Intro to Motivation – crossing the thin line between ‘Doing and ‘Making Do’

The water looked a very, very long way down. Loughton Swimming Baths had shrunk to a single diving board and a postage stamp of water a very, very long way down.

This was the board that the big kids dived from. This was the board that all his friends had launched themselves from and now he stood, looking over the edge, taking in how very, very far down the water was.

He shivered.

From the bottom of the steps he had been full of bravado – of course this was going to be easy. He wasn’t scared. As he walked up the ladder to the 10 metre board he passed the other two, lower boards. Both had seemed challenging when he’d approached them but he’d conquered them both.

He remembered just how much a belly-flop hurt.

It occurred to him that he could just go back. Was it easier to face the sneers of his friends, or the water, such a very, very long way down and – from this distance – looking as hard as brick?

The queue grew in numbers and impatience. Disgruntled kids waiting for him to get on with it. The ladder was too narrow for him to climb down while others climbed up. There was nothing else for it. This was his moment. He counted to himself.

“One, two, three, and…”

And nothing. His hand refused to let go of the railing.

Down at the distant water his friends looked up, expectant. There was a sudden moment of motivation and the platform became a launch pad. He threw himself into the void.

In that moment, in the eyes of his friends, he became a man.

Prepare to Launch

We were at the start of the second Launch Pad of 2020.

Back in May 2020, Guildhall Innovation had created Lockdown Lounge, a way for creative individuals to share their experiences of the challenges and highlights of lockdown. Every fortnight the Loungers took models from coaching and mentoring to refract, reflect and review their understanding and every session had found a new lens through which to filter their lived realities.

In August, as we entered a new phase of lockdown, with schools reopening and small green shoots of optimism emerging, Lockdown Lounge became The Launch Pad.

A chance to launch ourselves into the future from that dizzying diving board and to present our best possible selves to the world. A chance to find comfort and support from fellow creatives. A chance to find new insights into how to close the gap between our potential and our performance.

It was now the 9th September 2020.

Just Do It

Trevor was recalling the start of his interest in motivation. That experience as an 11 year old boy on the top diving board had sparked a lifelong interest in motivation.

Today he was going to outline three of the most influential models associated with motivation, for the Launch Pad travellers to muse on and discuss.

There wasn’t time to go into depth, of course, but drawing out the differences in the way that people have approached the topic would bring light onto the subject. After that he would be focussing on the active ingredients to create motivation.

The same principles apply whether you’re aiming to motivate yourself or to motivate others and it starts with a question:

What’s missing?

These principles would enable the travellers to turn aspiration and good intentions into purposeful actions.

Needing and Wanting

The first step was to look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow posited that we tend to be motivated to satisfy our needs in a particular order. Firstly, our physiological needs, such as air, food and body temperature.

If we’re starving, we’ll take all sorts of risks in order to sustain ourselves.

But, if our physiological needs are met, we turn our attention to our safety, and once we’re relatively safe, we consider our social needs. This makes evolutionary sense in that these three layers all support survival in one way or another.

Then the emphasis can change to how we feel about ourselves and once we have a high enough level of self-esteem we are in a place to be driven to be our best possible selves.

Maslow’s model is a look at people in general.

But people in general is not people in particular – and Trevor had a light to shine on that, thanks to one of the most cited psychologists of the 20th century.

What About Me?

So how does this relate to our own motivation?

Here, Trevor introduced us to David McClelland.

In the 60s, McClelland identified that people tended to have different personal tendencies with regard to what motivated them.

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Some people are particularly motivated by affiliation

  • fundamentally they are driven to have positive relationships.

Others by achievement

  • a good example of this might be an Olympic athlete that forgoes close friendships and spending time with their family to train.

And some by influence

  • in the less benign form this can manifest in a pursuit of power
  • in the more productive form, it’s a desire to make a difference; to make a positive contribution; to shape things for the better

Of course, they’re in no way mutually exclusive and it’s likely that you have all three – McClelland noted that the difference was often just a change in emphasis.

So you’re motivated… but why aren’t you getting on with it?

Add a bit of Vroom…

Finally Trevor brought the wonderfully-named Victor Vroom into the room.

Also working in the 60s (though he’s still working at the time of writing), his work on Expectancy Theory highlighted that wanting something wasn’t enough to be motivated to action – you also needed an expectation that it would be effective – otherwise, what’s the point?

Simply put, you needed to believe that the effort would lead to a good enough performance to result in the desired outcomes.

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When you look at any task in front of you, if that chain doesn’t make sense, you don’t even start.

Don’t Get Me Started…

Or rather, let’s get started.

The key part of Lockdown Lounge and The Launch Pad – perhaps the main reason that so many Loungers and Launch Pad Travellers returned session after session – was the conversations.

Trevor provided the prompts for discussion.

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In particular, he asked where each traveller felt that they were in McClelland’s Venn diagram – don’t imagine it as three separate choices – and to think where it was that they could make a difference to their lives, in line with Vroom’s Expectancy theory.

Helpfully, he provided a link to those motivation models, should the travellers wish to use them in the future.

Trevor, JaneCarlos and Chris, from Guildhall Coaching Associates, prepared to host a breakout room each. Each is a qualified Executive Coach, each skilled at facilitating creative conversations. Each had their own secret recipes to allow ideas to percolate through the filters of multiple coaching models in a way that was gently provocative and respectful.

The conversations began.

Pyramid Scheming

The discussion were open and honest. Things were said that could only be said in this supportive environment, with fellow travellers sharing their own vulnerabilities.

Much of the discussion ranged around the Maslow pyramid and how it didn’t always fit with our lived realities.

“I get so focussed on creative self-actualisation that I can forget about the basic human needs – and then I’m in no fit state to achieve the self-actualisation!”

“In the current climate, I have huge financial uncertainties – that means that my physiological needs are not being met”

“The two final stages [self-esteem and self-actualisation] don’t always feel discrete, nor is one above the other – they play off each other”

In the feedback plenary, Trevor pointed out that self-actualisation was actually a later addition to the original pyramid of Maslow’s. He also drew our attention to the issue of basing our self-worth on our income, which fed lower stages of the pyramid into the self-esteem level.

Other travellers commented on the third part of the Vroom model.

“The reward has to be intrinsically valuable – if the outcome doesn’t satisfy me intrinsically, I’m not motivated”

“The criteria for success and reward matters a lot to me”

“I want the outcome, but I haven’t done anything about it. Why not?”

And the McClelland model found its place when the travellers discussed the balance of internal values in motivation.

“During lockdown, affiliation has become even more important – it’s brought lack of social context into sharp relief”

“When I get too focussed on achievement, I forget about the importance of affiliation. Finding the balance and checking my tendencies can keep me resourced”

“There are benign and less benign versions of all three parts”

From Making Do to Getting it Done

Trevor had promised us an insight into some of the ingredients for motivation, and that was where the Launch Pad was heading now.

Five important ingredients contributed to the recipe. Whether you’re trying to motivate yourself or others, it’s worth reflecting on these five to see what’s missing or what’s weaker.

What do you need to get over the thin line between ‘making do’ to ‘doing’?

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Awareness

If you aren’t aware of the issues, intended outcomes AND what needs to be done…

… how can you be motivated?!

Trevor recounted an incident when he was a motivation advisor working in the education system in Essex. His job was to visit schools and build motivation within the staff.

A science teacher had asked him to come in. Why weren’t the students interested? He himself was a motivated, generous, committed teacher, but he wasn’t getting the students fired up. What was wrong?

Trevor went to watch one of his lessons and from the very start, one reason was evident.

He mumbled. But he didn’t know he mumbled.

With the students barely able to understand what he said, they soon switched off. As soon as Trevor pointed this out to him, he shifted and his teaching became more engaging and more transformational.

Becoming aware moves barriers.

Value

The value is the driver of your motivation and it involves getting to the ‘currency’ of the intended outcome – what gives it value to you.

Trevor gave a practical example from his own life.

Like many teenagers in the 80s, Trevor was a smoker. He knew it was bad for his health, he knew that if he quit he’d reduce the risk of cancer and save money, and he knew what he had to do – stop smoking.

But…

He felt fine. He was in school sports teams. He had nothing in particular to do with any money he might save and so the value of the outcomes didn’t reach the level required to persuade him to take action.

Trevor gave up in his early 20s. By this time he had a pragmatic reason with a clear value – he needed to save up money to go on holiday.

Perhaps if he had been older, he might have given up in order to set a good example to his children – there seems to be a tendency towards moral reasons gaining in value as one gets older.

Hope

There are two sides to hope as a driver.

Firstly, the hope that the actions can be realistically completed.

Secondly, that if they are completed, then they will lead to the intended outcomes.

There has to be a good reason or evidence for one or – preferably – both for the hope to rise to a sufficient level.

(There’s crossover with psychologist Howard Gardner’s work around Reason, Resonance and Research as explored in his book Changing Minds)

Responsibility

Sometimes people just don’t see their own responsibility for the task.

Trevor talked about the bystander effect – shown in the example if someone is attacked. If you are the only witness, you are more likely to act than if you’re part of a crowd. As a less drastic example, Trevor talked about his four teenagers, none of whom ever change the toilet roll – it’s not so much that it’s someone else’s job, as the job doesn’t appear to need doing. The roll seems to magically change itself!

There is also the sense of accountability – either our own accountability or other people’s expectations of our role.

Capability

Capability is expressed in both personal and contextual terms. It’s different to ‘Hope’, as capability requires access to resources. The resources might be your own skillset, or it might be practical resources, including sufficient time to complete the task.

Being asked to complete a task without adequate resources leads to anxiety and stress.

Enough Theory…

Putting this into practical terms, Trevor suggested that if someone is not sufficiently motivated to carry out a task, it’s because one of those five drivers hasn’t reached the threshold for action.

He gave three clear illustrations of this point.

Firstly, mowing the garden…

One Man Went to Mow…

Let’s look at the five ingredients and see how they can be finessed into this system (adapted and developed from the Linden Learning website):

Putting these into the context of mowing the lawn yields these motivating factors:

Which of these elements need to be amplified, or focussed on, to get the job done?

Of course, there is no single or simple answer to that question, but looking at each of the five aspects in turn can lead to insights into the next best step.

But beware of ‘away from’ motivation: it’s almost always stronger to have a ‘towards’ goal. Visualising a future ‘better’ self or outcome can lead to greater drive and enthusiasm to act.

Health is a common area to seek for motivation. Here’s Trevor’s self-analysis for building on his health regime:

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Let’s consider that second line – the ‘value’ line. It’s not very empowering, is it? It brings straight to mind the picture of an unhealthy body. It feels ‘worthy’. It tells you what you ought to do, not what youwant to do (remember Jo‘s Lockdown Lounge #4 on the ‘ought’s’ and the ‘should’s’’?).

That’s an ‘away from’ motivation. Let’s replace it with a ‘towards’ motivation:

Now the motivation is tangible, achievable and aspirational – far more likely to provide momentum.

Motivating others

Next, a framework for considering your best options when trying to persuade someone else to act.

What are the questions you could be asking yourself?

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And how does this play out in this motivation model?

Becoming aware of which part of your influence strategy needs an uplift can massively increase your chances of a positive outcome.

All of these factors are within your control – which one will you focus on? Which one needs support? Which seems most ‘real’ to the person you’re trying to motivate?

It’s Inside You

So what about if the issue is an internal one?

Balancing external demands can be a challenge and here Trevor’s motivation model can be used to analyse a situation and to plot a course to the best possible outcome.

Consider the context of a parent who feels that their relationship with their son is not as close or secure as they want it to be.

Let’s look at that situation through the lens of

Awareness – Value – Hope – Responsibility – Capability

and use that as a checklist to scrutinise where we stand.

The essence here is to keep things simple, practical and clear. Then the potential for progress feels more authentic.

Turning the Volume Up

Time for us to return to the breakout rooms.

Trevor sent us off to consider real-world uses for this motivation model. Two simple questions that he knew would provoke stimulating and nourishing dialogues.

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One Model, Many Facets

As the breakout rooms feedback into the plenary, it was clear that many of the Launch Pad Travellers had taken this model and found ways to make it useful in a variety of different situations:

“I see this when students practise – what’s often missing is the ‘Hope’ category. Practice can seem like a never-ending project and defining the outcomes with definitely help”

“I need to choose my battles carefully – if I focus on ‘Awareness’ I can really map out what needs to be done”

“Capability really resonated with me – if a goal seems out of reach, I can focus on my capability and the resources I need. Then a nearer goal can make you believe that the bigger goal can be accomplished”

“This model can really help me get purchase on the situation!”

Others appreciated the multi-dimensional nature of this approach:

“As you unpack the model, it’s helpful to see how you’re differently motivated at different parts of the challenge”

“It makes such a difference to think about switching a negative goal [away from] to a positive goal [towards]”

Another traveller picked up on the peculiar challenges of the current situation:

“Negotiations are easier when you’re in the room – with Zoom, the feedback loop is broken”

All too soon we were coming to the end of our time together. Trevor offered a final summing up to provide motivation before our launch into the uncertain future.

Checklist

When someone is lacking motivation to get up and do something then it can be tempting to see it as laziness – but if we recognise that it’s just telling us that one of these elements is missing, then we can do something about it.

Trevor suggested that we need to be able to nod emphatically to all the following five points:

Am I really clear…

… on the reason I want to do something? Have I got a vivid idea of what the intended outcomes are? Do I know what needs to be done?

Have I tapped into…

… what is significant to me? Found the ‘currency’ for me in the intended outcome? So it’s compelling for me?

It’s worth considering what Trevor called ‘double chunking’ – follow the chain of ‘so that’ in two directions:

I want to do this so that… and I want to do that, so that…

and…

If I don’t do this, this will happen… and if that happens, then this will happen…

Do I see it…

… as realistic? Am I convinced it can happen? Do I actually believe that it follows that “if A, then B”?

Have I accepted responsibility…

… for making it happen, or am I still making excuses and blaming others?

Do I have the understanding, skills and resources…

… to tackle the challenge with confidence and optimism? Can I bring real, committed engagement to this situation?

“In September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.”

Henry Rollins’ quote never seemed more apt than in September 2020. The travellers had developed insights and were leaving with practical tools to handle the potential challenges that summer’s ghost would bring.

As they left, they offered thanks and feedback to the team:

“Jam packed, thanks!”

“Such a useful, brilliant and supportive session and space thank you!”

“I’d be interested to know the opposite words/terms for the 5 Motivational points. e.g. Stress destroys Motivation really clarifies things!”

“Being clear on the why is very important, I think. It also draws people who share your why to you. Having a single focus helps too.”

“These days it sometimes feels like there’s too much information and choice. Thank you for today. I’ve benefited a lot from these”

“Such an interesting topic. It has helped me see non-motivation differently.  Once again, brilliant.  Thank you!”

“Many thanks for these great sessions.”

(and if you enjoy my writing, why not buy me a coffee at Ko-fi.com/chrisbrannick? It’s not expected or demanded, but I’d be really touched. I live on appreciation and coffee… in that order)

The Launch Pad is run monthly by the Guildhall Coaching Faculty. To book a place at The Launch Pad meet up on Zoom on 4 November or 2 December 16:00 to 17:30 UK time, send an email to: coachingandmentoring@gsmd.ac.uk headed ‘The Launch Pad’.

Please note that numbers will be limited.

The exercises offered to our readers at home are sometimes slightly modified in the light of feedback from our Launch Pad travellers.

Photo by Lucas Allmann from Pexels