Motivation is a complex topic. I write about it regularly, but specific to the nonprofit sector and motivating volunteers. Yesterday I interviewed a very smart gentlemen about motivating volunteers at nonprofits and while this general topic usually elicits some clear thoughts from people I interview, he was more difficult, but what he spoke of has a larger reach than just nonprofits.
I asked him how to motivate volunteers. We normally think of rewards and recognition, training, etc. and often it comes down to understanding why the volunteer is there in the first place, what they hope to get out of the experience and then find ways to keep them engaged by satisfying that need or want. But perhaps that’s too simplistic. Perhaps motivation is an ongoing process.
What Motivates You
We’re all motivated by some things (and not others) and different situations and wants. Some are motivated by money, others by prestige, others by recognition, others by helping people and so on. The first step in understanding yourself, your work and your aspirations is to assess your motivations. The problem is we’ll try to convince ourselves to adopt certain motivations, even if they aren’t our own. For example, it sounds better to say you’re motivated by helping people and sure you might really enjoy that, but is that your true motivation, or is it money.
What makes you get up every morning to do the things you need to do?
Motivation isn’t a one-time thing. It isn’t something we think about once a year and forget most of the time. Motivation is occurring nonstop. Let’s go back to volunteers. Motivation of some sort got them to show up for orientation, go through the training, submit an application and actually show up to perform their volunteer duties. It’s common to think of the initial motivation to act and ignore the rest, until at the end of the year when we praise them for their work, hoping they will continue their duties or take on more. But this is missing the whole point. Motivation occurs every day, every moment.
This idea of motivation being nonstop comes into play in our relationships, work, volunteer experiences, child-raising, education, etc. We are constantly choosing whether to continue on or change courses.
Let’s take relationships as an example. Some initial thing drew you together and there was motivation on both sides to move forward. You have a date, that’s like a decision point. Do you call or just let it slip away? It all comes down to motivation. Then time goes on, you decide to get married or whatever your commitment practice is, and that takes some motivation to do so. If you’re not interested in moving forward, you won’t (in theory). But if the interest or motivation is there, you keep moving along. And it’s not that once you’re committed, you stop needing motivation. This is a recipe for failure. That interest needs to be there all the time and the motivation to do the work to keep it going is vital. It’s not like you just then float along, you are constantly choosing if you’re still motivated with this. Each fight or setback in the relationship is like a new point where the motivation exists or it doesn’t.
In all things in life, from the mundane to the complex, every moment we are deciding whether we’re motivated enough to keep going or whether it’s time to focus our energy somewhere else, toward something we’re more motivated about. This is why friendships wither away, hobbies get set aside and house chores go undone. We’re just not motivated enough to do it. The interesting part is when you assess motivations and realize you’re activities are not in line with your motivations. You then have some choices to make and conflicts to work through.
Utilizing Motivation to Enhance Your Life
Now that we understand motivation and how big of a role it plays in life, we can harness this power to make changes, keep things fresh or find new focuses. Most people have at least one relationship they care about and are motivated to sustain. Let’s actively work to sustain them.
We might have jobs we enjoy and want to keep. Use that interest to keep yourself motivated. Notice the first signs of burnout and assess the situation to make sure it goes the direction you want. If it’s time to move on, that’s fine, but if it’s not, remember your motivation.
And finally, we all have tasks we either have to do (like cleaning the house), want to do (like hobbies or volunteering) or do because we know it’s good for us (like exercise, cooking healthy meals or meditation). These may not be things we’re super motivated about but there is a morsel of motivation or it wouldn’t be a part of our lives in the first place. I like a clean house, so there’s my motivation. I like riding my bike even when I’m lazy and don’t want to, so it helps to have others to ride with. The point is to tap into those motivations in whatever way you need. Sometimes it’s easier than others.
Lastly, this is really all about mindfulness and asking yourself, why am I doing this? Is this something I want to be doing or not? What do I need out of this to continue being motivated? Taking the time to assess your motivations and how they play a role in your life could be a powerful tool for transformation and self-knowledge.
We can give it a try together. Share in the comments, did assessing your motivations bring any insight into your life?