Chances are, what you think motivates you, doesn’t. What you probably don’t know about motivation. What your sales manager never told you about motivation. Why we don’t sell more.
Now in my forth decade as a career salesman, I’m certain of a few things with regard to salespeople, and the art of selling.
Foremost, that there is natural selection: those who can’t, or don’t want to sell, will eventually fade. Second is that very, very few salespeople ever get to earn what they dream of earning. Thirdly, that this is not because they lack product knowledge and sales technique – it’s because they just do not do the things that they (already) know that they need to be doing. Fourth is that there are no exceptions to the three above.
I have closely observed some of the top salespeople in the world ply their craft. And, above all else, they have one thing in common: they do the things that they know they need to be doing. Even when (especially when) they are not in the mood. This is a dead give-away that they are clear – crystal clear – on what really motivates them. And here’s the kicker: this type of clarity comes only by design, never by accident.
As for the rest of us, we have simply not yet figured out what it is that really motivates us.
Put it to the test: Ask (just about) anyone what it is that motivates them, and a very similar list of supposed “motivators” will emerge. I know because I have asked tens of thousands of people in some 25 countries over the past two decades to answer this question. And, (almost) without fail, the lists look the (just about) same.
Try it for yourself: list the top ten things that motivate you. C’mon… what have you got to lose?
What is on your list?
To help you make this exercise work, I have listed some of the most frequently stated “motivators” at the end of this article. Go take a peek now, and compare your list.
If your list contains none of the generic “motivators” on the list at the end of the article, then stop reading now – because I’m wasting your time. But, if there is some overlap, then bear with me as we explore what it is that really motivates us.
We will start with New York Times bestselling author Daniel Pink, during an interview with the Harvard Business Review on his watershed book “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us” – for which he researched the last 50 years of behavioral science. He says that we humans, by our very nature, are motivated by a mix of drives. We have a biological drive: so we eat when we are hungry and we drink when thirsty. We have a reward and punishment drive: so we do respond very well to rewards and punishments (when, if you reward something, you get more of that behavior, and if you punish, you get less of it) – but only in certain environments. Then, says Pink, we have this third drive (I will just call it our intrinsic drive) – the one that often gets neglected in business – where we do things because they ar interesting, because they are fun, because we like doing them, and because doing these things contribute to something (I will add: because doing these things contribute to something bigger than you). Now hold this thought while we explore the next puzzle piece.
Freddie Mercury, of Queen fame, famously said: “I used to have a dream. I wanted money. Now I’ve got it. But now it seems it was much more important to get the damn stuff than to actually have it. Maybe the challenge has worn off… once I get something I’m not that keen on it anymore.”
Can you relate? If so, then go back to your list, and delete all of the items that fall into this category – namely those things that won’t give you lasting intrinsic happiness, were you to get more of it. Like money. Like reward. And so on.
By the way, I’m assuming that there are no reward-punishment motivators on your list. If there are, you can delete them too.
From the remaining items on your list, highlight those fueled by your intrinsic drive – those things that you find interesting to do; those things that are fun to do (as opposed to having something that is fun to have): the things you really like doing (as opposed to things you like having); and the things that contribute to something…
Now let’s consider what psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, the father of existential psychology, had to say about motivation. In his book “Man’s search for meaning” – written in the weeks following his liberation from a Nazi concentration camp – he said that our “primary motivational drive was to strive for and find purpose and meaning for our lives”. He also taught that the pathways towards this end is to commit oneself to a cause greater than yourself, or to do something in the service of others.
A quick caveat: to the best of my knowledge, Frankl never said that your endeavors need to be altruistic. My take on the matter is that your reason for building something greater than yourself, or even for doing something in the service of others can in fact be capitalistic: say, like building a great brand. Like the one represented through what you sell. Because doing so will meet Frankl’s criteria of it being a cause greater than yourself.
Or like when you do something in the service of others by helping them to meet a need or to solve a problem, through the use of your product or service. Or like earning enough so that you can aid others. And like being able to afford the very best education that money can buy for your children. The list is endless.
Yes, I know: you have been doing these things already. And still, you are not unleashing your full potential. Well, that is my point, exactly. Many of us are already doing (some of) the right stuff – but we have simply not yet connected the dots. So, in spite of doing (some of) the right stuff, we continue to measure ourselves using the wrong yardstick. Which still just leaves us feeling empty.
Let us get back to your list, this time to underline the things that are on your list that do help to create something greater than yourself, or that you do in the service of others. How many underlined items on your list?
For the most people, the answer is ‘none’.
Not because they are bad people. And certainly not because they are not making meaningful contribution to something or someone outside of themselves. It is just that they did not list those endeavors as motivators.
And therein lies the problem: our perception of what motivates us is often skewed. And so we pursue the wrong things. Often, things that in the end will not even motivate us, or – worse yet – things that will not make us any happier.
We need to shift our consciousness, is all. We need to gain clarity on what it is that truly motivates us, at a deep intrinsic level. And then we have to consciously pursue those things.
The good news is that we do not need to get this 100% right in order for it to work. We just need to get better at it than we were before.
Harvard’s Teresa Amabile found that the biggest motivator at work – by far – is the sense of making progress. In fact, she found this to be the greatest motivator, overall. Because, when people focus on progress, they start to seek mastery, they speak engagement, and they seek a chance to get better at something. My take on this is that, once we are (more) clear on what motivates us, we need not fully accomplish everything on the list in order for us to remain motivated. Rather, we simply need to know that we are making progress.
Pink also found that, if you look at some of the literature on habit formation, you will find that people do not form new habits or make big changes in their life in an instant (except of course for the rare cases of individuals or organizations facing near-death experiences). In general, though, without an alarming near-death experience, most people make changes in a slow, incremental way. And that is good – because it ends up being more enduring. Pink’s favorite exercises – and now mine, too – is to ask myself, at the end of each day: “Was I a little better today than yesterday?”
Sometimes, the answer is “No”. But it’s rarely “No” two days in a row, or three. And, like Pink, when the answer is ‘No”, I’m a little bit ticked off. But then we wake up the following day with a little bit more resolve. And we start over.
This is the real measure of progress.
Extract of some of the most frequently listed “motivators”: Money, recognition, reward, acceptance, achievement, promotion, results, challenges, ambition,
About the author: Over the past 25 years Stef du Plessis has helped individuals on five continents to do more, be more and have more, at home, work and play. He also helps organisations to crank up their results by creating winning workplace cultures.