Motivation, Commitment, and Intention: The Secret Sauce to Success

February 27, 2018 • 7 minute read • by Saeed

“Our intention creates our reality.” ~ Wayne Dyer

It’s a general management belief that employers are able to get the best out of people if they follow what motivates them. While it’s true that to lead people effectively, you must first understand them, research suggests that the link between motivation and performance is not a linear causal chain.

What is Motivation?

Motivation is broadly defined as the willingness to exert energy and effort toward goals. The root word, ‘motive,’ is defined as something that causes a person to act. There are two basic types of motivation:

1.      Intrinsic Motivation: Intrinsic motivation is done for reasons that are internal to one ’s self. It is for self satisfaction and not for the fear of a consequence. The reward is within the action itself and does not need external factors to guide behavior.

2.      Extrinsic Motivation: Extrinsic motivation comes from external factors where the actions are done because of what has been said. This means that if we are told to do something, we do it because of extrinsic motivation.

It is generally believed that when a person’s behavior is aligned with a sense of personal causation and self-interest, i.e., intrinsic motivation, it is self-sustaining. Extrinsic motivation is less powerful because when the external reward is taken away, so is the motivation. Therefore, intrinsic motivation is the more desirable and self-sustaining of the two.

Furthermore, new brain research suggests that dopamine – a neurotransmitter that carries chemical messages from your brain to the rest of your body – plays an important role in motivation. Long thought to be the happy neurotransmitter, dopamine is actually the reward and punishment transmitter. This means that its real job is to encourage us to act, either to achieve something good or to avoid something bad. These neuroscience discoveries point to the idea that the brain can be retrained to increase a person’s motivation for rewards. That means there is hope for your teenage slacker after all.

But wait. This is where things actually start to get complicated.

The Role of Commitment

Have you ever wondered why you can’t stick to your new year’s resolution? Research has shown that the better we feel about our new year’s resolutions and our ability to stick with them, the less likely we actually will. Or have you ever wondered why after motivating yourself to exercise and making progress on your goal, you still eat that yummy piece of cake? It’s your brain’s reward system kicking in and wanting to be indulged. Research has discovered that we are all too eager to use progress as an excuse to slack off and indulge. Dope-a-mine.

It turns out that commitment, rather than progress, is the deeper source of motivation. Commitment to the goal is even more important than progress made towards it because it changes how you feel about the reward of self-indulgence. So that reminding yourself why you set the goal in the first place, is a more motivating and self sustaining force for positive change. Ultimately it seems, we are more disciplined about our goals when our deeper commitment is activated than when we are just focused on progress.

Implementation Intentions

So you have motivation and you have commitment. Then why is it you still can’t implement?

It turns out intentionality is the key missing ingredient for most. When researchers in the UK gathered together a group of volunteers with the goal of regular exercise, the group that was asked to plan and write down their “implementation intentions” – where, when, what, they were going to do for exercise, and how frequently, and for how long – achieved far greater success. Amazingly, 91 percent of this group achieved their goal, as compared to just 29 percent of the control group (commitment) and 39 percent of the group who learned extensively about the benefits of exercise (motivation) but did not have an implementation intention. Over 100 separate studies in a wide range of experimental situations have come to the same conclusion: people who explicitly state when and where their new behaviors are going to happen are much more likely to stick to their goals. For whatever reason, our brains need that extra nudge.

A Final Word…

Success, motivation and progress are not so straight forward. But deciding in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal can double or triple your chances for success. By simply writing down a plan that outlines exactly when and where you intend to do your thing – whether it’s a new exercise routine or finally writing that first novel, you are much more likely to actually follow through. As the research indicates, what pulls that desire out of you and turns it into real–world action isn’t your level of motivation, but rather your intention for implementation.

In the end, both the journey and destination need to be intentional.

Good luck.

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©2018 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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