Motivating people is hard…or at least it seems that way.
You can’t get your kids to finish their chores.
You can’t get your spouse to work through the to-do list you’ve written.
You can’t get your coworker to meet their deadlines.
You’ve asked, begged, and dangled the proverbial carrot, but it doesn’t seem to work. But in these situations, we’re typically making motivation too hard.
When done right, motivation is easy. In fact, it’s two simple steps. When you understand priorities and let nature’s cause-effect happen, motivation becomes more about awareness than convincing. Here’s how it works:
1. Understand Priorities
Healthy motivation aims to come to an agreement on a common set of priorities. It is NOT an attempt to make people do what you want.
In order to come to a place of shared priorities, you have to understand each other.
This requires a conversation — not a competition. To understand each other, persuasively explain why you have your priorities and then listen to understand why they have their priorities.
This isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about trying to get the information we need to understand each other.
2. Look for Natural Consequences
So how do you “persuasively explain” your priorities?
People are motivated by what they think is going to happen, a.k.a. consequences. But not all consequences are created equal. If we’re looking to motivate people through consequences, we have to consider the two kinds: Natural and Imposed.
Natural consequences are the experiences that organically follow a behaviour. If you skip a school lunch, you get hungry. If you sleep in, you’re late for work. If you ride your bike on the wrong side of the road, you might get hit by a car.
Imposed consequences are a little more involved. These consequences happen only because someone intervenes. If you skip lunch, the school puts you in detention. Late for work? Your boss docks your pay. If your kid rides their bike on the wrong side of the road, they’re grounded for a year.
Imposed consequences can still be motivating to a certain degree, but natural consequences have much more leverage?
Natural consequences happen whether you’re there or not. You don’t have to “catch” anyone doing something. While imposed consequences focus on power and authority, natural consequences focus on the person making the choice.
Let’s say you’re trying to motivate someone. Think through the natural consequences. Then, during your conversation, explain those natural consequences.
“It’s just the way the world works.”
Instead of threatening them, you’re educating them on cause and effect.
Why do you want your kid to ride their bike on the right side of the road? It’s not a power struggle — it’s a safety issue, so explain it like that.
Why does someone need to take out the waste basket? So you don’t get the smell and pests that come with an overflowing rubbish bin.
In conversations like these, you equip people with knowledge. Then, they get to make their own choice.
Plus, you’ll lessen their resentment. This type of motivation isn’t about the grudges you’ll hold or the intervention you’ll take. It’s all about them.
When we’re frustrated because of what we can’t get someone to do, the focus is on us — our control, our problem. Instead, take the focus off yourself and focus on them.
How would a change in behaviour better their lives? And how does that change align with their priorities?
When you seek to understand priorities and discuss the natural consequences of today’s behaviour, people may find it within themselves to change — not because you made them, but because they were more informed.
These are the long-lasting changes that make our offices more efficient, our families more cohesive, and our relationships more meaningful.