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Motivation is Good for Productivity


There was a recent post on the Forbes website called “Why Motivation is Hurting your Productivity (And How to Fix It).” I was intrigued by the title of the article, because as an organizational psychologist, I tend to view motivation as something that improves productivity.

I read the article, processed it, and truth be told, disagreed with many of the premises of the author. For starters, he never actually defines what motivation is, though he contends that it is “nature’s reward for achievement.” Yet, Craig Pinder offers one of the most complete definitions of work motivation. He defines it as a “set of energetic forces that originate both within as well as beyond an individual’s being, to initiate work-related behavior and to determine its form, direction, intensity, and duration” (p. 11).

And that’s really the point of motivation. Motivation is the set of forces that give rise to action, whether that action is to fulfill basic needs (such as the need for food or clothing) or higher-level needs (such as the need for achievement or affiliation). Hence, motivation is not a reward for achievement. Rather, motivation is the precursor necessary to make continuous progress so that achievements can be had – it’s the force that drives action.

When people say they are feeling “unmotivated” to do something, what they mean is that they are choosing to either (1) protect their limited energy and time or (2) expend that limited energy and time on other things. People don’t need motivational books and seminars as either a motivator or a reward for success (I blathered on about that in a previous post on this site). Rather, they need three basic things if they are going to take action toward a goal:

  1. They need a goal to take action toward
  2. They need to know the necessary actions to take (or else they may spin their wheels and never get anywhere)
  3. They need the proper incentive (which may be intrinsic or extrinsic in nature)

People experience natural motivation when they have the skill, efficacy and interest needed to achieve a particular goal. People lose motivation when goals take more time or energy to achieve than expected or desired or when the rewards no longer justify the costs, and for a host of other reasons (depending on your perspective).

I will agree with the author that starting small is good for building momentum and that forcing oneself to start working on a task is sometimes half the battle (though motivational tools are never a reward for doing well). However, if you lack the skill, efficacy and interest necessary to achieve a goal, no amount action is going to stimulate progress or achievement. And if you don’t develop skill, efficacy and interest along the way, you will end up wasting your limited time and energy on goals that should never have been set in the first place.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo / CC BY 2.0

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dr. Matt Grawitch published on August 31, 2012 8:26 AM.

The Opportunity to Help Others -- One Reason People Love Their Jobs was the previous entry in this blog.

Quality of (Work) Life is the next entry in this blog.

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