Updated: Feb 18, 2020
This is the last installment in a three-part series applying ideas found in Drive by Daniel Pink to help teams needing to re-inspire motivation mid project.
Have you ever been frustrated or mystified by someone telling you “I had no choice” when it seemed pretty obvious that they made about 100 choices leading up to that moment? Or how do you feel about hearing the old saw: there just are no good options? If there truly were no choices to be made life would be quite a bummer and evaporating motivation would be understandable and unavoidable. Choice can be a powerful motivator.
Choices are control and meaningful choices are meaningful control over our lives. This idea of choice feeds into what Daniel Pink describes as autonomy - the idea that we are independent actors able to direct our lives. Being able to choose, and in doing so exert power and have an effect on something, is hugely motivating. Two factors to consider when examining choice as a motivator are how significant the available meaningful choices are and the locus of control of the chooser.
Being able to choose, even if the choice is on something insignificant, motivates us to follow through or take action because we are ingrained with biases that make us value our choices. We think we make great choices - even if it’s between and apple and an orange. We use the motivation of choices when we focus on choices that are both things we want or need to do (finish this report or outline the next project first? Go to the gym or go for a bike ride?).
Motivation can come from framing what is possible as a choice as well as making more choices available. What can you choose to change that you’ve been accepting as set-in-stone? What choices can you give others on your team that will foster ownership over the project to boost motivation? Choices are especially motivational when people are enacting their values and taking purposeful steps toward goals. Taking the time to reflect and be aware of what values drive you (or your teammates) and what goals you are working toward will help you identify meaningful decisions you can make and those meaningful decisions will do the most to boost motivation. Mid-project, people can lose sight of goals and the choices available to move toward those goals. Some exploration into the why behind choices makes it more clear how seemingly insignificant choices are tied to larger aspirations and deeper values. This also connects the act of choice to the role of the chooser - the locus of control.
What about the “I have no choice” mindset? Sometimes this is framed as blaming the boss/coach/leader for the situation at hand. This mindset is indicative of lacking internal locus of control in that situation. Internal locus of control is the ownership a person has when that individual can make choices and control their immediate circumstances. Its opposite is an external locus of control - the idea that external factors or individuals have the power to make decisions and affect change. The difference between an internal and external locus of control can come down to the habit of how we view our efficacy in the world around us. An internal locus of control can be learned through training and feedback. It requires putting people in positions where they can make choices and feel in control and then through a process of reflection and feedback make sure the people are aware of that connection. Reconnecting choices and the feeling of control is empowering and when done enough it builds the habit of people actively making choices to control their lives resulting in living with a strong internal locus of control and a high level of motivation. Helping people fight the urge to blame others while cultivating empowered decision making can be the first step to enormous motivating effects.
Choosing motivates us, even small choices, so there’s no reason to delay making even a minuscule choice to feel the resulting motivation boost. If motivation is drooping mid-project look at the choices that are (or are not) being made as a matter of rote or expectation and re-engage your internal locus of control by actively choosing to do something different or make a change. Reflect on and connect choices to goals and deeply held values to supercharge motivation. Using choice to reignite motivation can be as simple as changing what you eat for lunch or as deep as probing your core values and understanding how your choices are tying them to your goals and aspirations. Either way the choice is yours, make it and use it to motivate you to do amazing things.