Use the Right Approach to Get Motivated

Using the right motivational words are one way to get yourself and others unstuck and moving.  Get-It-Done Guy explains.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #355

They say that learning how to get motivated is the golden ticket to the chocolate factory of life. At the very least, if you happen to own a chocolate factory, knowing how to motivate employees will allow you to convince an entire race of Oompa Loompas to come be your workforce and the world's largest green-faced, orange-haired a cappella singing group.

Let's return to that bastion of motivation: the gym.

Recently I spent 3 weeks traveling. The hotel gym was small and there was no one else there to admire my manly-man body as I picked up and put down heavy objects. This made the picking up and putting down seem much more pointless than it had before. (I'm not saying that being admired is how I motivate myself to go to the gym, I'm just saying that without the admiration, picking up and putting down heavy objects isn't as engaging as it might otherwise be.)

Long story short, I didn't work out for the entire 3 weeks of my trip.

When I returned home, I informed Trainer Steve that I hadn't worked out while traveling. "You doofus!" he proclaimed. "You have to work out. Otherwise you'll never get the results you want. You will become a slug! A lump! You will be a couch potato who does nothing but watch TV all day!"

I was furious. Not because he was right - of course he wasn't right. I was furious because he was taking the area of my life where I'm super-proud, and trying to turn it into a cauldron of shame, despair, and, apparently, daytime television.

Motivation Comes in Two Directions

Steve's intentions were good. He wanted to show how to motivate yourself to keep up with a gym routine. He was concerned that all the manly-man muscles I've worked so hard for would go away, or at least get slightly hidden under a teensy little layer of fat. Nonsense.

But he was using the wrong motivational words. By telling me all the bad things that would happen, he was pounding me with a stick, hoping I would change my behavior to avoid the stick. This is called "away-from" motivation. It's comes from wanting something bad to stop.

In the workplace, you see away-from motivation when people want to eliminate defects in a product, or reduce the number of customer complaints, or keep a competitor from gaining market share. Away-from motivation triggers the fight-or-flight response, so it's really good for kicking people into action.

Most advertising works on away-from motivation:

Your nose will fall off and people will laugh at you unless you buy our product! So buy it now, because otherwise, you're a loser!

This works because away-from motivation gets people to act. If the action in front of them is to buy your product or service, well then, that's what they do.

Goal-Directed Motivation Works Too

My gym motivation is not based on the fear of bad things, however. It was at the very start, with the discovery that I didn't fit into my suit pants any more. I thought "OMG, I'm turning into a couch avocado (same shape, different plant)."

At that point, thet away-from motivation kicked me into action. But as I relate in my episodes on becoming a gym stud or studette, what kept me going back was very different: It was seeing the improvement in my manly-man physique and making friends with the whole gym community. That's "towards" motivation. It's motivation that comes from wanting more of something in your life. It comes from wanting a carrot and moving towards it. (The carrot is a metaphor, of course. You could be wanting any root vegetable.)

Most advertising works on away-from motivation.

In the workplace, you see towards motivation when people want to increase market share, win a contract, or increase customer satisfaction. Those motivations come from wanting more of something.

Both towards and away-from are valuable. They do different things and we use them in combination. Away-from motivation kicks you into action, but doesn't tell you which way to go. Towards motivation gives direction to your efforts once you're kicked into action. Both are necessary.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.