What makes motivation work

Question Gus was asked on Quora today: How is motivation the key to success?

Reply: Motivation alone is NOT the key to success.

It certainly helps to be motivated. You are unlikely to achieve much without a sturdy motivation pushing you along your chosen path, but motivation only turns into actual desired results when it is backed up by personal ability.

Here is an excerpt from an article I wrote about ten years ago which explains what makes for personal success in more detail. This is backed up by 29 years of experience in permanently improving the ability of senior execs (and other high achievers) to perform at their job:

Attitudes which influence ability to work (and play) arise from two complementary but distinct mental processes: 1) natural aptitude (talent) for the tasks involved, and 2) degree of motivation to engage in some activity.

Though motivation is a mental state, it’s influenced more by external reinforcement than by internal factors: encouragement, acceptance from others, desirable outcomes, shared visions, peer pressure, threats, things like that. So also is motivation weakened by opposing external influences such as discouragement, rejection, undesirable outcomes, lack of results, disagreement, etc.

Being so easily affected by such a var­iety of inputs, motivation is relat­ive­­ly easy to raise in the short term. That’s why it gets the lion’s share of attention from most motivational gurus. It’s just not that hard to rev up a person’s motivation in the short term.

But motivating alone does not impart lasting improvement in a per­son’s ability to perform. To ensure their gain is stable and permanent, you must improve aptitude as well, which is a much tougher nut to crack: because aptitude derives from an inner instinctive source.

People unconsciously prac­tice an in­stinct­ive selectivity toward how they go about things and it is these natural inclinations that determine how easy or difficult any activity feels. The more instinctive apt­itude you have for some­thing, the easier you find it to do. The less you have, the more difficult and daunting a task feels.

Gaining skill is supposed to make some desired result less difficult to achieve: that’s what the entire education industry wants us to believe. And it should also have an improving effect on attitude too: giving more confidence, for instance. But the truth is that con­sciously improving skill only im­pacts on perform­ance to the degree your instinctive aptitude allows it.

This explains why a stud­ent can do well in courses, but still struggle on the job. Trying to build skill, without natural talent already present to support it, is like trying to plant crops in rocky soil. (Parents of kids in high school please take note—let talent point to career!)

The way Nature has designed things, instincts trump knowhow. We humans tend to think our intellect has learned to keep our instincts in check, but this entire dichotomy is constructed of instinctive processes. On an individual basis, we only act more civilized to the degree our instinctive aptitude translates that civilizing knowhow into action.

When it doesn’t—when “what’s appropriate” is not apparent or feels difficult to conform to—we resort to older, less acceptable behaviours … which often get us into trouble.

(This also explains why results from all training courses today vary so much from one student to the next, even when all re­ceive the same quality of instruc­tion. Their performance out­come is moderated by instinctive aptitude, not conscious intelligence.)

The natural inclinations of aptitude com­prise not only a special ability, but also a special awareness of where that ability will be useful. So, when a situation calls for your high­est aptitude, it is also most obvious to you what is needed; and you are astonished it’s not obvious to others.

But when aptitudes you don’t possess are what’s needed, you’re the one who is oblivious to what the situation really calls for and that blind­ness will aston­ish others.

So you exhibit the most intelligence where you have the highest aptitude; and the least where it’s lowest. You find it easiest to concentrate when employing your highest aptitudes—and concentrate for longer; while attention span is shortest where your aptitude is lowest.

Your memory works best with regard to your highest aptitude; and worst with your lowest. You make the least mistakes where aptitude is high; and the most where it’s low. Most important of all, you find it easiest to learn and improve your perform­ance where your aptitude is highest; and find it most difficult to improve where it is lowest.

Aptitude could be likened to the ins­tinctive horse­power you bring to a task: like the output of a motor determining how much work a vehicle can perform. Yes, changing other things in a vehicle can make it per­form better—just as knowhowand other fac­tors can be improved to affect human perform­ance—but the underly­ing capacity of the motor itself is always the base one builds upon.

Clearly, it is harder to sustain mot­ivation for things you find it difficult to do. And, of course, it’s easier to stay motivated about things that come easily to you. This is the real reason why most attitude-change benefits don’t last: they fail to affect the preferences controlled by one’s underlying instinctive aptitudes.

In the short term, it’s possible to find the motivation to do just about anything, no matter how difficult it feels—even sacrifice your own life for a ‘higher’ cause—but only if it doesn’t take too long. It’s virtually impossible to keep on acting against your instinctive inclination. (Ex­cept when someone else is continuing to dominate your will and control­ your actions.)

Conversely, your performance “sweet spot”—where you find it easiest to get into ‘the zone’ and stay there—is when passion (motivation) and talent (aptitude) join hands. Then suddenly you find yourself accomplish­ing things you didn’t even know you were capable of.

Excerpt © 2009 by A S Griffin.
Only a few of Gus’s answers on Quora have been copied to this blog. To see more of his insights on Quora click here.
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Posted March 27, 2019 at 10:47 pm by Gus Griffin · Permalink
In: Misc