Personal Productivity

The Three Pillars of Motivation

AUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
Motivation Science
"Motivation is the fuel, necessary to keep the human engine running." ~ Zig Ziglar

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Daniel Pink tells us in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us that working is as natural as playing and resting and that, under the proper conditions, humans will accept and even seek this kind of responsibility.

Most people are moved driven by intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic, that is, they care more about the satisfaction they can get doing a certain job than the external rewards they will receive for doing it.

In the long term, intrinsically motivated people are more successful than those who only seek rewards, because they have a strong inner desire to control their lives. They also tend to have higher self-esteem and better relationships.

To achieve this kind of motivation we need to get fed with these three nutrients:

1. Autonomy

We like to direct our behavior ourselves.

Some companies have established working environments based solely on results. In these environments there are no timetables and no obligation to be present at the workplace a specific time. Employees simply need to get their job done. How, when, where and with whom they do, is up to them. Nevertheless, the worker is fully accountable for what he does.

This type of motivation can be very superior to that given by higher wages, because when we reach a standard of living that we consider acceptable for our family, money ceases to be a motivator to our performance.

Autonomy does not mean independence. It means freedom to choose, within a framework of interdependence. The sense of being autonomous produces a very positive effect on our attitude and performance. Moreover, according to some research, there is a direct relationship between autonomy and overall wellness.

2. Mastery

We want to get better at what we care about.

When we do what we love and are good at it, we often reach a state of flow, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned professor of psychology, calls it. It is a state in which you are fully committed to what you’re doing and you’re using your skills to the fullest. Time flies and the relationship between you and your task is perfect.

The pursuit of mastery helps us to get satisfaction with our work and push us to a higher level of productivity. In fact, studies show that the desire for intellectual challenges is the best predictor of productivity.

The opposite also influences, though negatively: Doing things that pose no challenge is a source of frustration. We need to find a balance between what we must do and what we can do.

Mastery is not easy, it requires a continuous effort over time and it is never fully reached. But the more you master a skill, the more you enjoy exercising it.

3. Purpose

We need to connect the conquest of excellence to a higher purpose.

This is the third pillar of motivation and the one that gives context to the other two. According to Csikszentmihalyi, purpose provides activation energy for living.

So far, companies goals were enunciated using very typical words like efficiency, advantages, differentiation, value, etc. It is important to humanize why we do what we do with different words like truth, love, help, improve, etc. The purpose of a company and how it relates to the community can be a much greater incentive than the purely financial one.

Profit goals may have an impact on the shareholders, but none in the welfare of clients and employees. It is not about just having goals, but about having the right goals. Benefits should be seen as a way to approach the purpose, but not the end itself.

If you still have not thought about it, here are some guidelines to find your life purpose.

Francisco Sáez

Francisco is the founder and CEO of FacileThings. He is also a Software Engineer who is passionate about personal productivity and the GTD philosophy as a means to a better life.

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Commented about 9 years ago Bernie

100% agree. Thanks for that summary. 3 words that every employee, manager, parent should remember.


100% agree. Thanks for that summary. 3 words that every employee, manager, parent should remember.

Commented about 9 years ago Francisco Sáez

Thanks Bernie! Glad you mentioned parenting. Great point! Ultimately, education is the origin of almost everything (good or bad).

Francisco Sáez

Thanks Bernie! Glad you mentioned parenting. Great point! Ultimately, education is the origin of almost everything (good or bad).

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