The Motivation Loop [Focus Friday]

You draw back the string on your bow…

Let go…

…and…

PLING!

The arrow sails to its target – landing smack bang in the centre of where it was aimed!

When the right motivation, right action, and the right goal all align – everything just works.

We can adjust our goal, or actions easily.

But adjusting our motivations is much more difficult. And unless we have the right motivations to act, the bowstring never gets pulled back.

The Motivation Feedback Loop

When we lack motivation, it’s either because we find enough of it to get started – or because the motivation that we started with died away.

But if we create the right feedback loop, we can turn motivation into habits fairly quickly.

There are three pieces of the motivation feedback loop:

  • Identity
  • Environment
  • External

IDENTITY

We talk about motivation as if it’s something we either have or don’t have.

That some people have a wealth of motivation – and some people don’t.

But motivation isn’t like money.

Motivation is more like time or focus.

We have a limited amount of it, and the outcome of it depends on where it’s directed.

When we say we’re lacking in motivation, it’s typically because it’s not being directed towards the things we want.

Dr. Nic Lucas once shared this realisation over a glass of Malbec and a plate of tacos, and it’s stuck with me ever since:

“People don’t need ‘motivation’. They don’t need to ‘motivated’ to browse Facebook feeds, read news sites, or get distracted doing any one of the thousand things they do instead of the things they say they want to do.”

We’re motivated to check read news sites or check our social media accounts because it’s meeting a need.

And often, when we try to stop doing those things, there’s a tension that pulls us back in – and motivates us to do it again.

  • The tension of habit;
  • The tension of an unfinished activity (the Zeigarnik effect);
  • The tension of our need for connection;
  • The tension of our need for rest and energy conservation;
  • etc

It’s not that we’re lacking motivation. We’re motivated to do things that meet one need – but don’t meet another.

And we typically meet the short-term and immediate needs and leave the long-term needs unmet – which creates tension that we’re not doing the “right things” in life.

So we look for ways to find “more motivation” to do the things that there simply isn’t enough finite motivational energy in our day to complete!

For most of us, our motivation towards “higher-level” or more long-term pursuits doesn’t have a chance of surviving the onslaught of short-term needs.

It needs a boost from within:

  • “100 Reasons Why”
  • Affirmations
  • Vision Boards or “Mind movies”
  • Hypnosis
  • Finding quotes or literature that “speaks to us” about our needs and desires

This identity that we create needs to be planted in fertile ground.

If the environment we place this identity gives us NEGATIVE feedback about our identity – or makes it hard for that identity to take root – then our hard work building a strong identity in our own minds will crumble and fade.

ENVIRONMENT

When I’m tweaking a website, what lights up my curiosity most is the tiny insights you get into what makes us tick.

Most of my work (the types of changes I make that lead to 20.05% to 605% increases in sales) is about making things easier:

  • Easier to notice
  • Easier to understand
  • Easier to compare
  • Easier to act
  • Easier to avoid obstacles, hesitation, and impediments to letting go of that bowstring

Yes – increasing someone’s motivation to buy WILL increase sales.

But when I measure what makes the biggest difference to sales, increasing someone’s motivation to buy isn’t as valuable or effective as simply making it easier for them to buy.

(If you want to read more about the simplicity/motivation model, check out my post: One simple way to get 120% more sales leads in 2018.)

The reason why simplicity makes a bigger difference (for my clients) is simple…

Most of my clients are e-commerce stores and lead generation sites – and people (typically) don’t visit e-commerce stores, or click on ads, for fun.

They visit because they have a need in their life that the website promises to solve.

So most of my work is in providing users with a supportive ENVIRONMENT for their motivation to lead to positive action.

In a lifestyle sense – this is like “selling” yourself on healthy eating…

And then supporting this by:

  • Filling your fridge with healthy, portion-controlled meals;
  • Removing bad food so it’s harder to eat poorly;
  • Creating positive feedback loops (reminders of how you look, feel, or act) that support your actions;
  • And avoiding the bad patterns that stand to derail you from your positive actions.

The positive feedback loop is important for maintaining the identity. Most of the things that happen in your environment will not support the focus of your motivation.

As living beings, we learn from stimuli.

If the stimuli we get back in response to an action or change we make, is insufficiently positive – it will be harder for us to maintain that identity or action.

That’s why it’s helpful to enlist help from external sources that will help us stay committed, stay on-track and encourage us to clean up our environment when things get difficult, confusing or distracting.

EXTERNAL

External motivation is the role of:

  • Mentoring
  • Accountability Partners
  • Personal Trainers
  • Enrolment into programs
  • etc

But the motivation itself can’t come from these external sources.

Let me explain why…

The most powerful sales tactics don’t motivate us to buy “out of thin air”.

Rather, most of them simply remind us of who we are; and what we want; and encourage us in our pursuit of those things.

(Can you think of a single sales or marketing tactic that doesn’t exploit or address an existing need?… The hard-sell? The trial close? The assumptive close? The “reasons for doing it / reasons for not doing it” close? Objection handling?)

Tapping into existing motivations is what makes the principle of Commitment and Consistency (popularised by Dr. Robert Cialdini in the book Influence) is so powerful and difficult to sidestep.

If you haven’t encountered this before:

“People have a general desire to appear consistent in their behavior. People generally also value consistency in others. Compliance professionals can exploit the desire to be consistent by having someone make an initial, often small, commitment. Requests can then be made that are in keeping with this initial commitment. People also have a strong desire to stand by commitments made by providing further justification and reasons for supporting them. This pattern of behavior toward or resulting in a negative outcome is called escalation of commitment.”

Commitment and consistency cycles through an extremely difficult-to-break thought loop:

What do you want?
Why do you want it?
What are the consequences if you don’t get it?
If you still want it, you should keep working towards it.
If not, were you lying? Did you not know yourself? Did you not really want it?
Remember the consequences you said about not having it?
…etc

An effective mentoring or accountability partner can use this loop to escalate positive behaviour – and remind you of the consequences of not taking action in line with commitments you’ve made.

And they can remind you to maintain a positive environment that supports your change and growth and nurtures the work you’ve done on identity.

But they rely on positive feedback from you – to ensure that their actions are in line with your identity and drivers.

Keeping Motivational Focus

Identity creates the focus for our motivation.

Our environment supports that identity, by providing it with a positive place to grow.

External motivation tools help us keep a clean environment.

But external motivators rely on feedback around identity and core motivators to stay on track.