April 3, 2024
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To succeed, learn what motivates you


Jim Cathcart

Jim Cathcart

By Jim Cathcart

People frequently tell me, “I don’t believe in motivation because it doesn’t last.” My smart-aleck response is, “Neither does eating, exercise, breathing, sleep or bathing but they are all still good for you.”

Some people compare motivation to education and claim that education lasts and is, therefore, more substantial. The implied criticism is that motivation is an alternative to education, which is definitely not the case. Education is only helpful when you can remember what you know at the times when you need it. In an emergency or while onstage, we’re often scrambling to remember what we know and it occasionally doesn’t work.

Everyone needs both education and motivation. And everyone is motivated.

What? “Everyone?” Yep, all of us are motivated to do something. It may be that we are motivated to avoid responsibility or that we are motivated to do great things, but all of us are motivated. The problem is not that some people are not motivated. It’s just that their motives are wrong.

Motivation is a combination of two words: motive and action. One without the other is pointless. So, what motivates you? Here is a quick quiz you can take to find out.

1. Which of the following gifts appeal to you the most? (Assume that they all have equal monetary value.)
A. A nonfiction book
B. A ticket to an art gallery event
C. Lunch with a good friend
D. A charitable contribution in your name
E. A great meal
F. A VIP pass to meet with someone you admire
G. A rare coin

2. If you had a day off to use as you wish, how would you use it?
A. Earning extra money
B. Meeting with friends
C. Learning a new skill
D. Going to a theatrical performance
E. Working for a cause you care about
F. Going to the lake or a spa
G. Getting listed in a directory of up-and-coming leaders

3. When you get caught up on your work and you have some free time at work, how do you use it?
A. Starting a new project
B. Looking for others to help
C. Taking a stress-reduction break
D. Balancing your checkbook
E. Catching up on your work-related reading
F. Tidying up your office or document files
G. Thinking of ways to make things better

These questions and answers are designed to expose your ranking of the seven natural motives that exist in all of us. All of these are probably things that you care about but the one that you choose for each question tells you which of these motives or “values” matters the most to you in each instance.

See which of these motives are your top ones:
Commitment: doing something that matters, advancing a cause
Empathy: being with people you care about
Wealth: acquiring something of value
Sensuality: having a pleasing physical experience
Knowledge: learning or acquiring a skill
Power: being in the spotlight, running the show, doing something special
Aesthetics: enjoying beauty, art, organization and order in things

Once we’re clear on what we want then motivation becomes an important element for us. The better you understand your motives, the more you can control your actions.

The same is true when it comes to other people. By knowing what is important to others, you can help motivate them. Employees and colleagues will want to accomplish your shared goals. Understanding what motivates us and others is the key to success.

• Jim Cathcart is the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the California Lutheran University School of Management.