While external factors of course have an impact on our motivation levels at work, the attitude we bring each day is self-determined. Attitude explains how someone fired from his own company might then become a business icon.
Based on my experience as both a professor and consultant, here are 10 behaviors and attitudes that help increase self-motivation and professional effectiveness:
1. Accept reality and others as they are. Self-motivation begins with having realistic and appropriate expectations of work and of those around you. Instead of demanding that circumstances conform to your wishes, accept them as they are and, from that point, find room for improvement.
2. Know yourself and accept that you have strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes we seem to think that making a mistake is intolerable in a good professional, that it leads to disaster. But if we do not come to terms with our own fallibility, we end up piling on frustration and missing out on opportunities for improvement. Being aware of your own strengths and weaknesses allows you to be more effective and may save you from a downward spiral of low self-esteem. Acknowledge your mistakes, but also appreciate your successes.
3. Don’t complain. Imagine you own a fast-food franchise and a bad batch of meat is discovered in another location of the same chain. You have done nothing wrong, but your business will be affected. In this situation, a franchise owner could either complain about the stroke of bad luck or be proactive and establish concrete measures to minimize the negative impact of the news. Complaining solves nothing while focusing our attention on that which we cannot control.
4. Appreciate what you have and be grateful. “Psychological hedonism” is a mental mechanism by which we accustom ourselves with astonishing ease to the progress of our work and then no longer appreciate this progress. We must make a pointed effort to pay attention to the positive, to what is working well. When we emphasize what we lack rather than what we have, we can end up discouraged.
5. Bring a positive attitude to your task. A business study showed that positive, optimistic salespeople billed 90 percent more than those saddled with negativity. And that is because the attitude with which we handle a situation or task influences the final result. In other words, if you go to a party thinking it will be boring, you probably won’t have much fun, as your initial attitude will make it more difficult. Now, do not confuse positivity with naiveté or a lack of realism.
6. Set relevant goals and challenges. According to the goal-setting theory of Edwin Locke, we are motivated when we perceive that our goals can be achieved and will involve considerable effort. Also, we are more motivated by more relevant goals. Therefore, important goals — goals that provide something of value to others — are more inspiring than an intrinsic objective (e.g., professional development) or extrinsic one (e.g., a raise or promotion).
7. Imbue what you do with meaning. Given the same task, one worker may just carry stones while another helps build a building. Going to work each morning to get paid is not the same as going to serve the community and develop personally. It’s about finding important motives for doing what we do and giving our best to the task. A full life is not dependent on our occupation, but our ability make our actions matter.
8. Be proactive. When we take decisive action at work, rather than sit back as spectators, we take on more ownership and feel more motivated.
9. Raise hopes and rely on responsibility. The key to motivation is not so much doing just what we like, but instead pouring the most enthusiasm into what we have to do. And when enthusiasm fades, take responsibility to carry on.
10. Be persistent and persevere. If we give up when faced with obstacles, we head into a negative feedback loop being discouraged, with sapped enthusiasm, making us less likely to achieve our goals. Trying to overcome obstacles is, in itself, a motivating force. Determination and perseverance in tough times are the way to rekindle motivation.
While we cannot control everything around us, we can control our own attitudes and behaviors to our own circumstances. As such, following the ten principals outlined above can help us improve our motivation in all aspects of our lives – both professional and personal.
By Pablo Maella, Senior Lecturer of Managing People in Organizations, IESE Business School