10 strategies for when your motivation falls short


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A great deal of management advice centers on how to motivate a team. The trouble with this advice is that it assumes the people in that team are not already motivated to do their best work. 

There may be times when motivation is a useful short-term tool, but its efficacy soon fades. Motivation is like a spark that quickly dies if it isn’t fed. The question, therefore, is what to use instead of or in addition to motivation? 

Fortunately, there are numerous long-term management strategies you can employ far more effectively than motivation. This article will discuss ten of the best:

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1. Tension

Assuming we have the people and the product in place as prerequisites, what do all people (or teams of people) have in common before they get motivated to make a change? If you answered “tension,” give yourself a gold star or a happy face. 

Why tension? The answer is quite simple but not always obvious. If no tension exists, then no reason to get motivated to take different action exists. Tension is the precursor, the first step, in getting motivated to change. 

Alone, tension is insufficient to guarantee change, but it is essential. Without it, change rarely occurs. If you want to generate change, look for the areas of tension in your life.

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2. Inspiration

Let’s consider where the term “inspire” originated. It derives from a Greek word that literally means “to breathe life into.” When do you feel that you have received new life? Perhaps in the presence of beauty, especially that found in nature, such as a powerful waterfall, a rainbow, or a terrific sunset. 

The key is that we own the life breathed into us, regardless of where it came from. When you as a team leader “breathe life into” those on your team, you move the people on your team in a way that requires much less maintenance than motivation.

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3. Leadership

The word lead comes from a German root and means “to guide.” Other distinctions include “to march at the head of,” and “go before as a guide.” In its earliest usage, the leader held the flag at the front of a battle or procession. 

I’m sure you can see the common theme. Motivation feels like pushing people from behind. Leadership requires us to go ahead. Do you show the way physically, demonstratively and ethically? Do you march at the head of the troops? Do you carry on, especially when challenges present themselves? Leaders do so willingly.

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4. Genius

Have you ever considered the possibility that you might be a genius? The truth is that, when you enter a certain realm of activities, you excel like no other. You are a genius. 

We all possess a genius-level talent. The trick is recognizing, acknowledging, accepting and then fully utilizing that one high-level talent in a manner that expands what is possible each and every day. 

If you’re lucky, you already work in and around your genius every day. If not, seek out the opportunities afforded by knowing, embracing and implementing your genius. When you find this flow, motivation becomes unnecessary.

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5. Directives

Directives constitute a simple, clear code of conduct by which every team member agrees to abide. To succeed, these directives should be aligned with each individual’s, team’s and organization’s highest purpose, or “why.”

The key is to understand that directives should be visible. They should focus on what we do. Too many organizations create intangible directives focused on nebulous concepts such as “passion.” How can I tell from looking at you whether you are passionate? 

But I can tell whether you’re striving to do your best work. Guess what? Striving to do your best work will likely generate passion.

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6. Habits

If a National Geographic film crew followed you around for a month and captured the activities that you do every single day, it would see that approximately 40 percent of everything you do is habitual. 

Altering your habits, therefore, can be an exceptionally effective method of creating change. When you use your highest intentions, values and goals to serve as the spark for (re)designing your habitual actions, progress occurs quickly and powerfully. 

The key is to consciously choose your habits and then build them into your routine so that they take root and become unconscious.

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7. Single-minded focus

My wife and I recently watched the documentary What the Health. The film’s simple and compelling conclusion is that most disease exists primarily as a result of contaminated or manipulated food sources. 

Prior to watching the film, my wife and I focused our eating habits on delicious food, including high-quality organic meat, eggs and dairy. Afterwards, we exercised a single-minded focus upon shifting to a vegan diet. 

This is the power of single-minded focus. It enables us to highlight one area of our lives and make a significant shift far more effectively than relying on motivation.

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8. Maniacal tracking

Maniacal tracking is the companion to single-minded focus. 

My wife is a physician. Since we shifted to a vegan diet, we have tracked all our performances at workouts. To our surprise, our strength and endurance numbers have increased in the first two months, seemingly in opposition to everything we previously believed about getting high-quality protein sources for improved strength and endurance. 

Tracking our results and noting our improvement keeps us on track and assures that we are moving in the right direction. It’s highly unlikely that motivation alone would sustain such a large shift, but maniacal tracking does.

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9. Self-responsibility

When CEOs and team leaders complain that they don’t know how to keep their team members motivated, I want to puke on their shoes. Their job simply does not involve daily, weekly, monthly, or even worse, hourly motivation. 

The remedy for motivation lies in self-responsibility. Why not hire individuals who hold keeping their promises and self-responsibility among their highest values? Why not also encourage, acknowledge, and reward the simple, powerful value of self-responsibility? It solves way more problems, without much drama, than any high state of motivation ever will.

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10. Scenario building

In the early 1970s, the United States experienced the first of two devastating energy crises. One oil company, Royal Dutch Shell, seemed to thrive much better than its rivals. Why? Royal Dutch Shell had engaged in scenario building well in advance of the oil shortages. When the crisis hit, Shell Oil was prepared to take effective action. 

Scenario building allows us to ask, “What if?” It invites us to engage in a substantive discussion where we harvest possibilities and determine potential responses. I’m sure that you can see how this is far more effective than relying on pep talks or punishments when an unexpected event occurs.

For more advice on how to beat the motivation trap, check out John Hittler’s book, The Motivation Trap. This excerpt was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

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