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Cool New Science On Motivation


Performing well, getting things done and constantly improving are part of the human experience. People have an instinct to matter—and you want to do great things in your work and in your personal life. And now is the perfect time to reset your motivation and reengage your efforts.

Science has discovered new ways to get motivated and improve performance—and certain tactics work better than others. The research is well-timed: Performance is top-of-mind for the majority of people. According to a study by Monster, a third of workers regularly think about quitting their jobs, and research from Fidelity reveals 61% already have.

Whether you’re thinking about your performance in light of quitting, staying or starting something new, it’s all about feeling like you matter, knowing you’re valued and craving to make a contribution—it’s about motivating performance.

Work Hard, Play Hard

Interestingly, the penchant to perform well is also linked with the desire for good times. A study by Queens University found those who had an ambition for “legacy”—the goal to make a mark and make a difference, also had a significant drive for “leisure”—a desire to enjoy all life has to offer.

But you can also take determination too far, as studies from the University of Essex showed. Too much focus on failure, mistakes or self-criticism motivated by a desire for perfect performance can cause the conditions for burnout and disengagement—actually undermining performance and motivation. But it’s possible to focus on performing well in a way which serves your goals and enhances outcomes.

Boosting Performance

According to a multiple studies, motivation and performance are driven by a few primary approaches—all of which have proven results.

Talk To Yourself

  • Talk to Yourself About Outcomes – Based on a study of 44,000 people published by Frontiers in Psychology, one of the best ways to improve performance over time was to coach yourself and provide yourself with a narrative, especially related to an outcome. Telling yourself, “I can beat my best score,” is an example. Focus on the result you want. Faster performance, greater productivity, better customer feedback or a more rewarding team experiences are all outcomes you can strive for—and telling yourself you can do it, proves to be very motivational and very good for performance.
  • Talk to Yourself About Process – The Frontiers study also found guiding yourself and giving yourself the right kinds of messages regarding process are effective. In this case, you’re honing your self-talk toward the ways you’re performing the task. For example, “I can react more quickly this time.” Consider the elements of the process which go into great performance: preparing an impactful report, making a great presentation, including team members effectively or enlisting support across the organization. Tell yourself you’ll do better in these process steps, and you’ll experience a payoff in motivation and performance.
  • Ask Questions – A study by the University of Illinois found another method which works to motivate performance: Asking yourself whether you’ll perform in the way you wish. For example, asking, “Will I exercise today?” or, “Will I deliver a brilliant presentation?” Asking yourself a question apparently drives the brain to imagine the process and the success—and spur the self-talk and the visualization which work so well to inspire successful performance.

Use Your Imagination

  • Imagine Success – The Frontiers study also showed the power of visualizing success. This too was related to both outcome and process—imagining yourself beating your best score or picturing yourself reacting more quickly. Either way, you’re engaging mirror neurons in which your brain is experiencing success and reinforcing the pathways toward the behaviors which support success.

Be Curious

  • In addition, general curiosity is significantly related to motivating great performance, according to a study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science. So read broadly, seek out different opinions, travel and explore new experiences in order to build your storehouse of information which will be the raw material you’ll tap into as you’re performing brilliantly.

Focus On the Process

  • Focus On Behaviors – And finally, a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology found motivation tends to shift when you’re early and late in your performance. Early in the process of pursuing your goals, you’ll be most effective by considering the actions to take in reaching them—for example, focusing on building your network or enhancing your tech skills. As you move toward reaching your goals, you’ll be better served to focus on what you’ll need to avoid—for example, focusing on avoiding mistakes in your analysis or dodging inaccuracies in your report. This approach to “promotion motivation” and “prevention motivation,” can help ensure your motivation doesn’t fizzle out. Embrace the two mindsets to maintain the focuses which are most motivational as your process progresses.

What Doesn’t Work

While these were the things that worked best to enhance performance, there was one approach which was less successful in the experiment published by Frontiers, and that was scenario planning—imagining a situation and determining how to deal with it ahead of time. While other research has demonstrated effectiveness with this method, this study suggested this wasn’t, in fact, the best approach.

In Sum

Whether you’re seeking to perform well in today’s role or the job you’re looking for tomorrow, performance is ultimately individual. What works for others may not be what works best for you. But in the spirit of striving to be better, experimenting and improving, learning what’s new and what’s proven can be a great way to move toward the future in which you have the greatest impact.



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