Is Motivation Overrated? Seven Reasons You Can’t Depend On It

“It’s close to impossible to motivate someone who enjoys negativity.” – Sylvia Pencak, American motivational expert.

Everywhere we turn in the modern office, we see motivational posters, motivational quotes, and the leftovers of past motivational initiatives. But does all this effort work? Well… that’s debatable. It seems to work, at first. But one of my colleague tells me the only thing he remembers about a motivational speech by (then) Bruce Jenner 15 years ago was that Jenner had ten children. That’s the one fact that stuck, not Jenner’s account of working his way up to record-breaking scores in the Olympic decathlon.

Motivation can be wonderful, but I’d argue it’s somewhat overrated. A savvy worker knows motivation can get you started, but it isn’t enough to sustain performance. You can’t depend solely on motivation to boost your productivity to the highs required to hit record performance levels. Here are seven reasons why.

  1. It’s short term. Motivation doesn’t last, especially in the face of hard work—and it definitely won’t get you through the long slog alone. This explains, in part, why so many of us fail to complete some projects and tasks, especially those involving creativity. Motivation doesn’t magically cause creativity to bloom, and worse, it quickly expires. (But as Zig Ziglar famously pointed out, so do baths.) Motivation may crank your work engine, but in the end, self-discipline and focus are the fuels that get you through to the end.

  2. It doesn’t work if you fail to take action. You can feel ready to take on the world, practically jumping out of your skin with eagerness—but if you don’t take action right away, motivation might not matter. Strike while the iron is hot, or you may never strike at all.

  3. You have to be inclined toward motivation for it to work. The jaded, the disengaged, and the unhappy don’t respond well to motivation. If no money’s involved, forget it. Nothing’s stopping them from just ignoring motivation or even pushing back, sometimes to the point of ruining it for others.

  4. It doesn’t help if you don’t have the right training. You can have the most motivated team in the world, but they won’t be able to do their jobs well if they lack the training for them. You can offset this through personal initiative, if you’re willing to own your job and learn what you must by simply doing it or via research, but not everything can be learned this way. Even when it can be, you lose productivity, time, and money that a few hours of training could easily offset.

  5. Bigwigs don’t always take motivation seriously. I’ve heard from senior leaders that bluntly state if team members need motivation to do a good job, they don’t want them. Further, they perceive an organization willing to “indulge” in motivation as both willing to carry poor performers and lacking in focus. All it takes is one hardnose to ruin a motivational initiative or even an “attaboy” effort—I’ve seen it over and over in my career. See this article for an example of what I mean.

  6. Group motivational efforts don’t work well. They don’t take individual goals into account. It’s just another annoyance to those who don’t take them seriously. Maybe you’ll end up with a transparent light-up bouncy ball, a plant to take care of, or a motivational rock (all items colleagues or clients have received as part of motivational programs) but said initiative will only last until the plant dies.

  7. We’ve become desensitized to it, given all the motivational posters, videos, audio recordings, quotes, messages, etc. When you stop even noticing them, what’s the point? This problem has gotten to the point where amusing demotivational posters have become popular.

Tenacity Rocks

I hate to knock motivation, but let’s face it: it’s not the prime element of productivity. Ironically, it’s not even the prime motivator of productivity, any more than a sparkplug or fuel injector is the prime motivator of a car. It can help you get started, but the factors that keep you going are training, tenacity, focus, self-discipline, determination, and the right resources delivered at the right time. Props for its role, which is valuable, but don’t fool yourself: even if it’s regularly renewed, as it should be, motivation is not enough to get you through to the finish line.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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