Adjusting Our Motivational Stance: Moving from “I have to” to “I want to”

Things were not working out the way I wanted. I had signed up for a running race. I’d put in the training and was looking forward to it. Now, my client could only run a proposed workshop on that same Saturday.

It was frustrating. No one’s fault, just unfortunate timing. I was replacing the thing I was looking forward to with some work that would provide some useful income. I was feeling like I had no choice due to the financial opportunity and not wanting to let my client down.

Sometimes we do things because of external factors. Financial pressure. A sense of obligation. Other things ‘outside of our control’. Not because we love it. Not because we want to do it.

Unfortunately, this does not lead to our best work. We aim to get through it instead of putting our heart into it. We’ll be professional but we may lack conviction.

Time to check our motivational stance. Stance is a term I’ve borrowed from martial arts. It describes the way a person organises their body position before engaging their opponent. And how they reorganise immediately afterwards. The effectiveness with which they do this can have a direct bearing on their success.

How we organise ourselves motivationally has an impact on how we perform and enjoy what we do. In her book, Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work…And What DoesSusan Fowler talks about shifting from low quality motivation to high quality motivation. A higher quality motivation is one that comes from within.

Intrinsic motivation. The three components being relatedness, competence and autonomy. The Self-Determination Theory identifies these as the psychological needs we all have. Conditions supporting the individual’s experience of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are argued to foster the most volitional and high quality forms of motivation and engagement for activities, including enhanced performance, persistence, and creativity.

So how do we adjust our motivational stance from having to do things to wanting to do things? By taking a moment to consider ways to meet our psychological needs of relatedness, competence and autonomy. Have some prompting questions up your sleeve. Using the themes of carelearning and choice will help. Here are some questions to help adjust our stance:

  • Why do I care about the people involved?
  • In what ways can I show that I care about them?
  • How can I show my level of competence in the work I’m doing?
  • What can I learn from this experience?
  • What choices do I have (attitude, timing, content etc)?

The fateful Saturday was approaching. Ironically, the content of the workshop revolved around intrinsic motivation. I had a real-life opportunity to practise what I’ve be talking about.

I considered how much I do care about the people I engage with and that they were giving up their Saturday too.

I could share my expertise in a way that would help them in their work life. There was a lot I could learn a lot about their industry and how they worked.

Finally, I had chosen to be there. We could have postponed it a few months. I could have said “no”. I could have chosen other forms of work. I want to do this work.

I enjoyed my work that Saturday. The external factors were still there and provided some of the motivation. But I enjoyed myself and did good work. All by taking a few minutes to re-frame the situation and adjust my motivational stance.

Could adjusting your motivational stance lead to greater performance and fulfilment in your work? Need help in moving from ‘having to’ to ‘wanting to’? Get in touch here to find out ways to do this for you and your team.

Doug Maarschalk is a consultant, facilitator and coach who uses the principles of intrinsic motivation as the foundation for his work. He has worked with New Zealand businesses in the horticulture, legal, accounting, financial services, real estate and healthcare sectors.
Read more about the Services Doug provides and the Clients he has worked with.