The problem with feeding people motivational junk food

Have you ever thought about why you get out of bed in the morning (and stay up)? Why do you jump up enthusiastically on some mornings and drag yourself out on others?

Have you ever wondered what it takes to walk away from the 500-calorie muffin instead of caving in to the temptation?

Have you ever considered how your angry, defensive, or self-righteous energy differs from your loving, compassionate and joyful energy?

We are social animals

Answers to these questions can be found in the compelling evidence that human beings have an innate tendency and desire to thrive. It is in our nature to want to grow, develop, and be fully functioning. We want to flourish — but cannot do it not alone. We are, by nature, social animals. Striving to reach our individual human potential is natural, yet we innately recognize that the interconnection between ourselves and the world around us is a vital part of that process.

Of course, the science is just catching up to what creative and thoughtful people have understood throughout our existence. Movies such as The Wizard of Oz, Star Wars, and Gravity portray our nature to thrive. Poets such as Khalil Gibran, Maya Angelou, and Robert Frost, have reflected our longing for wholeness. Ancient and modern artists and musicians continue to capture our yearning for self-identity, growth, and a meaningful connection to others.

Our desire to thrive may be innate, but thriving doesn’t happen automatically — especially at work. Just because we gravitate toward psychological growth and integration doesn’t guarantee it will happen.

Human thriving in the workplace is a dynamic potential that requires conditions of nurturing. The workplace either facilitates, fosters and enables our flourishing or it disrupts, thwarts and impedes it. In fact, conventional motivational practices have undermined more often than they’ve encouraged our human potential.

The bad news is that we have paid a high price for working with outdated ideas about motivation. The good news is that this is where the new science of motivation emerges as both a radical departure and an exciting opportunity.

If you come to know the real story of motivation, you will experience a shift in the way you live and work — and, importantly, the way you lead.

The nature of human motivation

The title of my book Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does states that motivating people does not work. It also promises an answer to what does work. The essence of the answer lies at the heart of the science of motivation and the revelation of three psychological needs — autonomy, relatedness and competence. Regardless of gender, race, culture or generation, the real story behind our motivation is as simple and as complex as whether or not our psychological needs are satisfied…

If you need confirmation that these three psychological needs are essential to our thriving and flourishing, you can delve into the plentiful evidence provided by research over the past 60 years. There is a direct connection between a person’s psychological needs and their motivational outlook. When a person experiences high-quality psychological needs, they will have an optimal motivational outlook. In other words, if their autonomy, relatedness and competence are satisfied, the result is an aligned, integrated or inherent motivational outlook.

The real story of motivation is that people have psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence. It is a mistake to think that people are not motivated. They are simply longing for something they cannot name. Do you know someone at work who wouldn’t prefer to make good choices, be a positive force for good or have a sense of wonder? I don’t.

The real story of motivation is that people are learners who long to grow, enjoy their work, be productive, make positive contributions and build lasting relationships. Not because of something outside of themselves, but because it is their human nature to make these things happen.

This is an excerpt from Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does by Susan Fowler.

Susan Fowler is widely known as an expert on personal empowerment. She is the co-author of more than six books, including Why Motivation Doesn’t Work…and What Does, Situational Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager with Ken Blanchard and Laurie Hawkins.