As discussed in chapters 4 and 14, our motivation, self-concept, attributions, and other cognitions (thoughts) have an enormous influence on our behavior...and on our emotions, perceptions, bodies, etc. Frankly, I believe motivation is our psychological "black hole"--an important, powerful force which we scientifically know very little about thus far. We don't know what makes one person become highly motivated, driven to become an Olympic athlete or an outstanding scholar, while another similar person in their mid-twenties has no goals, wants only to be supported by his/her parents and avoid work.
Chapter 4 has a large section about achievement motivation, attributions associated with achievement, the need to under-achieve, and attitudes or personality factors that enhance academic success. Chapter 14 provides many suggestions for building the self-concept, expectations, and inspiration that lead to heightened motivations. The ideas in chapters 4 and 14 will not be repeated here.
- To increase your drive and determination to achieve your important goals.
STEP ONE: Read about motivation in chapters 4 and 14, looking for methods that might help you achieve your goals.
This reading will underscore that increasing motivation may involve a wide variety of self-help methods: decisions about values, goal-setting, scheduling, self-confidence, assertiveness, rewards, intrinsic satisfaction, fantasies, "games and life scripts," thinking about "ultimate consequences", etc. See chapters 3, 4, 8, 9, 13 and 14 for more.
In addition to the many suggestions already given, three more methods for increasing motivation will be briefly described here: (l) making a list of reasons for changing, (2) thinking of the ultimate consequences, and (3) effort training.
STEP TWO: Be very clear in your mind why you are eager to accomplish your major goals and keep the desired final outcome firmly in mind.
Lloyd Homme (1965) believed thoughts triggered habits or actions. He also thought thoughts could be modified just like behavior is modified. So he devised ways to change our thinking (our motivation?). We all know reasons why we shouldn't overeat, for example. The problem may be that we don't think of those reasons very often or at the right times, e.g. when taking a second serving or snacking late at night.
Horan (1971) studied the effects of Homme's motivational approaches on loosing weight, using four groups: (l) no treatment, (2) given a 1000 calorie diet and asked to count calories, (3) asked to make lists of positive consequences (look better) for loosing weight and of negative consequences for staying heavy (shorter life); asked to repeat 1 positive and 1 negative reason seven times a day, and (4) asked to make the same lists; asked to pair thinking of 1 positive and 1 negative consequence with a frequently occurring behavior (drinking something) at least seven times a day. The percent of each group who lost 1 pound per week or more was: (1) 5%, (2) 20%, (3) 21%, and (4) 52%. The dieters who thought the most about the consequences, lost the most weight. Vivid emotional fantasies of the consequences might also help. The point is: unless your needs compel you to think about your major serious goals many times a day, you need some method (like that in group 4) of keeping your "good intentions" in the forefront of your awareness.
STEP THREE: Learn to be hard working.
There is a law of least effort in psychology; it says we try to get the rewards we want with the least possible effort. That makes sense. But in real life, greater effort usually leads to a bigger pay off. If that were always the case, we would all have become hard workers (because hard work would have been well rewarded and, thus, would have become rewarding itself). Unfortunately, perhaps, sometimes life is easy and the law of least effort is operating. When people have been able to get what they want without much effort, they haven't learned to work hard, i.e. be motivated, nor have they learned to tolerate tedium or the "stench and grime" of hard conditions. As an old farmer might say, "They haven't forked manure or dug post holes in hard ground, yet."
Learned helplessness is the hopeless attitude of the pessimist or the depressed person. Such a person is unmotivated (see chapter 6). "Learned industriousness " is the opposite notion, namely, that hard work that has paid off results in higher motivation and less aversion to unpleasant but unavoidable work situations (Eisenberger, 1992). How do you learn to be industrious?
You need some confidence in your ability to do the job (see self-efficacy in chapter 14) but this doesn't explain great perseverance on simple, tedious, and boring tasks. Clearly, you also need to be able to handle--to tolerate--the aversiveness of hard work and bad conditions when they are part of getting to your goals. The reinforcement of high effort (worthwhile extrinsic and intrinsic pay offs) on a variety of tasks seems to accomplish both, i.e. strengthens our general tendency to try hard and to "stick it out" though rough times. The childhood histories of motivated workers bears this out; they were highly rewarded for trying hard. That's how the "work ethic" is created. If you were left out of that process, you can still teach yourself the merits of intense effort. "Effort training" consists of reinforcing hard, serious trying on many tasks over a long period of time. There is evidence that such training even increases our motivation on enjoyable tasks (perhaps because all tasks and subjects have their dull and difficult parts).
You will have to select your own tasks to try hard on and to reward well (see methods #15 & #16). While research has shown that industriousness generalizes well from one task to another, it is not known how far it generalizes. Thus, if I wanted to be more motivated to study hard, I wouldn't just do my "effort training" in an exercise program or in a sport, although that might be helpful. I'd write a hell of a English theme paper, trying to enjoy it as well as giving myself rewards (plus a good grade). Then I'd take on Calculus or Geography intending to do outstanding work (again with satisfaction and rewards). Followed by, a proud, concerted effort to make the next Dean's list, etc.
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
STEP FOUR: Measure the results of your efforts.
Frequently review your reasons for your goals, the results of your effort training, and other techniques for increasing your motivation. Take pride in your successful self-help efforts.
The time commitment varies greatly depending on the methods used. The listing and remembering of your reasons for changing or achieving something would take less an hour initially and only a few minutes each day. The "effort training" approach involves almost no extra time, just the arranging of effective rewards for special efforts.
Common problems with the method
The obvious difficulty is that the unmotivated person has been rewarded for not utilizing all their potential and for not putting out maximum effort. It is unlikely that their environment (or their values) will change radically and quickly from accepting minimal efforts to demanding hard, unpleasant work. If a dramatic personal revolution is not possible, perhaps gradual changes would be possible.
Effectiveness, advantages, and dangers
As with the methods for increasing self-efficacy, there is very little research demonstrating effective procedures for increasing one's motivation. It is obvious that motivation is vitally important; we are just beginning to investigate practical methods for increasing industriousness. It is hard to see how this could be dangerous, unless there are health risks associated with high drive levels.
This method is included here primarily to remind you that motivation may be the most important and least understood aspect of self-help, even when changing simple behaviors.
Eisenberger, R. (1989). Blue Monday: The loss of the work ethic in America. New York: Paragon House.
Recognizing and meeting basic needs
A major contribution of Humanistic Psychology is the idea that basic needs must be satisfied before we can proceed on to other more advanced tasks (see chapter 4). Otherwise, unsatisfied needs will demand our attention and energy. This is a possible explanation for many of our failures in self-improvement. And the implications of these failures are: (l) find out what unmet need is interfering with your progress, (2) satisfy that need, and (3) go back and try again to achieve the original self-improvement.
- To identify and effectively cope with our basic physical, safety, belonging and love, and self-esteem needs, which, as long as those needs are unsatisfied, will undermine our efforts at mature love and self-actualization. Examples:
Lower Needs Higher Needs Interfered With
Procrastinate by playing or socializing Responsible achievement
Sexual conquests to build ego Seeking love
Staying dependent on parents Becoming independent
Excessively seeking attention Self-esteem and mutual love
Seeking a mate Fulfilling your potential
STEP ONE: Discover the need(s) that is interfering with progress.
The place to start, rather obviously, is by observing what needs (activities) are interfering with our achieving some goal. Read about Humanistic theories in the motivation section of chapter 4. Look especially for the needs to belong (have friends) and to be loved (be part of a family) as well as for self-esteem needs (feel competent, successful, worthwhile). These are the needs that most often interfere with being your real self, loving unselfishly, and living up to your potential. Using method #9 may be very helpful in finding your more basic needs.
In addition, any of the methods at level V in chapter 15 could help identify your hidden basic needs. Notice that method #5, reframing, in chapter 15 is designed for exactly this purpose, and, furthermore, that method asks unconscious parts of us to devise acceptable ways for meeting these needs. Here we are supposedly just dealing with the conscious mind, although we are not aware of the ways or the extent that lower needs are messing up our lives.
STEP TWO: Plan ways to satisfy your unsatisfied basic needs.
These unsatisfied "interfering needs" tend to be enormous holes or voids in our development. So, don't expect a quick, easy solution. We can't eliminate our feelings of inadequacy and basic shame or our doubts about our lovability with a stroke of magic. However, correct diagnosis of the problem is important. For example, suppose a student feels an uncontrollable urge to go out with the opposite sex. If the basic unmet need is love (and lower needs have been met), the socializing, if done effectively, is probably the right course of action, even though dating will certainly interfere for a while with studying. On the other hand, if the basic unmet need is feeling competent and having self-esteem, then seeking a mate may be very premature and a denial of the basic flaws inside, not a solution. For this person, instead of dating the opposite sex at this time, perhaps he/she should concentrate on developing meaningful friendships, being very responsible at work, improving family relationships, and becoming a good student as a means of feeling successful and adequate. Later, when this person likes him/herself and feels competent, he/she will be better prepared for a love relationship.
As illustrated by the above example, finding the solution to the unmet basic need(s) may take us out of level I. Search chapters 3, 6, 8, 9 and 14 for ways to deal with shame and increase self-esteem. Chapters 9, 10, &13 are most likely to help with finding love. These are major self-help projects and important ones but so is becoming a good student. Consider developing a "positive addiction," described in chapter 4, as another way of removing barriers to your progress. Lastly, since anxiety is commonly a barrier to achievement, consider some kind of relaxation (see chapter 12).
STEP THREE: Satisfy the basic needs in an acceptable way.
Make and carry out plans for correcting the major hurts. Revise as necessary.
STEP FOUR: Go back and try the self-improvement project again.
If Maslow's theory is correct and if you have correctly diagnosed the basic needs and solutions, the self-help efforts should go more smoothly this time. If not? I'd suggest getting professional advice, you've made a good effort.
The time involved varies. But considering the scope of the developmental deficiencies in Maslow's first four levels (feeling unloved, feeling dependent or inadequate, feeling insecure), it may take considerable time each day for months to have significant impact. On the contrary, one might get a friend, develop a meaningful relationship, and feel much more lovable within a couple of months.
It is not easy to guess the unmet need. Since the need may never have been adequately satisfied, relieving a long-standing deficiency will probably be difficult.
Effectiveness, advantages, and dangers
Refer to the specific methods used. An advantage of this general theory and "method" is that the self-helper may be guided to find the "real" problem. Herein lies the danger as well, namely, one may falsely assume that a basic need is unmet, label oneself as deficient, and embark on an unnecessary self-improvement project.