Understanding Personal Motivation

What makes us do the things we do? Why do we want the things we want? And why do we, from time to time, do things that we know aren’t good for us? The short answer is personal motivation.

Whether you’d like to know yourself a bit better or you’re in search of ways to influence your team, understanding personal motivation is a necessity for leaders. After all, motivation is what drives behaviors and ultimately determines whether or not you achieve your goals.


The Role of Your Mindset

When it comes to motivation, your mindset is key. How you think impacts what you do. Those who have a growth mindset believe they can develop new skills and tend to put effort into learning. They have an easier time changing and maintaining their motivation than those who have a fixed mindset, especially when facing challenges.

Nothing will change until your mindset changes. Consider people who join gyms thinking the membership will motivate them to exercise more. It won’t. A guilty conscience over a wasted gym membership won’t change their motivation; mindset will. Until they adjust their mindset to prioritize their health and make it part of their life style, nothing will change.


Know Your Guiding Principles

Your mindset combines with your guiding principles to form your personal motivation. Think of your guiding principles as the priorities, passions, and desires that drive you toward various pursuits. They’re your North Star. Understanding why you want to achieve a goal is crucial to actually achieving it.

Think about it this way: there’s a difference between the motivation to complete a task because it moves you toward a greater goal versus the motivation to complete a task simply because you can cross it off your to-do list. As an individual, it’s important to be able to clearly articulate your passions and your guiding principles and understand how they connect to your goals. And as a leader, you can steer your team toward organizational goals by understanding and encouraging their passions.


Changing Motivation—Easier Said Than Done

As we’ve discussed, your mindset and personal principles guide your motivation. As such, you are responsible for your own motivation. You have to accept that, even as a leader, you can’t change someone else’s motivations; you can only seek to understand personal motivation in both yourself and others. And for leaders, this is a crucial skill.

Don’t get me wrong—great leaders have tremendous power to influence others. I would even describe the best leaders as motivational, not because they can change other people’s motivations but because they can read other people’s motivations. They pick up on cues, recognize passions, and know how to use their influence to appeal to others’ motivations.

As a leader, your title and the power that comes with it can get someone to do something that they don’t want to do, but it can’t motivate people to really care. Everyone has their own mindset and their own guiding principles. The best leaders, therefore, motivate others by helping them evolve their mindset—not by incentivizing or convincing them to do something.


The Value of Grit in Maintaining Motivation

While there are many personality traits and leadership skills that help people maintain motivation, I’d argue that grit is the number one characteristic you need to stay motivated, regardless of your pursuit. Discipline, dedication, willpower—they’re all beneficial, but I’ve found that grit is the determining factor.

What is grit? I see it as perseverance. An indomitable spirit. Having grit means pushing forward, even amid the threat of failure. Angela Duckworth, author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, defines grit as “a combination of passion and perseverance for a singularly important goal.” I love that definition, and the book is a must-read.

In any meaningful pursuit, you have to know you’re going to run into setbacks. Failing doesn’t mean you’re a failure, and grit is what fuels your motivation to try again. Very rarely is there a singular path to get where you want to go. Sometimes the universe just pushes you off track. A lot of people see failure as a sign that something isn’t meant to be—and they give up. Having the grit to carry on is huge. Remember, if it were easy, everybody would do it.


Applying Your Understanding

We’ve covered the role of your mindset and your guiding principles in understanding personal motivation and gone over how to change and keep your motivation. What you do next is up to you (and your motivation!).


Questions to Consider

  1. Do you have a growth or a fixed mindset?

  2. What guiding principles motivate you?

  3. How do you motivate your team individually and collectively? Is it effective?

  4. Do you have grit? What about your team?

Understanding what motivates both you and your team is crucial to your organization’s success. Reach out to learn more about personal motivation through leadership coaching.