You might have come across one of the common questions in interviews, team- or management meetings. Some questions like “What motivated you to apply for this position?”, “What motivates you most?” or “How can we increase motivation?”.

I like the idea that human resource and management start to pay a little more attention to the factor of motivation. What would the benefit of a highly skilled and well experienced candidate which is lacking motivation and most probably dragging feet to work?

I haven’t come across any convincing answer which would be applicable to this question though. Maybe money? – What if the candidate might become greedy and too expensive for the business at one point? Maybe the chance to see some real development for the candidate’s career? – What if the candidate becomes a real threat to the direct manager? Who wants to hire the candidate which is going to take over your position and sends you back to the job market? Sure, it would be beneficial if your employees have fun doing their jobs. So, having fun could be one motivator besides good salary, responsibility and the possibility to develop skills and progress in career.

Let’s take a half step back and look at the motivators we’ve just identified. We realize, that those are mostly influences from outside. We could even compare that with a kind of engine. Give some gas, oil, oxygen, water as coolant and current for the spark plugs which would give us enough motivation for the engine to run. That seems quite logic and pretty much straight forward. So, all we need, is to identify our motivators and make sure those are available – better more than less – and our productivity will rise to its peak.

Does human motivation really work the same way? Imagine your salary increases by 100%. That would be awesome, isn’t it? Suddenly you have double of what you used to have. Isn’t that one of the benefits most of us looking forward to, when we reach the next step on the ladder called our career? Maybe we won’t expect double and we definitely welcome our increment. Now, as we have just increased our motivational factor, let’s be honest and think of the way we work from there on. Will our productivity and motivation be double like our salary?

Something seems to be off. Let’s have another step back and look at our initial question again: “What motivates you most?”.

Maybe we can change the way how we look at it completely. How about we give a little more credit to our human capabilities and rephrase the question to something like this: “How do you motivate yourself best?”.

Woo – seems like a game changer. So instead of looking outside, we can also look inside, assuming, that we are quite autarkic in terms of motivation, which means we don’t necessarily need triggers from outside.

Let’s get a bit more concrete on that and see what we can find out with this approach.

Imagine it’s one of those weekends. You have a day off and decide to relax, have a very chilled day and sleep in as a good start of the day. Then there’s the moment where you wake up way too early, maybe around 05:00 am. Personal business is calling: you need to go to the toilet. “Ah man!”. Here it goes – our sleep-in exercise.

Alright. Let’s see what we got so far. We have our nice weekend goal to sleep in. Suddenly an issue surfaces which grabs our full attention. So how are we about to handle our new situation?

Let’s just ignore the issue for now and get back to sleep. There’s still some time; it is not as urgent yet.

The bladder keeps calling. How to get rid of that uncomfortable and persistent demand? You start to run through the process in your mind: getting up, leave the warm, cozy and comfortable bed. Maybe put on the slippers and bathrobe. Should you on the light? – better not – you don’t want to end up with a grumpy one next to you. You picture the stretch from your bed to the bathroom. Suddenly it gets even longer. The toilet moves further and further away. How’s that even possible? You start feeling a bit cold. Leaving the warm bed will definitely expose you to the cool air. You start pulling your blanked far up to your nose. No skin should be uncovered. You start getting annoyed and even grumpy.

Let’s do a quick recap. Did we solve the problem yet? By far not at all. So, let’s agree that this was not quite the successful strategy we put in place. But what did we do?

We held on to our goal to stay in bed – full points for that one. We realized the obstacle – or got an unpleasant notification from our bladder. As the next step, we went through the process of solving the issue and identified willingly or just as a by-product all the de-motivators on our path achieving the pressures goal. Did we solve anything? No. We bought some time. Uhh, did we? Or have we just wasted some?

Here comes your bladder again. A bit more demanding than previously. “It would be so nice if you just could shut up and leave me alone.” You start picturing yourself already sitting (we don’t want to have those nasty drops everywhere in the bathroom) and you know exactly that feeling of getting relieved and yourself a step closer to where you are right now – in your cozy, comfortable and warm bed – “ahhh yes”. Your face is just about to setup that smile of comfort and well-being. The bladder keeps signaling and the last thing you hear might be something like “OK f.. it let’s go!” A few minutes later you pull your blanket and leave just enough space for the bright smile on your face. You’re back in your comfort zone and have that quick thought of “How can I make such a big deal out of it?”.

What was the difference this round? Was it the ten bucks pinned to the toilet seat? Did the toilet move miraculously closer or was it the pure fear to wed the bed early in the morning – I am sure there’s the unwritten agreement not to do that. What was the strongest motivator – if any – this round to get the job done and what was the final impulse to do so?

Maybe motivators are just overrated. Isn’t it our goal, which keeps us going? Isn’t that our driver to do stuff we don’t necessarily like to do and still keep doing it?

It is our choice of how we want to achieve our goals. We can either focus on the process and highlight our de-motivators or focus our energy on the moment where we just achieved our goal. We can either leave it to the outside world to make us do, or use our free will effectively and have fun doing, regardless of triggers from the outside.

Before trying to identify and analyzing potential motivators, you might want to identify the actual de-motivators and remove those.

Imagine you salary is just too little to survive and too much to die. You might see that as de-motivator and you might be right. Would it make a big change to your motivation if you suddenly earn double even though you’ve already achieved a really healthy standard of living? Most probably yes and maybe for a few months.

Does that new approach of motivation work for all? Figure it out! You can either picture yourself drained in sweat, dancing with the vacuum, swinging the mop and brushing the toilet or go one step ahead and see yourself relaxed on the couch enjoying the nice look of your cleaned-up house with shiny tiles and the nice smell of those fancy cleaners in the air. What would you like to set focus on? Is it the process which makes us do or is it the goal we want to achieve?