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Changing Behavior – The Real Reason Motivation is Important

I’m a pragmatist.

This means that while theory is nice, what is really important is what happens in real life.

Most of the time when clients hire us, they hire us because we can impact the bottom line through changing the behavior of their employees.  Most of them don’t care about the theory behind that change no matter how wonderful it is (e.g., The Four Drive Theory of Employee Motivation) – what they want is results.

Which gets me to the point of this post – if we are really about changing behavior, why do we care about motivation?

Think about it – motivation in and of itself does not change anything.  You can be motivated and pumped up and rearing to go and still not accomplish anything.  I’ve been motivated for years to loose weight – yet up until a few months ago, I haven’t done anything about it.  In their book, “Change Anything” Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzler (the guys from Vital Smart who wrote Crucial Conversations and Influencer) talk about how motivation is just one aspect that is required to achieve personal change.  Indeed, they talk about the fact that if all we have is motivation, no matter how much it is, we are most likely headed for failure.

To drive change we also need to have the skills, tools and knowledge necessary to achieve that change.  We need to have a social network that supports us in our change efforts and isn’t trying (actively or passively) to derail that change.   We also need an environment that helps us and doesn’t hinder us.  In other words, motivation by itself is not enough.


Motivation is vital to this whole equation.  It is the impetus to get us off our butts and start doing something.  It is the pressure that is applied to us throughout the change process – the pressure to continue and not quit when it gets tough.  It is the internal drive and fortitude to keep going and keep pushing oneself.  Without motivation, no change would happen.

And that my friends, is the reason that motivation is important.

Change Anything

I just got back from a presentation by Al Switzler, one of the authors of “Crucial Conversations”, “Crucial Confrontations”, and “Influencer” and now “Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success.” I have to say, I was impressed (and that usually doesn’t happen with presentations).

While I have not yet read the book, the information presented today was very thought provoking and more importantly, actionable. This is not always the case with business or personal help books. The concepts and ideas that Switzler discussed were real and I could see how they applied.

A few key ideas from the presentation:

“Lots of people do research about people, but almost nobody does research about you. You need to be come both the scientist and the subject.” Think about it, you are rarely the subject of a research experiment and even then you would probably be one of many. This idea is simple – look at your life with the eye of a researcher – what works for you, how do you behave in these situations, what motivates you? Then be the subject of your own experiments – try different things to see what makes a difference for you.

“Do you pass the commitment test. You need to be able to vividly and passionately articulate why you want to change. If you can’t do that, change will most likely not happen.” In other words, we need to make it real to ourselves both cognitively and emotionally. The words we use to explain why we need to change need to be “vivid” and we need to talk about them “passionately.”

“We often think of failure to change as a lack of willpower. It really has many more facets than that.” Switzler explains that they found six sources of influence that impact the likelihood that change will occur. These are:

  • Personal Motivation (i.e., our will – what we want and how badly we want it),
  •  Personal Ability (i.e., the tools and skills we have to acheive our desires),
  • Social Motivation (i.e., the influence that those close around us have on our behavior),
  • Social Ability (i.e., do those people close to us act as enablers of good or bad behavior),
  • Structural Motivation (i.e., the influence that structural factors play on our behavior),
  • Structural Ability (i.e., how well you control your environment to help you achieve your goals).

I am looking forward to reading the book and giving you an update when I’m done….

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