Motivation - The Three Lives

Are you clear about the factors which motivate you; is it the pleasures in life or a need to achieve before the inevitable occurs?

The subject of motivation remains a facinating one, however much one reads, and however much research one comes across.  Everyone has a view on the subject one way or another, whether it be a discussion of the motivation of terrorists, or the impact of the weather on our desire to get out from under the duvet.

For each of us there will be times when our motivation is high and anything is possible, and others when the simplest task seems like a huge challenge.

As part of our work with managers, we frequently explore the subject of motivation, so that our clients can gain a greater understanding of their own drivers, and those of their team members.  We often discuss 5 prime motivators, which have a huge impact on work force morale:

  1. Working in the Right Place – People often talk about a sense of belonging, along with working relationships and the physical environment, as having a huge impact upon their level of motivation.

  2. Playing to Strengths – People like to draw on their strengths, to know that they are doing something well, because they have the right skills, knowledge and experience. They are putting their talents to good use.

  3. Being Challenged – the right kind of goals, those that are stretching but possible, are really effective motivators. Many of us know we love a challenge, whilst some are surprised how driven we become when presented by one!

  4. Being Rewarded – People have increased drive and desire to achieve when the right rewards are on offer at the end of it all

  5. Making a Difference – Interestingly, motivation is not only, and not most effectively, about personal gain. People are genuinely driven by a desire to help others, to contribute, to achive something worthwhile.

Anyone who has explored the research on motivation will see the influence of many experts on our thinking.  Maslow and Herzberg, with their ideas on needs still offer insight, whilst the work of Vroom and Locke and Latham on goals and valence has real value in the working environment.  More recently Marcus Buckingham amongst others has championed the strengths-based approach.

However the ideas that have recently struck a chord, and influenced our own work significantly are those of the Positive Psychology movement, and one of its founding members, Martin Seligman.  The thought of focussing on the well, to make them even happier, is definitely one which brings a smile to our face.  But how can it be achieved?

In a very interesting presentation, given in February 2004, Seligman talks about 3 Lives

Seligman identifies 3 lives.

1. The first is the pleasant life, the life which in you have as much positive emotion as possible, as many pleasures as there are available.

2. The second is the life of engagement, or the good life, which is about using your strengths and skills to achieve.  It’s more than about just pleasure, its about absorption, about what Csikszentmihalyi calls flow.  It is about achieving.

3. The third life is the life of meaning, which is about knowing and using your strengths to belong to and to contribute to something larger than you are.

Seligman suggests that we can pursue any one of these three lives, but that ultimately, a life of meaning is the most fulfilling.

So perhaps it should be neither cake, nor death, which drives us on, but instead the opportunities we have to make a contribution, in whichever way we find it, to the greater good…