Motivation is a key factor of performance. You may have an abundance of talent but if you aren’t motivated to utilise that talent, it is unlikely you will perform your best. Motivation is the fuel for success, but it is also variable from person to person and may fluctuate over time. This can make it difficult to manage as a coach, leader or manager.
So why are people motivated? And how can you support sustained engagement?
When an individuals’ three basic needs – competence, choice and connection – are satisfied, they are more likely to be engaged in their performance domain and will thrive. Achieving Excellence refers to these three basic needs as the 3 Cs of performance success. We explore each in this excerpted content from Achieving Excellence.
When you are skilled at your craft, your self-esteem improves, self-concept improves, and self-efficacy improves. People are driven to hone their skills.
What if you thought of your training and your work as opportunities to build your competence? Rather than going for another training run, you could think about how, during this two-minute segment of the run, you are working on your kick. Instead of just completing a familiar practice or getting a workout over, you identify a larger goal of extending your competence and capabilities and then measure your increasing progress to higher standards of achievement. When you target specific competence extensions in each training session or drill or task at work, then your motivation for completing the task changes. It is no longer sufficient to just get it done. Instead, you are attending to specific elements of the task and finding specific examples of how you have improved. That type of focused and specific recognition of improvement can sustain your energy and effort as you notice and celebrate incremental gains.
And what if, as an employer or boss or leader in your respective industry, you thought of your work with others in terms of helping your clients or employees become more competent? For example, a basketball coach could think of teaching ballhandling skills to athletes to increase their personal agency and competence—they can select which of those moves they might need to implement to create space between themselves and the defender. And the more moves you teach them and then help them select the appropriate move, the more competent they will feel in those situations.
Identifying and owning choices in your life is, perhaps, the most supported and proven way to build internal drive. As a performer, you have to be at the center of your career. This is your career; this is your season; this is your game; this is your practice. You are making decisions in each moment that are either moving you closer to meeting your goals or further away from achievement.
When working with other performers, you can begin adding appropriate options or choices for them as early as they can make decisions, but the options have to be developmentally appropriate. For example, a young person playing tee ball might have the option during warm-ups to do their arm circles in the same direction or in the opposite direction. That is a simple, selected choice situation. Choices are important, but the performer needs the knowledge and capabilities to select the most appropriate choice. Autonomy is about highlighting people’s agency (choice) and their internal desire for excellence and improvement (internal motivation). Provide alternatives that are appropriate to the competitive level and to the individual, and then teach and educate the performer about each option.
As a performer, you must recognize the amount of agency and choice you possess. Language matters, and your language provides insight into your sense of agency, choice, and approach. When you say “I have to work out today” then your focus is on the job that needs to be completed. That language indicates a have-to rather than a want-to orientation to performance. It reflects an unstated belief that you have no choice to make or decision to implement. That orientation negatively affects your psyche.
Recognise the choices available and make deliberate decisions to focus on why you are choosing to do a particular task. When you own your agency, when you change your lens from have to to want to or get to, you change your whole world.
To be self-motivated, you also need to feel connected; you need to experience a sense of belonging and attachment to your goals and to other people. This fact is one reason that team building should be part of each group and every performance pursuit. This sense of connection must start with individual performers themselves. You must take responsibility for your personal choices first. Be honest in your self-evaluation and self-appraisal of your competency and goals, and engage in self-compassion when warranted. Connection starts with you. Who you are influences your interactions with other people. Once you are attached to your own goals and direction, you can work to gain a sense of belonging and build relationships with people who play the same position or compete in the same event, people in the larger sport or performance arena, the local community, and then outward into the larger global community.
Building these connections helps performers stick with training when it is challenging because they are accountable to other people. These connections must be authentic. For example, the Blue Angels, elite pilots and ambassadors of the U.S. Navy, are known for their ability to connect with one another before and after their flight demonstrations. These exchanges between pilots are often described as a primary reason for their success as a group, but they only converse over the mission and over the next demonstration. They are authentically connected to one another because of a shared purpose.
Feeling connected or related to other people can also help you remember to control what you can control. Once you are connected to someone else and appreciate them for who they are and what unique strengths they bring, you are less likely to try to get them to change or to control or alter their behavior to approximate more closely your own. Instead, you need to allow and encourage each person to perform their best at the skill or task that they are responsible for carrying out. You cannot change how someone else on your team in your position and with your level of expertise behaves. You are not in charge of that element. Instead, it is your responsibility to help them leverage their distinct strengths, talents, and abilities in all of the ways that they are capable. Then you do the same. If everyone in your committee, at your workplace, or on your team does that, if you all find ways to help each other access their own best performance, then you are more likely to meet collective group and team goals. Overall, developing a sense of connection among and between working group (or team) members is essential to motivation.
This post contains a shortened extract of the 3 Cs of Performance Success from Achieving Excellence. Read the full details in the book.
Colleen M. Hacker with Mallory E. Mann
Header photo by RUN 4 FFWPU