The Current Difficulties of Motivation

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

There are so many layers of actions and reactions for humans as we respond to internal and external stimuli, each with its own potential to create a state of motivation or de-motivation.
Despite many political commentators up-talking the economy and the future of the nation, the majority of us mortals must deal in reality, which, in the current circumstances, is gloomy if not downright grim. This feeling is particularly magnified as the daylight hours shorten and the beginning of the end to what must be classified as one of our better Summers accelerates into a ‘Winter of discontent’. 

Each morning the habit of switching on the radio when we arise and go to the kitchen for that first wake up mug of tea or coffee, guarantees a first layer of subconscious negativity which damages how we feel about the day ahead and even how we feel about ourselves. 

Morning Ireland or whatever your favourite radio programme is, will be meting out several hours of ‘bad’ news to accompany you at breakfast and disturb your digestive system as well as your joie de vie. You then make it to the car and as you turn the key in the ignition the same station, already on standby from the previous evening, it will undoubtedly continue to reinforce the negativity until you reach your place of work. That is, for those who are lucky enough to still have employment in this recession! Do these people actually filter out any glimmer of positivity, preferring instead to provide 99.9% misery as the only worthwhile news?

Many months of listening to fairy stories about the banks and how they got it so wrong while some of their senior executives were making hay for themselves while the economic sun shone brightly upon them, certainly makes the average person angry. 

Everyone forgot the simple maxim that our grannies taught us, that is... “What goes up must come down”. 

Talk of economic haircuts, good bank/bad bank models and other ‘inside’ expressions, cynically designed to confuse the ordinary ‘man on the street’, add anger and frustration to our daily dose of negativity. 

So the national psyche is under pressure from the word go each day and we carry this unwittingly into the workplace and into the lives of our colleagues, whether they have been listening to the same horrific stories of the morning or not.

Discussions over the tea breaks will inevitably turn to the latest fiasco or obscenity, such as politicians allegedly stealing public funds by fiddling expenses and apparently getting away with it, while you or I would be unceremoniously locked up after a brief investigation and trial. 

The same applies to our banking executives, the main culprits walking away with massive pensions and golden handshakes. People feel let down, as the daily dose of ‘blackness’ is ejected onto the unsuspecting public over their soft boiled eggs and toast and, just as we were thinking that it couldn’t get worse, what happens? It gets worse! 

The question asked by struggling businesses is ‘why?’. Why is it that I can’t have any support for my business from the state, but the bank gets enough support to cripple the country for the next twenty years? What makes the banking business so much more important than my business? We both employ people and try and cover costs and ideally make a profit. Why the inequality? Why the favouritism for banking? 

In a country where the pursuit of equality has been a legislative and idealistic imperative with trade unions campaigning incessantly for it since the formation of the state, why is this apparent injustice unchallenged? Maybe there is a reasonable, logical, economic and politically motivated rationale which, if explained, might help us understand and then we would be able to trust our politicians to continue with their policies. Unfortunately there has been no detailed national communications programme explaining any such rationale to the population, so most of us are at a loss in trying to understand. Trust is hard to maintain in these circumstances. 

The Dilemma 

It is within this difficult context that we must all deal with our internal state of mind and how we consciously or otherwise try and find sufficient grains or atoms of positive thought to get us through each day, week and our work. This is a question of motivation, self motivation and the knock-on impact of our positive thoughts on others (our colleagues, customers, friends, family and everyone we come into contact with as we move through the day). 

Now there are some people who have a natural ability to enthuse themselves and sometimes this ability also enables them to transfer this enthusiasm to others. These natural positive thinkers or motivators appear to be in short supply and particularly on national radio first thing in the morning. 

Perhaps there should be even more legislation created to ensure that there is a healthy balance of genuine positive thought over breakfast each day so that those responsible for people at work are assisted in their responsibility for the motivation of staff by carrying that basic positivity with them as they communicate, inflicting happiness and light rather than gloom and doom. 

The Challenge 

So, is it really possible to be positive when there is such apparent economic misery around, according to those who produce news programmes? The quick answer is yes. We can do many things to change: to shift from allowing our minds to be subliminally undermined by negativity to having a more rounded and consistent positive attitude. This change in thinking and behaviour is not going to be easy and will require a certain understanding and awareness and also a commitment to change our already conditioned behaviour. 

People responsible for the work of others should all remind themselves on a daily basis that they do have a very specific responsibility for the motivation of their staff (vested in the sometimes ambiguous title of manager) and that they should be regularly challenged to find ways and means of increasing the level of motivation within the work place to raise the spirits of those that share the environment. 

I am sure that granny would also remind us that the opposite of the maxim “What goes up must come down” also applies, i.e., “What goes down can also rise up again” and that “All boats rise with the tide”. It always has occurred like this in the past after economic decline, but sometimes we need to give it a helping hand, a boost or a leg up. Unfortunately de-motivation generally carries with it a reluctance to engage in such simple thinking. 

Our individual challenge is to find some tiny seed of personal motivation no matter how small, cultivate it and ensure all about us are in some way positively affected by it. 

One practical first step might be to only listen to the first headlines of the news (if you have an imperative need to do so) and then consciously and very deliberately switch it off, move to something positive, play your favourite music, talk to the family, buy CD’s of motivational speakers and seek out some of their best ideas to experiment with and share with others. 

Any positive action whatsoever must be better than indiscriminately allowing the presenters and producers of radio and television to inflict their daily dose of negativity on us. Be aware that this seeps deep inside our subconscious and has a debilitating affect. I mean how could it do otherwise, it’s like brain washing! 

We have the ability to reverse this. Start with little things that make you feel good. Feeling good is, in itself, motivational.

In the large wealthy manufacturing companies (I will not mention any names) they have the forethought and the resources to invest in motivational activities. Unfortunately smaller organisations do not have the resources, the knowledge nor the inclination to do something ‘special’ to make their staff feel good. I have occasionally heard inexperienced managers, with a poor understanding of management concept and responsibility, state “Don’t they have a job and don’t we pay them, what more do they want?” This is not the way professional management practice actually works; so anyone with such an attitude should not clap themselves on the back. What they should do is enrol for a course of study and learn about the great body of research on motivational practice and how it works. 

Employees have varying degrees of concerns which are without doubt exacerbated by the daily dose of adverse news which makes them worry about their jobs, livelihood, mortgages and other bills. 

Perhaps managers could create an initial forum to determine what external forces cause worry and how such worry impacts the workplace. Then it might be useful to involve their staff in reviewing these discoveries and decide on what if anything could be done, with specialist help if necessary, to alleviate these concerns. The objective being to create a reduced or worry free environment, or at least the opportunity for staff to have someone to assist them privately to address their issues of personal motivation. The collective motivational environment can be allocated similar discussion time with innovative objectives. 

The aspiration for achieving such a positive state, while recognising the real difficulties involved, may appear to be ridiculously idealistic. However, the act of trying is in itself motivational and the benefits may surprise you. 

Motivation is a wonderful thing, it creates an environment in which people like to work, it helps improve performance which in turn helps the enterprise to survive and grow, and so on. So investing some time (i.e. management time) in thinking this through is not only desirable but essential and, as already stated, an aspect of management responsibility. Leave the negativity to the news readers, but let them read it to themselves, you have more important work to do.