“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Aviator and Author; Night Flight)
“Progress isn’t made by early risers. It’s made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something.”
Robert A. Heinlein (Author; Stranger In A Strange Land)
“Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.”
Need drives action and everyone needs something.
I’m incredibly lazy. Not all the time but definitely when it comes to things I’m not interested in. Or when I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere. The worst is when I really want to get ahead but don’t feel like I have any control over my progress.
I remember the exact moment in graduate school when I realized that my mentor wasn’t going to let me graduate no matter how many publications I had, or how many presentations I gave, or how many networking events I attended. I was just going to have to wait until he decided to let me leave. That’s when something inside of me died. Maybe it didn’t die but it definitely went to sleep. I lost all of my motivation. My mentor would yell and scream and I would smile and nod and then do nothing. Because there was no point.
My first job out of graduate school was amazing. I worked for a small software company and flew all over the world giving seminars. I got to make my own schedule and didn’t have to report to anyone. The funny thing was I kept trying to report to other people in the company. But nobody cared. Somehow, this freedom made me work harder and harder. I loved it. In under two years I ended up traveling 300,000 miles and giving hundreds of seminars for that company. Because I wanted to. And I’m still loyal to the people I worked with there. Why?
Need: The Universal Thumbscrew
Some people are good at spinning their wheels and staying busy for no reason, but not me. I just can’t fake it. I need a clear vision of what I’m trying to achieve and why. I also need to be able to measure my progress towards that vision. And I need to have some sense of control over my progress.
Motivating yourself comes down to knowing your needs. Not your physical needs like food and water but your psychological needs.
In the book Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices, authors and Harvard Business School professors Paul Lawrence and Nitin Nohria suggest that human beings have four psychological needs:
The Drive to Acquire (the desire to obtain physical objects and immaterial qualities like power)
The Drive to Bond (the desire to feel valued and loved)
The Drive to Learn (the desire to grow and satisfy our curiosity)
The Drive to Defend (the desire to protect our relationships and property).
In The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business, author Josh Kaufman adds one more to this list:
The Drive to Feel (the desire for sensory stimulus like pleasure and excitement).
In Awaken the Giant Within, author Tony Robbins writes that there are six human needs and that all behavior is simply an attempt to meet these needs:
Certainty (the desire to avoid pain and gain pleasure)
Variety (the desire for change and new stimuli)
Significance (the desire to be unique and important)
Connection (the desire to be understood and to feel close to or in tune with someone)
Growth (the desire to expand one’s capacity, ability, or understanding)
Contribution (the desire to help others).
Finally, in the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, author Daniel Pink narrows down human needs to include:
Autonomy (the desire to control one’s environment and destiny)
Mastery (the desire to excel at something important)
Purpose (the desire to contribute to something greater than oneself).
The key to motivating people is connecting the outcome of an action to the fulfillment of one or more of the above needs. These needs are like thumbscrews, they can be used to drive yourself and others to action very quickly. All you have to do is twist things in the right way.
25 Ways To Motivate People
Knowing your needs and the needs of others is not enough. You also have to know how to tap into these needs. This means getting practical. For example, you can inspire people to take action by making them laugh, telling them why, or giving them social proof. All of these behaviors will help you fulfill their need for connection (or, their drive to bond).
Most people aren’t lazy. They just don’t want the same things as you. The only universal way to arouse action in others is to appeal to their needs, as practically as possible. Here are 25 ways to turn lazy people into action-takers.
1. Give them something to prove.
In graduate school I used to get emails from a girl I dated a few years back. She would write me every 6-12 months asking how I was and ending each message with “I hope you’re doing well.” So, of course, I would write her back like two paragraphs telling her how great I was and that I couldn’t be better and that I’m going to be a doctor and blah, blah, blah. She never responded. I fell for it every time.
A lot of people will try to tell you that you shouldn’t have something to prove. This is total crap. People who have nothing to prove might as well start shopping for coffins.
Everyone has something to prove. This is because everyone needs to feel significant or important in some way. Everyone wants to know that their life matters. This is a good thing.
Help others feel significant. Or, give them an opportunity to prove that they’re significant.
2. Trigger them.
Every February 2nd, the movie Groundhog Day is shown on television stations everywhere. On Christmas Day, Ted Turner plays A Christmas Story over and over again for 24-hours in a row. Recently, New Line Cinema produced two movies, one called Valentine’s Day and the other called New Year’s Eve. Why?
In the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, author Jonah Berger provides data showing that NASA’s Mars Pathfinder project increased sales of Mars candy bars simply by acting as a trigger. People heard about NASA’s mission to Mars on news outlets over and over again and responded by buying Mars bars.
Berger goes on to say that triggers are the reason why Honey Nut Cheerios are talked about more than Walt Disney World. Because most people eat breakfast every day but only go to Disney World once in a lifetime.
There are thousands of ways to trigger people to take action. You can send them regular emails, text messages, quotes, or gifts (see #13). Or, you can associate your message or product with a certain day of the week or special holiday. Either way, the result is the same, they will be triggered to take action.
3. Create a habit for them.
When I first started blogging I would post a new article whenever I felt like it. Sometimes it would take me two days to write another article and sometimes it would take me two weeks. As a result, none of my readers knew when to look for new content. So, they stopped looking for it.
One day I was reading a blog article from one of my favorite authors. It was a Monday. I knew it was a Monday because this author only published on Mondays. I never had to think about it. Every Monday morning I would fire up my computer and go to his webpage. That’s when it clicked — I should be posting habitually too. I started publishing new articles on the same day every week and in less than three months my number of returning visitors increased by 500%.
People have enough to think about. They’re not going to use their willpower to take action on your behalf. Not consistently anyway. You have to help them turn that action into a habit. And then you have to create a trigger for that habit (see #2)
4. Get them excited.
A recent study showed the excitement motivates people to take action more than any other emotion. In the study, participants were divided into 4 different groups. Each group watched short videos that were either 1) exciting and upbeat—car chase scenes; 2) emotionally neutral—segments from a historical documentary; 3) fearful—scenes from a horror movie; or 4) sad—scenes from a depressing drama.
After watching the videos, each group played a computer game that allowed them to trade real-life items with each other. The study found that people who watched the exciting videos took significantly more action than those who watched the other videos. The excited people also took more risks.
5. Reject them.
A Stanford University study found that preventing people from achieving a goal increases their desire to obtain it. But, it also fills them with resentment.
During the study, participants who failed to win a prize were willing to pay more for it than those who won it and they were also more likely to trade it away when they ultimately obtained it.
In other words, being rejected made the participants simultaneously want the prize more and like it less.
6. Fill them with awe.
Why was Microsoft’s commercial the best part of the Super Bowl this year?
University of Pennsylvania researchers performed a detailed study of the New York Times (NYT) list of most-e-mailed articles. The researchers checked the list every 15 minutes for more than six months, analyzing the content of thousands of articles and controlling for factors like placement on the Webpage and publication timing.
The study found that, more than anything else, people share articles that inspire awe, especially those relating to some new scientific discovery. In general, they found, 20% of articles that appeared on the NYT home page made the list. This rate rose to 30% for awe-inspiring science articles.
Whether the awe is inspired by a scientific discovery or a Superbowl commercial, it inspires action.
7. Confuse them.
I was in a roundtable discussion with 4X NYT Best Selling author AJ Jacobs last year at a conference and he gave everyone some great advice for creating book and article titles. He told us to create a paradox.
For example, Jacobs’ most recent book is titled, Drop Dead Healthy. How can you be drop dead healthy? In a way, it doesn’t make sense. But, in another way, it does. You can tell there’s more to the story but you’re not sure what that story is. And that’s what inspires people to take action.
Remember the movie teasers for the movie Independence Day? The teasers didn’t show any of the main actors, it didn’t have any dialogue, it just showed the world’s biggest cities being covered in large shadows. This made people want to find out more. The movie ended up making over $306 million dollars in the U.S. alone, that’s $578 million if you adjust for inflation.
8. Make them laugh.
Have you seen the video from 1995 where former Russian Prime Minister Boris Yeltsin jokingly calls then U.S. President Bill Clinton a “disaster” and they both start laughing uncontrollably?
Yeltsin and Clinton shared a very similar sense of humor. And this helped them work together towards similar goals. According to the U.S. Department of State, Clinton not only liked Yeltsin but also strongly supported his policies, in particular, his commitment to Russian democracy. During the seven years both were in office, Clinton and Yeltsin met eighteen different times.
Laughter raises levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin and the hormone oxytocin, both of which make you feel centered and connected to others.
Have you ever heard a bunch of people laughing in another room and felt yourself being drawn to it? Laughter is contagious. Everyone wants to have fun.
If your cause involves having fun, you’ll have no problem recruiting people to it.
9. Gross them out.
In 2012, an Australian marketing team created one of the grossest ads ever made to promote the use of Oxy zit cream. Some members of the team noticed an unusually high number of videos on YouTube showcasing young males popping their own zits. So, they bought the rights to the videos and made a montage. The ad has almost one million hits.
Any emotion that physically arouses people will inspire action, even if that emotion is disgust.
10. Exercise with them.
Studies show that people who exercise together generate a sense of trust and camaraderie. Other studies show that people who exercise are also more likely to take action in other areas of their lives afterwards.
In the book Steve Jobs, author Walter Isaacson tells how Jobs, the former CEO of Apple Computers would invite people he worked with to go on walks with him. During these walks, Jobs would spend time communicating his vision (see #11) to the other person. By engaging in physical activity with other people, Jobs was better able to build trust and inspire action.
11. Communicate your vision with them.
A strong vision can give you 240 times more energy. But that’s easy. Anyone can have a vision. Not everyone can communicate it.
Communicating your vision to others in a way that they can understand and identify with (see# 16) is crucial to inspiring action. The key is to start at the very endpoint of your goal — feelings — and work backwards:
What does your vision look like in terms of feelings? Once it’s achieved, how will people feel?
What are the daily actions that are going to sustain those feelings? Once your vision becomes real, how will people’s lives change on a day-to-day basis?
What are a few of the biggest outcomes that need to be achieved to sustain those daily actions? What are some of the key benchmarks that need to be accomplished to ensure that those outcomes are achieved? What needs to happen today to accomplish those benchmarks on time. And so on.
12. Give them control.
The real reason that I loved my first job after graduate school (see above) was because they gave me a ton of freedom. Instead of breathing down my neck, they communicated their vision (see #11) to me and let me find my own way to fulfill it.
Autonomy is a powerful human need. It also helps people be more creative. Some of the most successful companies in the world have started giving their employees free work days. The most well-known example of this is Google’s 20%-time rule.
Google allows its engineers to spend 20% of their time on projects that directly interest the engineers themselves. In other words, Google engineers spend an entire day’s worth of company time working on whatever they want. And it works out for everyone. The 20% program has produced hit products like Gmail and Google News.
13. Give them something for free.
In 1974 a sociologist named Phillip Kunz sent out 600 Christmas cards to total strangers. Each card was handwritten and contained a picture of his family. He ended up receiving over 200 handwritten replies from these strangers, some of which were 4-pages long. This is known as the Rule of Reciprocation.
The next time you are at a grocery store and free food samples are being handed out, stick around for a few minutes and watch how people respond to these free gifts. Everyone will either buy the product or talk to the clerk. They will reciprocate with either their time or money.
Giving is a great way to inspire action. But give selectively. If you give too much too fast, you’ll dilute the value of your gifts and eventually wont’ be able to illicit a reciprocal response.
14. Tell them what to do.
In the 1960′s, the Milgram experiment showed that 65% of people would deliver a fatal shock to total strangers if they were told to do it. Why?
The software company I worked for after graduate school used to make headbands with their logo on it. They would give these headbands out to customers at trade shows and regional conferences.
I thought it would be a good idea to take pictures of clients wearing the headbands but whenever I asked someone to put one on their head they refused. So, I started telling them to put the headband on their head for a picture. I would say, “Put this on your head for a picture.” Everyone did it.
Don’t ask when you can demand. Demanding isn’t a bad thing, people can still say no. You’re not forcing them. You’re just reframing their options.
15. Show them proof.
The Solomon Asch experiment was first conducted in 1951 when Asch, the psychologist, brought together small groups of college students for a “visual perception study”.
But instead of testing visual perception, the study was really testing the effects of conformity and social proof. During the experiment, every student, except one, was a planted actor who knew the nature of the experiment.
The actors were instructed to give incorrect answers to very simple questions that involved matching black lines on white cards. The real subject, who was the only one not aware of the real experiment, was asked each question after hearing the planted actors’ answers. Again and again, the real subject knowingly answer incorrectly against clear visual evidence in order to fit in with the group.
Everyone wants to fit in. Everyone wants to connect. Some people are better at fighting this urge than others but the urge is still there. If you can show someone that a lot of other people are doing something, they’ll be more likely to do it.
16. Identity with them.
Chet Holmes does a series called Integrity Based Selling: The Power Of Identity where he shows people how to use a person’s identity, versus a product’s features, to initiate action.
The best example he gives involves a story of a real estate agent trying to sell a house by telling an interested buyer that the house has vaulted ceilings, is in a beautiful neighborhood, and is really close to a great school. Then he shares the story of a real estate agent who tells an interested buyer that “this is a house that millionaires live in.” Guess who sold the house?
If you can get people to identify with an outcome, they will work extremely hard to achieve it. And they will justify (see #17) their actions in order to maintain their identity.
17. Justify them.
If you help people justify their actions or the way they feel, they are more likely to keep taking the same action. This works in a couple of different ways.
First, people will do whatever it takes to justify their behavior. Studies show that instead of admitting defeat, most people will make excuses or exaggerate their actions to make themselves look good. In other words, they will shift fault or blame in order to keep seeing themselves in a positive light.
Second, people will escalate their commitment to something when they feel personally responsible for negative consequences. A study titled Knee-Deep in the Big Muddy examined the investment decisions of 240 business school students during a computer simulation. The study found that people who invested in a crappy stock would fight harder and harder to stick with that stock simply to justify their original decision to buy it.
18. Take away their options.
Removing people’s options is the only real way to increase their urgency to act.
In The 33 Strategies Of War, author Robert Greene tells how Sun Tzu, an ancient Chinese military general who served under King Helü of Wu (544 – 496 B.C.), would purposely place his warriors on “death ground.”
For example, Tzu would station his armies against a mountain range, or in between a series of deep rivers. This would make his armies feel like they were on death’s doorstep. As a result, they would fight “20 times” more intensely.
In The 50th Law, Greene goes on to tell the story of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the Russian author of Crime And Punishment and countless other books. Dostoyevsky was known for writing at incredible speeds and relentlessly pursuing perfection. He wrote each sentence as though it would be his last.
Dostoyevsky worked with such intensity because he was instinctually aware of the closeness of death. At a young age, his mother died suddenly of tuberculosis. Later in his life, he was imprisoned and condemned to death by the Russian government for his involvement in a political discussion group.
Dostoyevsky wrote so much that he became one of the most widely read and renowned writers in Russia. His books have been translated into more than 170 languages and have sold around 15 million copies.
19. Make them feel special.
A study at MIT showed that the less a person’s work is appreciated, the more money they will want for doing it.
In the study, participants were given a piece of paper filled with random letters and asked to find pairs of identical letters. Each round, participants were offered less money than the previous round.
People in the first group wrote their names on their sheets and handed them to the experimenter, who acknowledged their work before putting it in a pile. People in the other groups had their work ignored or shredded immediately upon completion.
Those whose work was ignored or shredded needed twice as much money to keep doing the task than those whose work was acknowledged.
20. Beat them up a little.
Pain is a powerful motivator. But only when it really hurts.
There’s a great scene in the movie Bridesmaids where Melissa McCarthy’s character starts pushing and punching Kristen Wigg’s character, Annie, who is depressed and has all but given up on life. Eventually, after being beat on for a few minutes, Annie starts to fight back.
One thing I learned from wrestling in high school and college is that everyone has a breaking point. When they reach this point, they will shut down and flop all over the wrestling mat like a dead fish.
But I also learned that just beyond this breaking point is a second fight-for-your-life point. This second point is raw, explosive, and completely emotional. If you push anyone hard enough, you’ll eventually find this point.
21. Start a rivalry
A lot of principal investigators at my graduate school would give the same lab project to two different students. The students would end up competing with each other, working harder and harder to finish the project and get published before the other person.
I recently sold one of my cars on Craigslist. I only had to show the car once because I invited 5 different people to come look at it at the exact same time.
On the day of the sale, the first buyer started looking at the car, pointing out all of the small deficiencies he could find like a ding on the bumper and a small stain on the floor. Then, a second buyer showed up and started looking.
Now, the first buyer really wanted the car. He started pacing back and forth, staring at the second buyer and asking me a bunch of questions really fast. Within one minute of the third buyer showing up, the first buyer bought the car.
People are competitive. The value of anything increases immediately as soon as someone else wants it.
22. Tell them why.
Why is more important than what or how. According to Simon Sinek, author of the book Start With Why, what a company does, how they do it, and why they do it are three different rings. Together, these rings make up the golden circle.
The golden circle parallels the biology of our brains. For example, what is in the outermost circle of a company’s message and what we do is controlled by the outermost, rational part of our brain. How is in the middle circle of a company’s message and why is in the innermost circle. These inner circles correlate to the innermost, emotional parts of our brain.
Telling people what to do and how to do things does not inspire action. But giving them a strong reason why will inspire strong action. This is because why is connected to a person’s identity (see #16) and belief system.
If you can get someone to share your why, you will have no problem getting them to share your how and what.
23. Make things harder.
I took a DECA marketing class in high school and the only thing I remember from it was a video we watched on the guy who invented chicken hotdogs. Chicken hotdogs are cheaper to make than pork hotdogs, so the owner of the first chicken hotdog company sold them at half the price of pork hotdogs. Nobody bought them.
Then, the owner started selling his chicken hotdogs as a specialty item for twice the price of pork hotdogs. Everybody bought them. The chickendogs became one of the owner’s bestselling items.
In the book Predictably Irrational (another perfectly confusing title; see#7), author Dan Ariely describes a series of experiments where people were instructed to create specific origami shapes. Some people were given instructions on how to make the shapes, others were not. Those who were not given instructions were willing to pay more for their finished products, even though, on average, they were uglier. These people also reported feeling prouder of their finished products.
The harder something is to have, the more people will want to take action to have it. And the harder something is to do, the more people will want to do it — if you make them feel special for doing it (see #19).
24. Make things easier.
Narrator: Tyler, you are by far the most interesting single-serving friend I’ve ever met. See I have this thing: everything on a plane is single-serving, even the…
Tyler Durden: Oh I get it, it’s very clever.
Narrator: Thank you.
Tyler Durden: How’s that working out for you?
Tyler Durden: Being clever.
Never sacrifice clarity to cleverness. The above dialogue is from the move Fight Club and illustrates and important point, too many people value being clever. Cleverness is not a badge of honor. Being able to communicate your vision simply and effectively (see #11) is much more important than being clever or cool.
In the book Made To Stick, authors Chip and Dan Heath define simplicity as the ability to find your core message and share it in a compact way. Your core message is the single most important thing you have to communicate.
The Army has a core message for its battle plans called “Commander’s Intent.” And smart companies like Southwest Airlines have core strategic messages like “The low-fare airline.” Finding your core message is hard but it’s critical to getting other people to connect with your ideas in a way that will make them want to take action.
25. Measure their progress.
Growth is the most important human need. Without a sense of growth, people shut down. Especially if they have no control over their growth (see #12).
In a Harvard University study, participants were asked to build Lego characters. All participants were paid decreasing amounts of money for each subsequent character they built.
One group’s creations were stored while the other group’s characters were disassembled as soon as they were built. As a result, the group who could see their progress made an average of eleven Lego characters each. Participants in the group whose characters were immediately broken apart made only seven before they quit.
The more you measure, the more you energize. The key is to measure only the things that matter — things that will ultimately affect your outcome.
Which of the above techniques do you use to motivate yourself or others?
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