Skip to main content

What motivates you to take action?

School taught us to answer a simple question, “will this be on the test?” If the answer is no, we’ve got no time for it.

Work taught us to fear the boss and the review and our performance ranking. And we are motivated to do the work if we get paid for it, because, after all, that’s why we call it work. Do the least, because you're always going to get asked to do more.

Or we could be motivated to avoid shame, or to take advantage of the sale that’s about to end. Motivated by deadlines, by crises, by the media "breaking news" out of the situation room.

Is it any wonder, then, that we end up as short-term, unhappy, profit seekers? And that marketers and others that seek to engage with you build their offerings around your motivation?

Millions of students are in college, many going hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. They are surrounded by huge libraries, high-speed internet access and educated people, and yet the dominant dynamic remains: how little can I do? Will this be on the test?

And the rest of us are in the real world, with the infinite library of humanity at our fingertips, with millions of people to connect with, with an unlimited array of problems worth solving right in front of us.

What if each of us were motivated by curiosity instead? Or generosity? Perhaps we could learn to see possibility instead of risk. What if we took and finished online classes because we could, not because there are assignments, tests and a certificate?

I see this firsthand with the shift students in my courses go through. At first, there's an awkward pause when people realize that there are no tests. Without tests, it seems, it's easier to focus on more pressing urgencies at home or at work. But then, postures begin to change. People realize that a different kind of motivation might lead to a different sort of outcome.

The choice of motivation is a fork in the road. It not only determines what we do and how we do it, but it drives marketers to decide what they make and how they’ll sell it. It changes the way school boards and regents design courses. It changes the story we tell ourselves.

Today's Groundhog day, an oddball holiday built on the premise that winter's a grind, that we want it to be over with, that our motivation is TGIF... The magic of the film, though, was realizing that our motivation is actually up to us, and that if we choose, we can change it. If we do, the world might change in response.

We get more of what we respond to.

Read more from Seth Godin