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Toward or Not Toward?

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Have you seen our latest course, How to Lead Effective and Engaging Meetings? If you have, you'll probably recognize the first element - purpose. And you may remember the tools we talked about to help with it. So, today I want to explore a couple different styles of motivation, because motivation can act as a purpose in some conversations.

In the course, we mentioned that we're aiming for the "highest positive purpose." Yet, when it comes to motivation, there are two types: away and toward.

Toward motivation is the positive motivation, where someone is aiming to accomplish something, often to work toward something else. They may, for example, want to lose weight in order to be healthier, look better in their clothes, etc.

Away motivation is the incentive to do something in order to get away from or prevent something else. For example, some people want to lose weight so they don't have knee pain or have trouble keeping up with their child.

When we are first getting started on a project or goal, it's possible that toward or away motivation may work. That said, for some people, away motivation can be a little stronger at the beginning. That's because sometimes people become complacent if they are comfortable, but if something's "wrong," they'll take faster action. It's kind of like running faster if you're being chased than if you're running toward something you want.

Contrast that with the moments when the project is under way and the pressure is off. In that case, toward motivation can be helpful in keeping some people moving. And for that reason, it can yield more consistent action than away motivation. They say that is the reason for the yo-yo effect with weight - If people are away-motivated, they may start to lose weight, then the pressure's off, so they slide and gain weight. They kick back into gear again, not wanting that, until the pressure's off, etc.

What if there's more than one person? If you're dealing with a group, it's likely different people will have different motives. Also, motives can vary in different contexts; a person who is "away-motivated" in health may be "toward motivated" in career. So, what can we do, as leaders, to ensure that we have something for everyone to be motivated by?

When dealing with a group, it's best to use a combination of toward and away motivation when discussing projects. So, pick something that the project can prevent (to attract the people who may respond best to away motivation) and something to work toward (for the people who respond best to toward motivation.)

So, if you're starting a project, you may say, "Let's get X done so that we can prevent Y and gain Z." Preventing Y would serve the people who are away motivated, and gaining z would entice those who lean toward things.


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