Attitude Adjustment

Work harder! Earn less! Learn to love it!

 

THE SCIENCE

Intrinsic motivation is the desire to take part in an activity for its own sake. It's why babies learn to walk and feed themselves, why we keep forming new relationships despite the fact that the old ones failed. There's a high degree of correlation between what an individual is intrinsically motivated to do and what they're likely to do well.

For someone to experience intrinsic motivation, four conditions have to be met, according to John Tauer, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of St. Thomas. The first is that they must enjoy some degree of competence: "Rarely do you find anyone who says, 'I love this activity and I'm terrible at it,'" he says.

Next is autonomy: An individual needs to feel that they have some control over what they're doing. Then there's a sense of relatedness, of being part of something bigger than oneself. And finally there's the sense that what you do is valued, that it's important, that there is meaning in it.

Some lucky folks are intrinsically motivated to get up and go to work every day. If you've ever been working along on a task and become so absorbed you lost track of time, or felt "in the zone," chances are that those four conditions were met and the activity in question perfectly matched your skill set, Tauer says.

But most of us are probably better off finding a way to at least like the job we have. When you have a job--or for that matter a life--where the four components of intrinsic motivation aren't all in place, or where your inborn need to be right is in conflict with your need to be liked (a job like, say, selling people things they don't think they want or need), then you need to get creative. And this, Tauer posits, is the reason motivational business speaking and publishing have become a booming industry.

"In the absence of intrinsic motivation, you see people searching," he says. "People often then decide to make as much money as possible. It's a way of resolving that cognitive dissonance: I'm spending all this time at a job I don't love, how do I justify that?

"Other times, people disengage," Tauer continues. "And this might actually be worse. If you start saying, I'm going to be doing this for 15 or 20 years, that's kind of a scary thought." Depression frequently includes an aspect of learned helplessness, he adds: "Why does someone stay in an abusive relationship when outsiders say, 'Why not just leave?' Well, it's not that easy."

On the job, that tends to mean a hopeless feeling. And so people are vulnerable when someone steps up and says, "I'm here to help you reach your potential," says Tauer.

Especially someone who has donned the mantle of authority, albeit one they stitched up themselves. "From earliest childhood, we learn to rely on authority figures for sound decision-making, because their authority signifies status and power as well as expertise," explains Robert Levine, a California State University psychology professor and author of The Power of Persuasion: How We're Bought and Sold.

"Authorities such as parents and teachers are not only our primary sources of wisdom while we grow up, but they control us and our access to the things we want," Levine writes. "As adults, it's natural to transfer this respect to society's designated authorities, such as judges, doctors, bosses, and religious leaders. We assume their positions give them special access to information and power. Usually we're correct, so that our willingness to defer to authority becomes a convenient shortcut to sound decision-making.

"It's so effective, in fact, that we often embrace the further shortcut of assuming that people who simply display symbols of authority should be listened to." Studies show that Americans are particularly swayed by titles, clothing, and luxury cars, he adds.

And there's nothing like confidence to anchor that image of authority. "[S]tudies show that decisive, swift talkers are actually no more sure of their facts than are their more hesitant counterparts," Levine writes. "But more important, they create the impression of confidence and, as a result, are perceived to be more expert, intelligent, and knowledgeable." The use of statistics, he adds, "even when they're meaningless, can signal expertise."

The disclosure of personal flaws only cements a speaker's credibility, Levine adds, making him or her seem to be just like us. And it's precisely when we're most confused that we are likeliest to latch onto a pat answer: "Too many choices can be overwhelming. They create a feeling that psychologist Barry Schwartz calls 'the tyranny of freedom,'" he writes. "The resulting anxiety leads to a desire for simplicity. Unfortunately, this can become an invitation to exploitation."

 

THE CLOSER

Tom Hopkins's devotees call him "the closer," and I'm not exaggerating when I say he looks exactly like WKRP's Herb Tarleck, minus the plaid. He's big, barrel-chested, and, unfortunately, sweaty.

"People say yes to your belief and your conviction," he starts his speech, "not your technique." Of course, he then goes on to deliver a solid hour of technique:

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