Parents wanted to know – and still do – how to get their kids to study harder, learn more, and perform better. My answer was never all that popular.
External motivation doesn’t work.
It’s science, backed by data and now by neuroscience and brain research. External motivation, punishments or rewards, may lead to short-term gains, but those gains disappear long-term. In fact, lots of evidence shows that external rewards actually decrease long-term performance. Example: in a 14-year study of more than 10,000 cadets at West Point, psychologists discovered that the presence of external motivators increased the probability of dropping out, even for highly-motivated cadets.
Conclusion? You and I can’t “motivate” someone else to excel. More money, better benefits, threats of punishment may create minimal compliance or short-term performance spikes, but long-term high-achievement, mastery, and excellence require intrinsic motivation.
So What’s The Secret?
It’s not a secret. Leaders can create a culture of inspiration, a culture and community that encourages internal motivation. I think there are a few key elements:
Tell a great story. People want to be part of something important, a story bigger than themselves. Encouraging them to believe they have an important role in advancing the story can trigger powerful motivations.
Provide an important goal. Folks who believe in the goal and believe achieving it matters will be motivated to achieve it.
Create a community. Teamwork, investing in others, helping them succeed, shared sacrifice in pursuit of a common goal – these are central to our design. Leaders who encourage the difficult work of community-building tap into this natural source of motivation.
None of this surprises followers of Jesus, because it’s how He operates.
External motivation, whether reward or punishment, always involves some measure of coercion and fear. Jesus is never about fear. He’s about love, it’s who He IS. And perfect love doesn’t use fear to motivate. Perfect love drives out fear.
None of this is easy or quick. No instant results, which makes it unpopular. Jesus wasn’t interested in popularity or quick-fix schemes. He designed us, so He knows what works.
A supportive, caring community. Organized around a compelling story. Working toward a meaningful goal. A leader who takes the time and energy to create and nurture that sort of culture will attract and inspire people.
It’s what we strive for at the FREEDOM TOUR. We’re a community of folks, mostly (but not all) cyclists, working together to support kids rescued from human trafficking.
Perhaps this is your year to join us.