Sunday, September 18, 2011

Motivation research

Teachers wonder why students don't do their homework and parents wonder why kids don't do their chores.  Employers wonder why workers spend hours fooling around on the internet and pets wonder why it takes so long for meals to arrive.  There are many people in the world who would like to get other people to do certain things.  When physicians prescribe medicines or exercises only to find the patient has not done what was prescribed, they classify the patient as "non-compliant".  Compliance is a big subject since no or partial compliance complicates the picture of what was done and what wasn't.  

Being a smoker or an alcoholic or a junkie is a problem for person as well as for society.  Poor diet and too little exercise costs society as well as individuals.  What can be done?

Motivation research attempts to find out.  The book "Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us" by Daniel Pink explains some of the insights gained.  Quite a few aspects of motivation show up in work done by W. Edwards Deming and others in the field of process improvement, especially manufacturing processes.

One of the frequently discussed aspects of adult motivation is the relatively low power of money as a motivator.  Having some autonomy and control over one's hours, activities and work environment can be more motivating than a bonus or a raise.  I have read of manufacturing plants where employees spent many extra hours at the plant working on a project of special interest to them, once they had sufficient control over the work.

The motivation interview book linked above discusses the need for someone trying to find the motivation to give up smoking or alcohol to get a personal grasp of the difference between what he or she is now and the state they desire to be in.  That difference or discrepancy, once firmly grasped and even articulated by the person interested in changing seems to be fundamental in motivating sufficiently to reach the goal.

In his recent Time cover article, Dr. Mehmet Oz finds that he is behaving exactly like his patients do, even though he consistently advises them to do differently.  Why?  He realizes that when one gets a strongly negative diagnosis, there is an immediate impact from the diagnosis itself, aside of the future and the medical condition.  Family and friends are strongly affected and that is why he and his patients are quiet about possibilities and slow to allow further investigation.

I applaud the work that aims at uncovering inner obstacles to realizing our goals of being better people and living better lives for ourselves and others.  I take comfort in the finding of Prochaska and his colleagues that those who try and fail are MORE likely to try again later and succeed.

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