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Psychological Motivators and How to Use Them to Get Actionable Results (Part II)



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This is the second part of how to trick your brain into doing healthy, useful things that you might be tempted to postpone or procrastinate on. You can read the first part here.

Psychological Reinforcers

While this may look like a no-brainer, it’s actually a quite complex scheme of factors that you should be taking into consideration every time you’re trying to fixate a behavior. 

Before we dig into the specifics of how to use them, let’s see what a reinforcement really is in psychology: 

In behavioral psychology, reinforcement is a consequence applied that will strengthen an organism's future behavior whenever that behavior is preceded by a specific antecedent stimulus.

There are different types of reinforcers. The primary ones are mostly physiological, and the secondary ones vary tremendously depending on the situation. Because the human brain does respond to these types of psychological conditioning, you can use them to drive actionable results - complimenting a person on a job well done can look like reinforcement, but they will most likely not give results on the long run, since it’s difficult to pinpoint what triggered the compliment. 

Instead, try giving compliments on specific things that you’d like improved from an employee: 

‘This piece of code looks extremely tidy, congrats!’ or ‘The wording in this report is very carefully chosen and articulate, keep up the good work!’

Another relevant thing is to repeat these enforcers whenever the situation dictates, so that you can instill better outcomes for the future, and not just short-term. 


Means versus Ends 

Different types of motivations shape our actions, as well as the triggers we can use to start getting things done. In the means/ends discussion, if you’re on the means team, the process itself sounds appealing to you. You can use different types of milestones to make sure that your involvement in the process remains steady throughout the entire project and that you don’t start losing interest. Reaching every milestone should keep you engaged and interested. 

If you’re only interested in the end of a process, for instance finalizing a project at work only to start working on another one that you might like more, one way to make sure that you keep your work in check and don’t slack off is to divide the entire project in percentage points. This way, you can allocate a time frame that’s reasonable and to create the expectation for yourself to accomplish a certain amount of work within that time frame. 

The difference between the two is that in the first case you enjoy the activity and just want to optimize the productivity aspect of it, while in the second case you’re only interested in the end result. If you’ve had experiences where not being attracted to a project made you deliver under your general standard, you can also add quality metrics to your percentage points to make sure that you’re keeping yourself at an optimal standard. 


Mastery versus Sympathy 

This is another motivator classification that might come in handy. As you can notice, it’s not mutually exclusive with the one above, which means it’s even more effective when combined with another one. 

Simply put, some people are just motivated because they get to be better at things. Whether it’s because they seek power and control over the industry, the company or the team, or it’s just for the sake of performance, these are highly competitive people who are easily motivated through gamification of any kind. Every task can be a healthy competition if you make it so - a competition against time, against mediocrity, against other people. 

While others are just sympathetic and motivated by the power of a team, or by the needs of others. This can’t just be applied in the NGO and volunteering sector. It’s a valuable way to be, where having a team that you believe in and quality companionship through tasks will make everything more pleasant and will get better, proficient results. 

Make sure to look out for these indicators, whether you’re a team manager looking to keep their colleagues engaged throughout the project, or an HR practitioner seeking to bring the best fitting piece of puzzle to the team. 

And if you’re a professional in any field, make sure to understand which type you’re most like and use motivators that are helpful and healthy in the long run. 


The All or Nothing Type

Finally, there are lots of individuals whose brains are wired in such a way that beginning a task means automatically that it has to be finished. When it’s a long, tedious task, this type of thinking might delay the start and you might find yourself procrastinating or avoiding it altogether. 

In this situation, psychology says all you have to do is just give it 10 minutes. Think that you’ll be spending a small amount of time on it every single day, and this way you’ll be done with it in no time, without feeling any other kind of pressure. 

And this applies to anything else, not just your professional life. If you’re this Type A person who doesn’t want to start something because you may not have the time to finish it, or because you know it takes a lot of effort to complete, go with baby steps. 

The problem with this framing is that not even starting the job will make it even more unpleasant and difficult to think of with the passing of time. While giving it 10 minutes might just be the 10 minutes of the day, or it might become a full hour if you’re fully logged into it mentally. In any case, it only helps you deal with unpleasant or long term tasks that you don’t find the motivation to get into. 


Regardless of these motivators, you’re an individual with a distinct set of needs. The best way to ensure professional and personal growth is to pay attention to the types of triggers that work and the ones that make you even less prone to start an activity. The more you are aware of your behavioral cues, the better you can use them to your advantage. 

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