What motivates us to change?


People are inherently adaptable.  We know this because we’ve not only evolved, but also gradually and significantly changed our behaviour over thousands of years to survive as we do today.

But what is it that motivates us to change?

What motivates us to change?

Research back in the 1950s by a psychologist called Leon Festinger suggests that “Cognitive Dissonance” is the key. This is the idea that people will change their behaviours to align with their core beliefs.

So if someone really, genuinely believes that smoking will harm their health, they will alter their behaviour to reduce or stop smoking.  So what’s clear is that we will be motivated to change if it allows us to act in line with something we really believe in.

However, although this may be the first step, we also know that believing in something is not enough – it’s about finding the motivation, particularly when the change might be difficult (see ‘Why do we resist change?‘).

For decades, organisations have been working on the premise that: INCENTIVE = MOTIVATION = STRONG PERFORMANCE

More recent evidence however shows that this is simply not true.  Incentives only lead to improved performance where the task doesn’t involve cognitive effort or thought. (These days, most of those tasks are being carried out by machines!)

So how do we create motivation?

In this short video, Dan Pink explains that simple compliance does not work in getting people to change and that successful motivation is based on three elements – Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

PURPOSE – Because we need a strong belief in something (see above) and we must know, when we are making a change, that ‘My contribution is valued’ and ‘I know what is expected of me’

AUTONOMY – Because we will be motivated to change if we are given space and flexibility as to how we do it

MASTERY – Because we will also be motivated to change if we feel we are mastering new skills and improving ourselves as we do it

ideas_risingWe hope this gives you food for thought and maybe some reassurance about some things you have thought about before.

More than anything we hope that this highlights why and how, when we’re aiming to make a change, we need to think beyond systems and processes – and even beyond behaviours – and we need to influence and leverage hearts and minds.