Have you ever felt that you needed to do something because of an obligation or meet another's expectations? Did you feel as energised as when you were doing something just for the sheer pleasure it would bring you?
How about the goals you set for yourself. Do you work toward these with energy, or do they lose relevance for you? Do they become a chore? Do they de-energise you after a while? Is your feeling about your work goals different from your personal goals?
We're talking about what drives us to action, what energises us, what underlies our behaviour. Leading researchers Richard Ryan and Edward Deci identified motivation is along a continuum of the level of autonomy we feel we have over our actions. Their research highlights that when we are autonomously motivated, when we feel what we are doing reflects and aligns with our values and interests, we will more likely experience success and be absorbed. The more we feel controlled, where we feel coerced or pressured into something or even where we feel internally pressured or compelled to act, the less likely we will be to put in the energy need to achieve the goal and less likely will experience success.
So how does this explain your answers to the questions I posed? Its more than likely that what you start and don't complete, or what you find tiresome to complete, is not autonomously motivated, something that you freely choose to do. Some form of extrinsic motivation could drive the goal, and you may not even be aware that what you are doing does not genuinely reflect and align with your values and interests. You might be saying to yourself, why would anyone set a personal goal not aligned with their values and interests?.
Let's take a simple example; buying a gift for a friend. Some people will spend months seeking out the perfect gift whereas others will leave purchasing a gift to the last minute. The first person is most likely intrinsically motivated; they enjoy the experience of gift selection, it's important to them that they find the right gift, getting the right gift is a core value of celebrating their friendship. The person who leaves their gift selection to the last minute may be extrinsically motivated. Extrinsic motivation runs on a scale ranging from "I'm obliged to buy them a gift because I'm going to their party, so can't turn up without one" to "Oh, I should get a gift, almost forgot". You can tell the later may be extrinsically motivated, albeit limited, because of a social obligation: "should". Yet we may not even note the duty.
Now stop and think about why you go out and buy stuff. Is it to meet your need or to keep up with or impress others?
Being extrinsically motivated is widespread; some may say it drives all of our actions. Take work as an example: there are things we do as part of our job because we really enjoy them and then there are things we avoid doing, something that we find draining. We can't avoid some aspects of our work; otherwise we wouldn't have the job. The challenge is to try and structure the work we do to move closer to being intrinsically motivated. One way of doing this is to link the extrinsically motivated activities to an outcome that is meaningful to us or doing the work in a way that draws on our strengths.
So let's return to your goals for 2021, perhaps expressed as a New Year's resolution. What is the chance that you achieve these goals? If you are intrinsically motivated toward the goal, if it holds deep meaning for you, you will be more likely to achieve the goal. Suppose the goal is extrinsically motivated. For example, I should lose weight and get fit (a typical New Year's resolution quickly abandoned by many). You need to consider why you are putting effort into the goal. Are you seeking to lose weight because you feel obliged to do so for the sake of someone else? If so, you need to find a way to build meaning into achieving the goal for yourself, perhaps as a pathway to a meaningful goal, such as being able to kick a football or play physical games with your kids.
As a coach, I find I often come across the dissonance created by extrinsic motivation. People seek to achieve a goal or behave in a certain way not because it is core to their values but because it is to please others. If you would like to explore your goals, please feel free to reach out to me, even book some time in my calendar using the link below.
Research highlights the value of having a coach to support you build the resources to make a purposeful change. Choosing the right coach to act as your companion can be the difference between making it or abandoning your journey. A good coach is a deep listener, positive, enthusiastic, supportive, trusting, focused, goal-oriented, knowledgeable, observant, respectful, patient, empathetic (not sympathetic) and precise communicator. These characteristics need to be honed through training and ongoing supervision to ensure the coach has the skills to support you manage the tensions associated with personal change and maintain the objective perspective needed to navigate the tense conversations that are characteristic of coaching.
Below are links to two articles that will provide greater depth on the impact of the different forms of motivation's on your behaviour. I hope they provide you with greater insight.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness (1st ed.). New York: Guilford Publications.
Self-Determination Theory's Taxonomy of Motivation