How the motivation equation explains why you are or aren’t motivated

I was having a hard time getting motivated last week. I knew there were a number of things I needed to work on. For some of them, I had no problem tackling. For others, I really struggled. Why was this?

This simple equation, from this article, The motivation equation, really helped me. But I also felt it was lacking something:

For those who hate math, the “M” stands for motivation, “E” stands for Expectancy, “V” stands for Value, “I” stands for Impulsiveness, “D” stands for Delay.  E is the likelihood of getting something, and V is how much you value it. D is how far away it is, and I is impulsiveness. Let me walk through an example.

Let’s say it’s lunch and you have a choice of leftovers or something new. You value something new over leftovers, so all other things being equal, you are more motivated to eat something new rather than the leftovers.

Now let’s say there is a chance that the new thing you want to eat may be sold out before you get there. With leftovers, E is high: you know you can eat them right now. For the new thing, E is lower: it might not be there so expectation has dropped. To bring E up, you think: well, there are many new dishes you can try…one of them will be there for sure.

To further complicate things, let’s say it is 11 am and you are hungry but the place selling something new doesn’t open for an hour. The delay for something new is larger than leftovers. That means your motivation for eating something new may drop.

Finally, impulsiveness. I would like to replace that with F, for friction. Friction is impulsiveness and more. Friction is all those things that put a drag on you doing the things you need motivation to do. In this case, getting something new may mean having to go out in bad weather to get it. Bad weather is friction. Or you may not like the food court where the new food is because it is too crowded or noisy. Unpleasant atmosphere is friction. Or you may be hungry or tired or bored and want to eat right away. All those feelings are friction. The more friction you have, the less motivation you have.

Two other things to consider are A: alternatives and C: context. Sometimes we may be motivated to do something in one Context and not the other. On a cold day I may be motivated to have a hot chocolate. On a hot day I may not. The value of something can change in different context. Likewise, my motivation for something may change if there are alternatives. I may be motivated to eat a frozen dinner because the alternatives (make my own, get take out for the 4x this week) are worse for me at the time.

I recommend you do what I did this week and list some things you are motivated to do and NOT motivated to do and run them through the formula.

For a work example, I had two things I wanted to do on Friday, write a report and solve a hard technical problem. I worked on the latter. D E and F were the same for each. But for the report, I felt it had little value. I have to do it, but it was hard to motivate myself to do it because V was Low. On the other hand, V for the hard technical problem was High. I learned alot (which I value), I have more value as an employee because of what I learned, and I felt proud of this accomplishment. Given this, it’s not surprising I chose the hard technical problem. Now, if the expectation (E) of me solving it was lowered, then my motivation would have dropped too. Likewise, if I thought it would take a week or more (delay, D) to solve it,  motivation would have decreased.

For a home example, I have two chores to do: organize the basement and organize the living room. Both have a high value (V) for me. But D is higher for the basement: it’s much more work and will take much longer. E is the same: I can accomplish both. Also F is higher for the basement, since there is so much stuff to go through and move around. Naturally I am motivated to tackle the living room.

Finally, a personal example. I have several hobbies: painting and website design. D and E are the same, but V and F are different. I am good at web site work and poor at painting, so the outcomes are better for web site work than the outcomes of my painting. Likewise, for painting, there is setting up to paint and then cleaning up. For website work I just sit down at my computer: no setup and no cleanup. Painting has higher friction F and lower value V, so I tend to do it less.

Ok, Bernie, you say, that’s great. How do I deal with that to get motivated. That will be in part 2 of this, since this is already too long and you are likely losing your motivation to keep reading. (V is dropping, D is getting longer, E may be dropping too. Likewise you may have alternatives A that you are more motivated to do.) That will come out on Monday.

One response to “How the motivation equation explains why you are or aren’t motivated

  1. Pingback: How to use the motivation equation to get more motivated | Smart People I Know