The Psychology of Self-Motivation by Scott Geller (Full Transcript)

Scott Geller discusses The Psychology of Self-Motivation at TEDxVirginiaTech conference transcript.

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Scott Geller – Author

Thank you. Thank you. Beyond boundaries – what a theme huh!

Now when I think of boundaries, I think of rules, regulations and restrictions. And I think of the parents and the teachers and the supervisors who hold us accountable with regard to those boundaries. Then that’s not a bad thing.

I know if you’re like me, I need supervisors, I need someone holding me accountable to do the right thing. But beyond boundaries is something different. I think of those leaders, those teachers, those supervisors, those parents who inspire us to go beyond the call of duty, to do more than we have to, to do it not because they tell us, but because we want to.

I would like to share with you what the research says about how to make that happen and not just for other people but for yourself. Here’s the deal. How can we inspire people and ourselves to be self-motivated? There is another word. It’s called empowerment. You’ve heard that word right, and the management definition of empowerment is get it done. Just get it done with fewer resources and less time, I empower you, make it happen. I’m talking about feeling empowered. That’s different. Feeling empowered is when you are self-motivated.

Now if you want to know if you feel empowered or if your child, your student, your worker feels empowered, ask them three questions. And if they say yes to these three questions, they will feel empowered. And by the way this is not based on common sense, it’s based on research. But you’ve all been there, so it will feel like common sense.

Question number one: Can you do it? Albert Bandura calls itself self-efficacy. Do you believe you can do it? Do you have the time, the knowledge and the training to do what we’re asking you to do? If he answers yes, good.

Second question: Will it work? Do you believe that we’re asking you to do the process will work? Albert Bandura calls that response efficacy — believing that the behavior will lead the ultimate outcome. By the way, that takes education, right? We have to show them the data. We might show them some theory. We show them, teach them, why this might work. I just used the word education. Earlier I used the word training.

Is there a difference? In elementary school, if we call it education — middle school education, high school education, college, higher education. And you go to industry, what do you call it? Training. You have your training department. There must be a difference.

Well, you know the difference. Do you want your kids to have sex education or sex training? And your kids might answer the question differently, because you know that training means you do the behavior and you get feedback. That’s powerful, powerful.

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Have you ever heard this word online training? It’s an oxymoron; isn’t it? I mean training is watch the behavior. Online training, it’s like plastic silverware, jumbo shrimp, legal brief, country music. That’s more like a case. So if you answer yes to will it work?

Third question. Is it worth it? So we’ve had a training question. We’ve had an educational question. This is the motivational question. Do you believe the consequences? This is about consequences. B.F. Skinner taught us this: selection by consequences. Dale Carnegie quoted B.F. Skinner and said from the day you were born, everything you did was because you wanted something for doing it. Consequences. Is it worth it?

So you have to convince people that it’s worth it. By the way if you answer yes to those three questions, you feel competent. Am I right? You feel competent at doing worthwhile work. You’ve all been there. When you feel competent at doing worthwhile work, you’re more likely to be self-motivated. You’ve been there. No one has to be looking over you. You feel — now here’s the challenge leaders, teachers: How do you inspire people to feel competent? When you give them feedback. You give them recognition. You show them they are competent.

Okay. I got one more – that’s a C word. Choice. Your common sense will tell you. When you believe you have a sense of autonomy, a sense of choice in what you’re doing, you’ll feel more self motivated. BF Skinner taught us that too in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity way back in 1971. Reading that book changed my life because I realized that I am controlled by consequences. But sometimes I don’t feel controlled. When I’m working for a pleasant consequence, it feels good. It feels like I’m working to get something. When I’m working to avoid an aversive consequence, I feel controlled. That’s called negative reinforcement.

So here’s the challenge leaders: How do we get people to become success seekers rather than failure avoiders? First, they have introductory psychology class. I teach two classes of 600 students, maybe some of you have been in that class and remember the first day I say: How many are here to avoid failure? 80% raise your hand. I say well, thanks for coming. I know you’re motivated but you are not happy campers. You probably told your friends I got to go to class. It’s a requirement. Not I get to go to class, it’s an opportunity, you probably woke up to an alarm clock, not an opportunity clock. And it’s all how you see it really. It’s all in how you see it, it’s your paradigm, it’s how you communicate to others and how you communicate to yourself.

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So Ellen Langer said in her book, Mindfulness, she said and psychologists know, when you perceive choice you perceive motivation. You’re more motivated. So the deal is for yourself sit back and reflect, be mindful of the choices you have and talk about being a success seeker rather than a failure avoider. It’s all how you talk, how you communicate to yourself and to others.

I’ve got a fourth C word: Community. Powerful word. Psychologists know that social support is critical. People who perceive a sense of relatedness, a sense of connection with other people, they feel motivated and they are happier.

I want to recite a poem. It’s called The Cookie Thief by Valerie Cox and as I recite this poem, there’s only two characters: a man and a lady. Put yourself in the situation. Be mindful, think about the situation and what you would do. Okay, here we go.

A woman was waiting at an airport one night

With several long hours before her flight

She hunted for a book in the airport shop

Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop

She was engrossed in her book but happened to see

That the man beside her as bold as could be

Took a cookie or two from the bag between

Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene

She read, munched cookies and watched the clock

As this gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock

She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by

Thinking “If I wasn’t so nice I’d blacken his eye”

With each cookie she took he took one too

And when only one was left she wondered what he’d do

With a smile on his face and a nervous laugh

He took the last cookie and broke it in half

He offered her half as he ate the other

She snatched it from him and thought “Oh brother

This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude

He didn’t even show any gratitude”

She had never known when she had been so galled

And sighed with relief when her flight was called

She gathered her belongings and headed for the gate

Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate

She boarded the plane and sank in her seat

Then she sought her book which was almost complete

As she reached in her baggage she gasped with surprise

There was her bag of cookies in front of her eyes

“If mine are here” she moaned in despair

“Then the others were his and he tried to share”

“Too late to apologize she realized with grief”

That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.

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