How does motivation work?

There is an ongoing discussion on creating motivation and how to motivate an employee to perform faster, or how to motivate children to do their homework or clean up the room.

Heck, there are plenty of programs offering the solution to motivation or motivational speakers that promise to entice or motivate their audience.

Neuro Linguistic Programming or NLP is working with something that is called Meta Programs. For the sake of more human language, let’s call it now the Mental Filters. These mental filters describe how we see and experience the world around us.

Meta-Programs are the human mental filter that run in our brain. The programs run in every area of our life, and change, according to the context in which we operate. Examples for contexts are “driving a car”, or “working on a project” or, “joining a company”.

Let me give you an example of one such filter related to motivation.

Have you ever wondered why someone is constantly motivated by reaching goals, while another person is only motivated by fear? This is just one expression of those motivation filters, and in the context of NLP, they are called “Toward To” and “Away From” Programs.

It is a bit like the Stick and the Carrot Approach. Away From describes how someone wants to avoid problems, or identifies challenges or problems ahead. With Toward To, someone is driven by goals and solutions. I am very much toward to in running Asia Mind Dynamics and developing training programs, or dealing with clients, however, I am away from when it comes to paperwork (I simply don’t like it and someone is doing it for me 🙂 ).

Suitable goal setting actually involves both, to get people started on something! Have you ever wondered why your goal setting doesn’t really work? May be it is because you don’t feel the pain enough and only describe what you want to achieve. Or you just describe what you don’t like and forget to outline the positive outcome of your action!

There are plenty of more meta-programs or filters in our mind that constantly run, and determine, how we see and interact with the world and how we keep our motivation going, once we are motivated.

Examples are:

– Proactive versus reactive: How is someone acting on a certain situation. Getting into action or waiting for others to go first? Think about motivation. Do you work with someone who proactively searches for problems or finds solutions or waits, until others have started and contributes at a later stage?

– Exposure to change: How change resilient is someone? Can you expose someone to a lot of change or lesser amount of change? How do you package the new goal or the problem solving issue? In a way that shows the person that a lot of change is involved or that it is more evolutionary change? If you package it wrongly, it frightens the person off!!

– External versus Internal: Is someone reacting more to the motivation drive of others and how others start working already or decide on his or her own if he or she is ready for the action.

– Specifics versus General: How is somoene sorting for information. Is the person looking at the details or more for the broad picture? How do you describe the problem or the goal to someone? In very specific words or in a way that allows their mind to paint the picture?

To identify the patterns or filters in a person’s mind, a set of about 12 questions can be used. This sounds easy but then, here are three factors of crucial importance when looking at the answers:

1.) It is about the answers by itself, one by one
  It is about the behaviour that is exhibited through these filters
3.) It is the interaction between these filters – this is then the most crucial part of the equation.

The overall question to ask is – what kind of behaviour would someone have to exhibit to make him or her suitable for this task. And by task, it means the context in which you act. Be it driving a car, or working in an office or on a project.

The article below is quite exhaustive in describing these two filters about motivation, thus, worthwhile distributing and reading. To reiterate however, please understand that there are more filters or mental maps that come into action by the individuals.

“Understanding Motivation

Friday, 05 October 2007
So how do you motivate someone? Read on.

First we must remove the notion (illusion) that “we” motivate anyone. Each individual motivates themselves, or does not. They will either take action or will not, based on their assessment of the situation and evaluation of their options. We cannot forcibly get anyone to do anything that they themselves do not evaluate, consent to, and take
action towards.

Each individual is always perfectly motivated. This may at first sound like a strange statement; given the fact that we can probably all think of at least one person we know who seems to have little or no motivation. But its TRUE! Here’s how it works: If a person is lying on a couch, watching TV and eating potato chips they are just as
motivated as the so-called “workaholic.” The person lying on the couch perceives doing nothing as leading to pleasure and relaxation, and lack of effort equals ultimate pleasure. The “workaholic” works 12 hour days because he or she believes that the money earned now will allow them to one day lie on the couch and do nothing in luxury later (perhaps for a longer period of time). Or the “workaholic” may feel that hard work equals power, pride, or money, all of which he or she equates to ultimate pleasure. So the person on the couch is seeking pleasure as is the “workaholic,” they are just using two different strategies to get to the same goal (pleasure). The proof of this lies in the fact that if you removed the imagined motivator (i.e., money, power, or pride) from the “workaholic,” you would probably very soon see them lying on a couch somewhere trying to get back into a state of pleasure. Both are chasing pleasure (as all humans do) but have chosen two different ways to try and accomplish it. This demonstrates that everyone is perfectly motivated and that if we wish to properly motivate them in treatment we need to learn what their motivators are.

Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) teach us that each person has a different “motivational strategy,” and these are based on to sets of values called “moving towards” and “moving away” from strategies. A moving towards strategy means that you most actively seek to move towards pleasure (such a person might be motivated by money, acceptance or other rewards). A moving away from strategy means that you most actively try to avoid things that would mean pain (such as getting fired, hit or yelled at). Both strategies are aimed at maintaining a state of pleasure which is every one’s instinctive goal (hence motivating). There is, of course, typically a blend of both
strategies being used, but typically one is dominant.

The “workaholic” is using the moving towards strategy predominantly, but also occasionally fantasizes about a day of doing nothing but lying on a couch. The “couch¬-potato” is enjoying lying around, but also fantasizes about having more money or control over his or her life.

In Behavioral Psychology this is often referred to, crudely, as the “carrot and stick” method of behavior modification. Given that each person uses both strategies to greater or lessor degrees, the method of motivation that works best tends to use both the carrot and the stick. Take a parent trying to motivate a child to do something like take a bath. Using a moving towards (carrot) strategy, the parent would offer the child a treat if they took their bath. Another parent, using a moving away (stick) strategy might instead offer the child a punishment if they do not take the bath.

The most effective method of motivating the child is to use both; therefore the parent could present the child with the positive scenario of a reward for taking a bath and a negative consequence if they do not. This is know as
a “Push-Pull” strategy, the negative consequence is “pushing” them towards doing the behavior and the positive consequence is “pulling” them towards the behavior.

Each person has differing belief systems, motivators, and strategies for getting their needs met. The quickest way to uncover their strategy is to listen to them speak and watch for clues as to whether they are primarily using a push or pull strategy. This process can also be quickened by the use of questions. Have the person think back
to a past accomplishment that they feel great about and ask them how they accomplished it. Then ask them what they were afraid of as they tried to achieve this accomplishment (to find the push strategies) and then explore this with them and note how each fear works conceptually.

Move on and ask them what they pictured and what excited them as they moved towards this goal. Also ask them what excited them about this goal and how did they feel when they achieved it (pull strategies), note conceptually the type of pleasure they are motivated towards.

Then, to gain additional information and fill in any holes, ask them why it was so important for them to achieve the goal. If you don’t like this question and answer model you may more subtly pick up their strategies by listening to their patterns in common conversation. For example, if you hear a person speaking with apprehension about being fired when it is unlikely, this person is probably sharing his/her moving away from strategy (fear). Or, if you
hear a person sharing a concern as to whether or not he/she will get an important promotion, they are giving you clues that they may have a strong pull strategy (moving towards gain). Look for a common thread to their interpretations of situations to find their primary strategy. Once you have their primary strategy, you can begin to use it as your primary motivational strategy with this person to create movement. For example, if you are treating an addict who has a push strategy, bring to his attention all the negative things that could befall him if he doesn’t take suggestions and how bad he would feel. If the addict has a pull strategy, talk to him about how taking the suggestions will improve his family situation, job status and overall health and happiness.

The key to motivation, to reaching the other person, is to use THEIR strategies for motivation, NOT the yours. What works for us does not work for all others; this is the great truth. Your challenge is to step outside yourself and work with the other person’s thought patterns, not to have the person adjust to doing things your way. This
ability to match and shape the person’s strategies and thought patterns is the hallmark of a good influencer/motivator.

Article Source:

About the Author:

Paul J. Cline MA CAGS CAP Ed.D (ABD) is a Trainer / Seminar Leader,
University Professor, Certified Addictions Professional (CAP) and
local expert on Addictions and Mental Health. Paul is owner of
Advanced Training Seminars, providing seminars, consulting and
coaching based in St. Petersburg, Florida (727) 204-0779. Visit our
website at:”


Andreas is the founder of Asia Mind Dynamics and a certified trainer of internationally recognised certification programmes:

  • Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) with the American Board of Neuro Linguistic Programming (ABNLP),
  • NLP Coach Training with the Coaching Division of ABNLP,
  • The Words That Change Minds -Language and Behaviour Profile of which he also is one of 17 Global Master Trainers
  • Creating Your Future Coaching™ Techniques at the Masters Level with the International Timeline Therapy Association
  • Hypnosis with the American Board of Hypnotherapy (ABH)
  • Master Trainer with the International Association of Counsellors and Therapists (IACT).

We also train companies to achieve higher performance especially through our signature programmes on Leadership, Sales and Advanced Communications.

To find out more about us or our programme and what makes us so very different as trainer and coaches, send an email to andreas.dorn AT or contact us at +6012 287 5048.

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