Mark Hillman, Ph.D.

Understanding Motivation
By Mark Hillman

When you hear someone say, "You have to have a positive mental attitude," don't you feel like choking the ever-loving daylights out of that person? After, all, as a professional, you've spent a good part of your adult life with a positive attitude and so you know that if the solution to life were that simplistic, we'd all be running around trying to find ways to spend our "easy money".

Business people are already aware that to be prosperous in their chosen field, they must pursue success with a passion. At times you feel vulnerable or desperate and experience an overwhelming sense of exhaustion. Success may seem to be nonexistent. Professionals desire success because the rewards are great. This article will discuss the psychology of motivation to achieve your professional goals.

The reality is that many of us have excess baggage that, at first glance, appears to prohibit us from truly being successful, or more successful. Many people are vested in all the excuses: "I came from a dysfunctional family," "My father/mother was an active alcoholic," "If only I had a better start in life." We understand from exhaustive developmental research that what we are taught by our parents, we practice; and what we practice, we become. If this assumption is accurate, which I feel it is, and we understand that we have been conditioned by our family unit or environment, does it then not hold true that we can "relearn" new cognitive behavioral scripts to "tape over" our negative, learned thoughts and behaviors, such as procrastination or self-sabotage?

The four stages of cognitive developmental theory provide insight into how to empower our thought processes to achieve our goals.

When we are born, we are unaware that we do not possess certain skills. This is the first stage, called the unconscious incompetent.

As we develop, we become aware that there are certain skills that we do not have. For example, a child who has not yet learned how to tie shoes, when asked, "Can you tie your shoes?" responds, "I can't." This is the second stage called the conscious incompetent. Unfortunately, the child has a tendency to internalize this incompetence with such negative phrases as "I'm stupid" and "I'm dumb."

The third stage of cognitive development is the cornerstone of a healthy personality. When the parents work with the child to have him or her become consciously competent, the child's response to the same question is, "Yes, I can." With this taught competence, the child feels empowered and self-esteem grows.

The fourth developmental stage is referred to as the unconscious competent, in which through repetition (thousands of times) our thoughts and behaviors become so deeply ingrained that they become lifelong habits. When was the last time you consciously thought about how to tie your shoes? Most people will say it's automatic (unconscious competent).

This paradigm (initially articulated by Brian Tracy) is no different in adult life. Affirmations, or positive self-talk are effective techniques, because as we continually feed ourselves valuing messages in our conscious competent, after a period of time, we figuratively "tape-over" many of our unconscious negative mental scripts. Therefore, to the degree that we can control these negative habits, attitudes and opinions will be the measuring of a professional person's capacity for progress and growth.

In addition to understanding the psychology of cognitive development, it is equally important to be aware of three types of motivation: 1) aggressive motivation; 2) conflict motivation; and 3) competence motivation.

Aggressive motivation may be defined as the explicit attack on animate or inanimate objects to possess, to outperform, to prevent. Aggression can be physical or verbal. In other words, do it to them before they do it to you.

Conflict motivation is when the individual has not realistically integrated the various parts of his or her experiences, which therefore act in opposition to one another. In the conflict-oriented person, the innate energy of the individual is directed into maintaining and supporting the conflict that is central to his or her personality style (I can't, I have to, I should).

Competence motivation refers to the effective interaction of the individual with the environment. The interaction and its consequent effect on the environment are both desired and satisfying to the initiator (feeling of empowerment).

When aggressive or conflict motivation is used, the byproduct is competition. This competitive situation implies a mutual exclusion of goals between parties, a felt rivalry. Competitive social motivators create atmospheres that produce personal and social disruption and less-than-optimum performance levels -- in other words, a "nightmare" in the office or in the field. When competence motivation is utilized, the byproduct is cooperation. A cooperative situation implies a mutual interdependence of goals between parties, a common purpose. The overwhelming conclusion states that cooperation is the most productive and constructive atmosphere for creating and increasing performance levels.

Specialized knowledge is power only to the point that it is organized and directed toward a definitive end. This definitive end is commonly referred to as goal-setting. Identifying where your business is and where you want it to be and then writing a strategic methodology of getting there is the key to heightened achievement. It is important to write out both your professional and mental plans.

When writing your plan, ask yourself, "Is it optimism or denial?" In denial, you try not to pay attention, not to see, not to hear, not to think about the negatives. In optimism, you look at the situation to seek out the positive elements and build on them. The healthiest "attitude" is a strong desire based on a realistic evaluation of the situation.

Equally important to your plan is daily positive self-talk and breaking down your goals into secondary and even tertiary goals, so every day you feel that sense of accomplishment. Ultimately, two variables need to be explored: first, what are your written goals and objectives from the business side; and, second, what is your mental plan to reinforce your conscious competent?

Inactivity is the fertile ground in which flourish the seeds of despair and self-pity. By doing nothing, you are ideally situated to brood about all the bad breaks you've ever had. Obviously, there is no growth, and this belief system in inactivity must be challenged.

As your numerous years of professional training have taught you, mastery comes from doing, pure and simple. As you do, you learn. As you learn, you gain mastery. As you gain mastery, your confidence increases. As you become more confident, you do more, learn more and gain more mastery, and life becomes an upward spiral.

In summary, we have explored the cognitive developmental mapping from childhood to adulthood, the three types of motivation and the importance of goal-setting. We recognize that we constantly need to empower our conscious competent through positive reinforcement, disciplined writing of mental and professional goals and continually mastering our skills.

Success is achievable if you are willing to pursue your goals with passion and nurture the conscious competent power within yourselves and your employees.

Published in the American Fence Association - January 2000

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