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Monday, July 14, 2014

Motivational Mondays: Why Motivation Is Grossly Overrated

Thought for the Day: As I began to think about today's post, I began to consider why people are often disappointed in their efforts to accomplish things in life. Discouraged when they fail to see results, they will say, "I have lost my motivation," and give up. With all the hype in our society surrounding motivation  it is not surprising that many people feel that all they need is to be motivated to achieve "success" in life. Do advertising slogans like, "Just Do It " and "Yes You Can," make people feel like failures when they have difficulty accomplishing their dreams in life. Bombarded by endless motivational quotes on posters and facebook pages and stories of young entrepreneurs who have sold start-up businesses for millions of dollars, it is not surprising that many people are feeling discouraged. Although I have been thinking and writing about motivation for many years as a psychologist and here on my blog, a recent experience led me to realize that motivation is grossly overrated. Read on to hear why and what you can do about it if it's not working for you.

Those of you who have been reading my blog know that I have been excited about what HealthTap is doing to change the future of medicine. Thousands of doctors from around the United States are offering free advice 24/7 by answering questions (400 characters or less), posting tips (100 characters or less), checklists for various recurring medical issues, and reviewing apps and articles on their web and phone application.

The organizers of HealthTap have been exceptionally creative in designing the system. There are multiple clever medals and trophies given to doctors for answering questions or posting tips (Tip Top Gun Medal and The Ionic Bond Trophy for receiving 200 thank you notes People feel a bond with you because of your great answers on HealthTap to name just two.). The app also keeps track of how many people you have helped and various other markers.

I smile when I see the medals or trophies. However, for me, as a psychologist, the biggest motivator has been seeing the application's ability to really make a difference and even save lives. I have seen doctors responding within minutes to tell someone take a child to an emergency room right away when their symptoms could be life threatening. There have been multiple times that I have responded to questions about what would happen if you took two or three prescription medications at once. Although the person did not say, "I'm feeling suicidal," it clearly raised issues of suicidal thoughts and allowed me the opportunity to tell them how and where to get help right away.

Since I enjoy writing and tweeting, I am pretty good at writing concise tips. When sometime in June, I read an e-mail from the founder of HealthTap. In anticipation of a new platform on their site which will include remote (Skype) consultations from primary care physicians, they needed more HealthTips and had developed a wider variety of topics which needed to be covered. They therefore announced a Tipallosa competition with a trip to California to attend their fall conference as the grand prize. I was onboard one hundred percent. The competition, upped the ante for my motivation, since I liked the idea of meeting the amazing people who have designed this program and also wanted to visit family on the west coast. However, motivation alone would not have been enough.

I work full time in my private practice, write daily posts on my blog in addition to many other activities that are too many to list. The competition was running for the month of June. I decided to write at least 20 tips a day for a month. If life got in the way and I was unable to write tips for a day or two, I would have to make up for them and write more on subsequent days. I stuck to my plan and learned from an e-mail just before the end of June that I had written 588 tips. I wrote a few more until June 30th. Then I stopped writing tips and only answered questions routinely. I had no clue as to whether I was in the lead or not, but assumed there might have been other doctors as zealous as I had been. Physicians have far more topics they can write tips about than psychology tips.

To my surprise, on July 2nd, I got an e-mail saying that there were a few more days and that I had till July 7th to add tips. I was planning to be in NYC for July 4th and in Boston on July 6th, which did not leave much time to write. I decided that I had to write at least 100 more tips. I was not about to lose the contest due a writing lapse for a week.

The good news is last week I learned that with 688 tips completed, I won the contest and will be going to the conference in the fall. I don't know yet how many tips other people wrote. Even if I had not won the contest, I knew that I had given it my best shot.

That being said, why do I think motivation is grossly overrated? Surely, without motivation I would not have even attempted to write so many tips, however, motivation alone is useless. Achievement requires more than just motivation. Motivation without a plan, hard work and perseverance will not produce results. All the motivational quotes won't do the hard work for you. You need to know what action you need to take, how much time or training you will need to complete the action plan and stick to it, unless something changes.

What does this mean for parents raising children or adults who feel discouraged when motivation does not seem to be enough? How can parents and teachers instill the "stick-to-it-ness" that children will need in life? How can adults who have not learned these lessons growing up change their habits? Could "just doing it" without a viable plan leads to frustration and quitting? If the plan doesn't leave room for adjustments when changes arise, will it lead to discouragement?

In our fast paced society, many people are looking for quick achievements which may be unrealistic and lead to depression. Remember that motivation is only one element in accomplishing goals.

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