Drive to thrive: Study examines secret behind motivation

CANADA — Staying motivated can be difficult for anyone — a task within itself — and the search for motivation can wear you thin. When it comes to completion of a goal, how does one keep the drive to finish?

A new study finds that motivation changes as we work our way to accomplishments, essentially adapting to where we are in terms of reaching the goal.

Woman with arms in air
A new study examines the secret to staying motivated, finding that there are two key stages of motivation to help us reach a goal. (Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels)

Researchers from the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba conducted five experiments to see how progress changed the way a person approached a task. Some participants were asked to imagine a task, while others took part in an actual assignment.

During the early stages of the tasks, researchers discovered that motivation came from ambition, hope and the positive thought patterns of completing the goal — known as “promotional motivation.”

But as time goes on, “preventional motivation” taps the mind’s process and pulls an alternate source of motivation. When this happens, the focus turns from achieving a positive outcome to now avoiding a negative one. That is, once a person is well on their way to completing a task, their motivation is sparked by the fear of failure.

For example, a person trying to drop 10 pounds will feel the excitement of the challenge at the beginning by imagining what it will be like when they’re slimmer. Time begins to move and that same source of motivation no longer works. Now, without the excitement and thrill, it’s the fear of not being able to fit into an article of clothing without shedding the entire amount of weight.

“Generally speaking, people in North America are predominantly promotion-focused, so they are good at starting goals, but not as good at accomplishing them,” says lead author Olya Bullard in a press release. “My hope is that these findings will help people attain their goals.”

Bullard suggests that people aiming to complete a goal recognize the two stages of motivation to help them finish the challenge. That means imagining all the benefits of the outcome at the beginning, and then thinking about what would happen if they fail to hit their goal in the later stages.

Meanwhile, businesses can also use the findings to cash in on motivated clientele. A fitness club could help new members envision themselves after completing six months of personal training, or warn longtime members about the dangers of falling behind if they show signs of slacking off.

The study’s findings were published in the July 2017 edition of the Journal of Consumer Psychology.