Friday, 14 June 2013

Motivation: When a question is the answer

It’s that cliché you will see often in films and books when the hero stands in front of the mirror riddled with self doubt and procrastination. He takes a long considered look at himself, takes a deep breath and, in a calm, clear and unwavering voice, says to himself something like “I will do it!”. This statement is enough to make the difference. The hero now finds he is motivated and determined to go out and succeed (which he invariably does).

The things we say to ourselves have a profound effect on our motivation and our ability to achieve goals and succeed in tasks. However, a paper by Ibrahim Senay, Dolores Albarracin, and Kenji Noguchi which was published in ‘Psychological Science’ suggests that declarative statements such as “I will do it!” (as made by our hero) actually can have a detrimental effect on our performance whereas interrogative statements which involve asking yourself a question (“Will I?) will actually have a far more effective impact on motivation and performance.

In one of their studies, they told their subjects that they were testing individuals’ handwriting ability and asked one group to write “I will” 20 times on a piece of paper and a second group to write “Will I?” 20 times. They were all then asked to attempt a series of challenging anagrams. Interestingly, the people in the group that had written “Will I?” actually solved nearly twice as many anagrams than the group that said “I will”.

The same handwriting exercise was then used for a second study. This time after completing the assignment they were asked how likely they were to start exercising (or continue if they already were). They were also asked questions around whether they felt that they would exercise because it was something they considered to be important or whether it was something they would do so they didn’t feel guilty or ashamed. The people who wrote “Will I?” were far more likely to exercise. They also considered doing exercise because it was important whereas the “I will” group were more likely to do it to avoid guilt.

It seems that the “I will” group would lost motivation for exercise because once they made the statement it became an obligation. When we are obliged to do something we actually tend to be less motivated than when we feel we have a choice. The “Will I?” group actually do feel that they have a choice and so embrace their decision to exercise in a far more positive way. It is the same effect when you ask someone to close a door. If you just say “Close the door” to someone they are far less likely to want to do it than if you say “Can you close the door?”

So next time you want to get motivated don’t tell yourself – ask yourself instead!

Andy Barton
Wider Vision Ltd

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