Ayelet Fishbach is a fan of New Year’s resolutions. “When people say they are not a good idea, it is because they see that they do not last long,” says the expert in motivation and decision-making. “If you’ve been doing this for a month or two or three, it’s better than nothing,” she notes, citing the example of healthy eating or exercise. “We hope you can find ways to do it by March and beyond, but it’s better to have two months than nothing.”
A common misconception is that people think of decisions as “something they will not enjoy doing”, says Fishbach. professor of behavioral science and marketing at Chicago Booth Business School and author of a new book, Get it done: surprising lessons from the science of motivation. The attitude, she says, is: “I will do what is good for me and not what I enjoy doing.” However, this is a problem because it creates an “empathy gap”, whereby people do not understand how they can feel in the future. “You have to find a way to pursue your decision that is pleasant, that is intrinsically motivating. People who do that can stay with their decisions longer.”
Not that we should just pursue goals that are immediately satisfying. “It will not always be fun. And for many of the things that are important in our lives, it will take a while before it is fun, ”Fishbach admits. Instead, there may be feelings of pride or a runner’s highlight – but only after a few weeks of moving around the park.
While others perfected the art of sourdough bread or DIY during the pandemic, Fishbach’s project was the book. It was a strange time to write about motivation. “Like most people,” she writes in the book, “I am worried, distracted, and struggling to stay motivated. Over the past few months, I have learned not to take anything for granted, whether it be my health, my job, my children’s education, or meeting a friend for coffee. And even though I love my job, I find it harder to stay motivated. ”
The book’s predominant message is that several factors influence motivation. Different personalities need different approaches. She recommends understanding whether you are completely out for something (a “closer”) or if fear of criticism and mistakes is a driving force (an “avoid”). Everyone can benefit from greater preparation to overcome the obstacles to goals, as well as to understand how your new goals may clash with other existing priorities – and sometimes pull you in opposite directions (there is a chapter on goal juggling). Social support for what you are trying to do is also key.
In Fishbach’s analysis, goals are highly motivating, but to articulate them requires finesse. They should be abstract enough that it is inspiring, while also conveying action. So, for example, “exploring career opportunities” is less of a task than “reading job postings and submitting applications”, but more concrete than “being successful”.
I spoke to Fischbach this week that the UK has introduced a work-from-home order and with that I feel another slump in motivation. How, I ask rather needily, should people keep going when there is no end to the pandemic in sight. She is sympathetic. “We have been told that if you are vaccinated, if you put on the mask, you stay at home for a while, then everything will be fine. And things have gotten better, but not everything is right. ” It is extremely difficult to maintain motivation after a moving target, she adds.
In the book, she points out that we celebrate the beginning of something – for example, a job or a degree course – and then the end, such as graduation or the completion of a project, but never the middle. “It is during these ordinary times,” she writes, “that our enthusiasm and motivation are the most difficult to maintain.”
Instead of lamenting the lack of clarity about the future, the solution is to look at what has been achieved. For most people, she says, the fear of death has been replaced by an obsession with discomfort. “We have made a lot of progress, it’s just that there are setbacks. Think about how much adjustment you have already made. ”
When it comes to staying motivated, it may be better to give than to receive. Telling another person about how to deal with the pandemic can help, she says. “It often helps the person who gave their advice more than the person who received the advice,” she adds.
Loneliness is not only detrimental to mental health, but also reduces motivation, says Fishbach, who grew up in an Israeli Kibbutz. “We know that being socially connected is not only important for well-being. It also helps you to get up in the morning and do what you need to do. Many of the important goals we pursue are with another person or people. People become less active, less mobile, less intrigued to think when they are sitting alone. ”
But similarly, a focus on productivity can hurt motivation. “The treadmill of just being productive, productive, productive, lets you respond to emails instead of thinking about your priorities. Step back and think about your goals. What is the best way to get there? How do you fit in with other things you want to do and who helps you? ” There is a sweet spot between letting your mind wander and procrastinating.
When it comes to motivation and the mass phenomenon known as the Great Resignation, Fishbach is ambivalent about the lofty ambitions to find purpose in work. She believes that any lack of joy in what we do is due to “much more immediate” causes. “If it’s not fun to go to the office and I’m bored or lonely, I do not like my colleagues, the absence of immediate rewards.”
Surveys have long shown a mass dissatisfaction with work, she notes. “We know people are unhappy and it looks like they are doing something about it now. . . which can lead to people switching to what is really better for them. ” But we will only know if the next big survey of employee satisfaction shows that they did something to correct their unhappiness.
The problem is that when people plan a job move, Fishbach says, they usually place more weight on future salary and benefits than on the personal issues they do not like in their current job. “They say ‘[in] my next job, me [will] care less about doing something interesting with people I like than in my current job ‘. It goes back to this empathy gap, without realizing that the future self is going to be like the present self. ” They do not realize that what makes it difficult to evoke enthusiasm for the present work will also be true in the next role.
She is indecisive about the Great Resignation. A pessimistic prediction is that the people who change roles will find themselves just as unhappy in the future: “70 percent will tell us that they hate their job”. But if something really changed in people’s attitudes, future surveys will show that dissatisfaction has decreased.
And that will be good news for those whose new ambition is to move to a new job in 2022.