The Mystery of Motivation

We previously introduced you to the Fogg Behavior Model, which can be used to understand and “decode” anyone’s behavior, including your own. Through this lens, we can start to understand why we do the things we do, and see how to make positive change to embrace a new lifestyle that’s not ruled by your nicotine addiction

As a reminder, the Fogg Behavior Model can be stated as an equation:

Behavior = Motivation x Ability x Prompt

This means that for any desired behavior to occur, three factors must come together at the same time: motivation to do the behavior, the ability to perform the behavior, and a prompt (or reminder) to do the behavior. 

It’s important to remember that motivation and ability exist on a spectrum. The amount you have of either depends on:

  • the behavior you want to perform
  • your general state of mind on that particular day
  • your environmental surroundings

Of the three factors in the behavior model, motivation is the most challenging to control or manipulate. Let’s take a closer look at the sources of motivation (and how they work) for clues to to understand why it’s so fickle.

Sources of Motivation

Motivation is defined as “a desire to do a specific behavior.” It comes from three types of sources:

  1. Yourself: This behavior is something you already want to do, like learning how to retile the bathroom yourself, or being more available for your kid’s extra curricular activities. (Or finally quitting nicotine for good.)
  2. Benefits or Punishments: You know you’ll be rewarded or punished for doing/not doing the behavior. Some refer to this as the “carrot or stick” metaphor. Paying taxes is an example; you don’t want to do it, but you do it anyways because the fines for not doing it can be devastating. (This one is at work with insurance premiums for nicotine users.)
  3. Context: This behavior aligns (or doesn’t align) with social norms, so you are expected to do (or not do) it because everyone else is. An example of this would be dropping $20 on raffle tickets at your kid’s school carnival, despite not originally planning to, because all the other parents did. (For tobacco chewers, the social stigma associated with spitting can be a motivating factor in abstaining.)

Of the three, motivation that comes from within (i.e. it’s something you naturally want to do) is always the most desirable and sustainable source. 

How Motivation Can Work For, or Against, You

Motivation is complex, because it can move you toward a desired behavior, or away from it. This can lead to a psychological tug-of-war.

For example, it is possible to have competing motivations moving you toward two different behaviors

Let’s say you’ve decided to start using a chewing tobacco alternative. On the one hand, you’re worried about experiencing symptoms of withdrawal. So, you’re attracted to nicotine alternative products because they allow you to wean yourself off of nicotine. On the other hand, you’re most interested in finding a healthy alternative to chewing tobacco, which means kicking tobacco and nicotine at the same time. You like both of these options, so they’re actually competing against each other and pulling you in two different directions towards two different behaviors.

It is also possible to have conflicting motivations surrounding the same behavior, which can even be a source of psychic pain. “I want to stop craving nicotine… but it really helps me stay focused.”

In either situation, the competing or conflicting motivations leave you feeling anxious and uncomfortable, or even scared and paralyzed from doing anything. This is what is happening on the days when you have low motivation and, mysteriously, can’t get anything done.

Unfortunately, there is no way to predict when these periods of low motivation will strike, or how long they will last). This is why you should never expect motivation alone to propel you to meaningful, long term change.

But if motivation won’t get you there, then what will? We’ll share that secret in our next post.