What Is Motivation? A True Story to Illustrate the Meaning

Posted by on April 22, 2017


What is motivation? It’s a question I have been asked so many times. I have been working in the field of motivation for 17 years now. It is not only my career it is my passion and something that I enjoy both educating and improving in others and also studying myself.

I feel driven to write this article due to what I see happening around me now on a daily basis. So many are suffering and feeling battered and bruised due to the incompetence and greed that now seems to govern our world. From self-serving politicians and the privileged few who seem to run our governments for personal gain to the large corporate machines that seem intent on fleecing every penny from us mere ‘common folk’ it can be hard just to keep yourself going.

In this series of articles I will endeavour to help you understand;

· What motivation is and the mechanics that drive our own motivation

· How we can ensure we are ‘Positively Motivated’

· How to overcome the barriers that can so often dampen and dilute our ‘positive’ motivation

I do this because I genuinely care, I do this because I know that your life, my life and everyone’s life can be so much more fulfilling and rewarding with only a few very simple little tweaks to the way we perceive ourselves and the world around us.

So ‘What is Motivation?’

Firstly ‘motivation’ is just a word, the dictionary definition is;



  • 1 a reason or reasons for doing something.
  • 2 desire to do something; enthusiasm.

The first definition ‘a reason to do something’ is the most accurate and concise definition. In all the years I have been working with individuals from a huge spectrum of backgrounds and professions it is so evident that we are always motivated. With every action and behaviour we give clues to our motives and what we are motivated by or to do. Even as you sit here now reading this you are motivated!

The point being that motivation is a constant, it drives everything we do and all of the results/outcomes we achieve. This is such an important point if you really want to understand motivation. So often people wrongly associate motivation with positive actions and positive results/outcomes however even when we are acting and behaving in a way that serves no tangible benefit to ourselves we are motivated to do so.

You see motivation is driven by our emotional state and how we perceive both ourselves and the world around us. Recently I have been working pro-bono with some long-term unemployed clients. My clients are genuinely intelligent, capable and competent individuals who have been caught in the centre of the economic storm that has engulfed nearly all of us in some way. One man in particular, I shall call him Adam for this article (an alias to protect his identity), is a good example of both positive and negative motivation.

Adam was a successful and driven professional. Until the end of 2009 he was a performing sales director in the printing industry. He played golf, had a nice company car, went on two holidays a year and lived a very comfortable life with his family. Then the business he had helped develop and grow got into financial trouble. They were performing and had a good client base and his sales team were performing well, however, the company had expanded in 2008 and borrowed the money from the bank to increase their production to meet demand. This debt eventually engulfed the business and the bank was unwilling to renegotiate their terms even considering the temporary difficult trading conditions. Sadly, and quite abruptly, in November 2009 the business was forced into insolvency. Adam lost his job.

I first met Adam just after he was made redundant. He came to an executive job club I had set up for one of my clients. My first impression of him was that he was hugely experienced, competent and very marketable. He was confident that he could find a new job quickly and looking at his C.V. I had to agree that he would be an excellent candidate for any business looking to improve their sales function. Adam was confident and positive and a joy to work with. He not only played an active role in the job club for himself but was excellent working with and advising some of the other members. Then one day he stopped coming. I heard nothing from Adam so assumed, understandably I am sure you will agree, that he had found another job.

I next encountered Adam in May 2011. To be honest I didn’t actually recognise him. He was a shadow of himself. He looked dishevelled, beaten up and brow beaten. His positive air and drive had deserted him and he now had an aura of cynicism that followed him into the room. We sat and talked and I saw such a difference from the person I first met just a few years before. Gone was his positive outlook and confidence. Gone was the smile and desire to help others and share his experiences. All of these positive attributes had been replaced with a bitterness that seemed to take over his whole being.

I share this story with you because it illustrates the good and bad of motivation. It shows how our perception of ourselves and the world around us directly impacts on our behaviours and our motivators that in turn impacts on the results we can, and do, achieve. You see Adam had stopped coming to the job club not because he had found a new job but because he had run out of time and money. The bank was trying to repossess his house and push him into bankruptcy. Adam stopped coming, as he later admitted, because he was ashamed of the situation he found himself in and genuinely believed that he could no longer be of assistance to the other members and the group as a whole (pride works in funny ways sometimes!).

The Adam of 2011 was, as I mentioned before, engulfed and overcome with bitterness. We sat and chatted for a couple of hours and I heard, sadly, what I here so often from those caught in similar situations. Adam unleashed a tirade of negative vitriol against what our society had become. He lambasted the banks and corporations for destroying the fabric and stability of our economy, he viciously attacked the government for their pandering to the banks and corporations whilst leaving the honest hard working individuals to suffer and lose their homes and their pride. He was, on face value, a changed man.

Now, I am not in any way criticising Adam. In fact I totally agree that we do live in an epoch where we, the people, play second fiddle to those in power as you will no doubt surmise from my opening gambit to this article. The problem was simple, what good was this doing for Adam? How was it serving him? And, most importantly for this article, how had it effected his motivation?

I asked Adam about his current job hunting activity. What was he doing to improve his situation? The answer I got is all too common in the present climate “Nothing, I gave that up months ago. I mean what’s the point! There are no jobs out there and definitely not for a 52 year old man like me. No-one wants a 52 year old working for them when they can have some young graduate at a much lower salary!”

NB: at this point I feel it important to point out that I encounter as many ‘young graduates’ who cannot find suitable work as I do people of Adam’s age. Age is definitely NOT a barrier unless YOU perceive it to be.

So, how does this illustrate what motivation is?

As I wrote earlier: ‘motivation is a reason for doing something’

Even if that ‘something’ is nothing! Adam, like so many, had allowed his situation and all of the negative/painful experiences to affect how he saw himself. His perception of himself had been muddied by the external influences and the reality of existing, and being directly caught up in, the most dramatic economic slump any of us have experienced in our lifetime. The impact of this had changed his motivation because it had changed his view of the world he lived in. Where prior to all of this happening he had looked out on the world and seen hope, opportunity and possibility he now only saw suffering, pain and anguish. Where before he was motivated to achieve and find solutions for both himself and his business now he was motivated to do nothing and to wallow. His actual driver for this change in motivation is extremely common (some of your reading this will see similarities in your own experiences) he, like all of us, was motivated to prove himself right!

Now, this is no different to when he was a performing sales director. He believed in himself and that he was a competent and high performing executive and his actions and behaviours enabled him to prove himself right by developing a successful career and sales team. However, with his change in how he now perceived himself, “a 52 year old man on the scrap heap of life” (NB: his words not mine) his actions and behaviours now followed again to prove himself right.

I worked with Adam for the next three weeks and he attended my course ‘Breaking your shell’. He started to realise what he was allowing to happen to himself and he started to take ownership of his own self-perception. Over those weeks he (the man I met in 2009) came back, he started to realise that actually he had a lot to offer any business, he was highly skilled and extremely capable. He could be a valuable asset to any business and he was both marketable and employable. He got a job after four weeks. Not because of our conversation, even though sometimes we all need a little subjective feedback to kick start our rehabilitation to what we truly are and can be, but because he remembered who he was. A good and capable man who finds solutions and delivers positive results and he went out and started to prove himself right.

So in conclusion the answer to ‘What is motivation?’ the answer is as simple as ‘the reason for doing something’. What I hope you get from reading this article is that it is up to you to decide what it is your do. My advice is simple, remember who you are, think about what you have done and can do and see yourself in the most positive way this will ensure you go on to prove yourself right.

I hope you find this article useful in some way.

Regards and good fortune,



Source by Richie Saunders

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