When I ask people to explain the difference between knowledge and beliefs, I usually receive a confused stare like the head tilt a dog gives you when they don’t understand your commands. There is, however, a huge difference between the two concepts: Knowledge is information that can be tested and falsified by scientific inquiry and includes interpretations that can be replicated across different people and similar contexts. Beliefs, on the other hand, are personal understandings and ways of thinking that are experienced-based and unique.
Many beliefs, but not all, are based on phenomena that defy scientific clarification. By example, most people agree and scientific evidence supports the interpretation that life has both a beginning (birth) and end (death). However, despite this knowledge, 61 percent of Americans embrace the existence of vampires, werewolves, and zombies, or hold similar paranormal beliefs that lack evidentiary support. Herein lies the problem: People routinely embrace fiction, a dilemma that is quite troublesome when it comes to understanding the motivational beliefs about the self and others.
The belief vs. knowledge conundrum is widespread because most people only know and believe what they experience or what they are taught. When was the last time you were directly taught anything about motivation science? Probably never, unless you are one of my students! Your knowledge of motivation and the strategies you think work best were likely acquired by your individual experience using trial and error. For example, do you believe that by putting things off until the last minute that you can increase your productivity and efficiency because there is no time to waste? Have you ever worked as hard as you can for long time periods to meet deadlines, not stopping when you were fatigued or encountered obstacles? Do you deliberately avoid writing things down because you have a good memory and recording things is a waste of time for no apparent benefit? If you answered “yes” to any of the previous statements you may be harboring misconceptions about motivation. In other words, some of us believe anecdotes about motivation that are scientifically false. Thus, you may be approaching motivational challenges based on flawed premises, and you may be using strategies that simply do not work.
To avoid misguided interpretations, "Hack Your Motivation" will feature many of the motivational myths and misconceptions the public is most likely to embrace. Let's start by dispelling what arguably may be the most pervasive myth about motivation. The most common misconception is that there are motivated and unmotivated people. Have you ever heard someone blurt out, "I am just not that motivated," or, "I'm just not that type of person,” or “I'm afraid to try something new"? Of course, you have. These types of statements reveal that we are constantly in the business of making evaluations about the self and others. The trouble begins when we detect inconsistencies between how we see ourselves compared to the person we want to be, our perceptions of reality, and how we stack up against other people.
The disparity between what we expect of ourselves and others leads to false motivational inferences. When we observe behavior different from our own we tend to make incorrect causal conclusions about why the behavior exists. Humans have an innate interest or curiosity to figure out why things happen. Kids as young as two begin to ask “why” every 30 seconds, so when we see something happen we automatically trigger a need to understand why. If we observe somebody behaving unlike us, and do not approve of the behavior because of potential conflicts with personal experience and beliefs, then we may surmise the person is unmotivated.
Think of a spouse, sibling, friend, or child staying in their pajamas and watching TV, when you are going off to work at 7:00 am. We often think the person is unmotivated, but what it means is that the person is driven by a different set of standards and beliefs than our own. A value judgment is also taking place because if we construe that a person is unmotivated in comparison to ourselves, we feel a sense of psychological superiority or strength. Feeling superior is a great way to boost our egos and jump-start motivation. Subsequently, when we assess motivation differences based on a different set of values and beliefs, we tend to ascribe an unmotivated label on the person being evaluated. But in fact there is no such thing as being unmotivated. People are just motivated by different things, and motivation changes all the time.
Bottom line: If you want to hack your motivation, don't fall into the trap of believing that someone is unmotivated merely because they think differently than you!
Hoffman, B. (2015). Motivation for Learning & Performance. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. ISBN-13: 978-0128007792.