carrot or stick motivationMany managers consider motivation as something employees have or don’t have. And when they don’t have it, the popular belief is that you can create it with the right incentives. But what if motivation is a skill that is learned and can be taught?

At its core, motivational theory supports that people are motivated by two factors – a need to maximize pleasure and minimize pain.  Over time people become conditioned to anticipate behaviors that help achieve success or prevent its loss. The same goes to pain. We learn behaviors that help us avoid harm or pain as well as escape it.

Some behaviors offer immediate gratification. Other behaviors produce results but it takes time to get the payoff. Regardless of the specific behavior, they become ingrained in our lives.  When an event triggers an emotion, the emotion triggers a behavior, and the behavior automatically triggers a response that typically rewards us in some way.

These behaviors became skills – life skills to help us get what we want and to avoid harm.  Motivation then is just not some abstract emotion but a series of skills that each of us develop. Like all skills some of us become proficient while others struggle.