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Tomás, the founder and CEO of a small software company, was talking with John, his coach.

“I keep wondering what motivates me,” Tomás related. “I want to foster an environment where everyone feels safe and comfortable being open about what motivates them. Then, we can use that information as we plan out our work. But, I don’t know how to figure out what motivates me. Let alone help everyone else figure out what motivates them.”

“I applaud your intent,” John responded. “I love your plan to help everyone do motivating work. And, I understand how challenging discovering your core motivating factors can be. Would you like something to try?”

“Absolutely,” Tomás said emphatically.

1) Map your levels of motivation

A series of curves describing how one of my clients felt about their friends, family, and career over time“We’re going to draw your Life Map,” John explained. He went over to his whiteboard and drew a vertical line down the left edge. Then, he drew a horizontal line across the middle of the board.

“The top of the board represents complete motivation, while the bottom of the board represents utter lack of motivation.”

John stepped back, handed Tomás a red marker, and waved Tomás towards the whiteboard.

“Start at least fifteen years back. Further than that is fine, if you like. Draw the curve that represents your motivation at work over those fifteen years.” 

Tomás stood at the whiteboard for a moment, thinking, then started drawing. He went slowly at first, then sped up as he moved along. When he reached the right end of the whiteboard, he put the marker back and sat down.

“Don’t sit down yet,” John laughed. “You’re only getting started. Pick a different color marker, then draw a second curve. This one represents your motivation in your romantic relationships over this time.”

Tomás went back to the whiteboard. Picking up a green marker, he thought for a moment, then started drawing.

When he reached the end of the whiteboard, he again put down the marker. This time, however, he stayed at the whiteboard. He turned to John and asked, “Am I done now?”

“Nope,” John responded. “Select a third color and draw a curve describing your motivation relative to your family.”

Tomás grimaced as he turned back to the whiteboard. “This one has a lot more ups and downs,” he muttered as he picked up a blue marker and got to work.

When Tomás finished, he switched to a purple marker and walked back to the left edge of the whiteboard. “Now comes my motivation as it relates to my friends?” he inquired.

John nodded affirmatively. “Yes. Then you have a few more steps after that.”

Tomás drew his fourth curve and then stepped back. “So, what’s next?” he wondered.

2) Identify elements essential to your motivation

“Now, revisit every high point. What was going on? What made you feel so motivated? What was present that seems to have been essential to that motivation? Write or draw a few words or images that summarize the key factors.”

“What if I don’t know why I felt motivated?” Tomás asked.

“No worries. Record what you do know. You can flag it as needing further reflection, too.”

“OK,” Tomás replied. He picked up a black marker and got to work.

“Just two more steps,” John said when Tomás finished. “First, go through your low points and annotate them as well. Again, what was going on? Why did you feel so unmotivated? What crucial elements seem to have been missing? As you did for your high points, write or draw a few words or images that sum up those missing pieces.”

Tomás went back at it.

3) Group your essential elements however feels right

As Tomás annotated his last few low points, John glanced at his wall clock.

“We’re just about out of time, so you’ll need to do this last step for next time. Take these summarizing words from your high and low points and group them however makes sense. Don’t worry if you don’t understand why you’re grouping them the way you are. Just go with what your intuition tells you. Make sense?”

Tomás nodded. “It does.” He pulled out his phone. “I’ll just take some photos, so I don’t have to do this all over again.”

4) Notice how your motivation ebbs and flows

A series of curves describing how one of my clients felt about their friends, family, and career over time“I knew my motivation at work has ebbed and flowed,” Tomás observed as he put away his phone. “I had no idea how big the peaks and valleys have been, however. And, I’ve never considered my motivation in other areas of my life.”

“That’s why I had you graph all four,” John explained. “While our core motivation is often the same across all four aspects, it tends to show up differently with each of them.”

“I’m fascinated by the overlaps between areas,” Tomás commented. “Peaks in one area frequently are countered by valleys in others. I wonder whether I was focusing all my attention on the peaking area, so I didn’t have any left for the others?” 

Tomás studied his graph a bit longer. 

“Now that I see my life in this light, I’m not surprised that times I’ve felt most happy match up with times I’ve felt super motivated across each of these aspects.” His face lit up with excitement. “Hey—understanding what motivates me will allow me to engage those factors across all of my life,” he said enthusiastically.

“Exactly,” John agreed. “That’s a big reason I do this work. And that brings us back to what you mentioned at the beginning: planning your teams’ work to maximize their motivations.”

“Handy how that worked out, isn’t it,” Tomás laughed. 

“Indeed,” John agreed laughingly.

“OK if I use this process with my team?” Tomás asked.

“Absolutely,” John replied. 

“Thanks,” Tomás replied, rubbing his hands together. 

“I can’t wait to learn what motivates them,” he exclaimed as he stood up and went out the door.

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