Organisations (and people) tend to grow in the direction of their positive images of the future, like a sunflower or heliotrope grows towards the sun. Our expectations of the future – and therefore of what we believe is possible – are constantly shaped by our conversations.
Repeated studies in sports psychology have shown that athletes who mentally rehearse success do better than those who don’t have a clear image of success, or who psych themselves out by imagining all the things that could go wrong.
Having a clear, compelling image of the desired future creates “towards” motivation. Of course, we also tend to move away from our fears and bad experiences. Moving “towards” what we want has some significant advantages over moving “away from” what we don’t want.
“Towards” and “Away-From” motivation contrasted:
If we know where we want to get to, we can correct our aim if circumstances knock us off course. “Away from”, by contrast, is not a direction and does not give us that “inner rudder”. If our main motivation for acting is to escape from unfavourable situations, we may end up further away from where we would really like to be.
“Away from” motivation leads to inconsistent results. If our motivation is 100% “away from”, it gets weaker the further away we get from what we are trying to escape from. After we are clear of the undesirable situation, we may have no motivation at all until the next crisis comes along. You may have worked in teams characterised by a reactive, “headless chicken” way of working, always fire-fighting some new crisis.
“Towards” motivation, on the other hand, stays constant and may even get stronger the nearer we get to our compelling goal.
Finally, “away from” motivation is stressful, because our thinking and conversation is dominated by the unpleasant situations or possible outcomes that we want to escape. The more motivated we are, the more stressed we feel. “Towards” motivation, by contrast, engenders positive emotions, because we are thinking and talking about where we want to get to. Even if our objective circumstances are unpleasant, our intersubjective reality, focused on our desired futures and the evidence in the present of that future beginning to happen, will produce uplifting emotions like hope, gratitude and excitement – which will lead to better results (see the research referenced in the next section).
It therefore makes sense to look for and talk about what is already working well and where we want to get to in the future.
Picture: Sunflower by ak_nemati at sxc.hu