If you want to get people to do the right thing, there is something special you will want to try. In fact, it’s pretty simple to motivate people with one simple trick.
The last week I’ve been watching my ex’s dog, Winston. He’s a good dog although he can get very protective and pushy.
My son Evan typically has two modes with him: praising him for being a good boy, or getting on him for being a bad boy. It started a conversation between us about motivation, but before I get into it, I want to look at what that kind of approach might look like for a person.
Then we can look at what it takes to motivate people with one simple trick.
Identity vs. Behavior
Imagine if I told you that you were a great cook. And then I told you that you were a terrible cook. Day in and day out I told you one or the other. I didn’t tell you what made you one or what made you the other. I simply gave you an identity that changed from day to day.
The problem is that we often use identity to define behavior. Instead of addressing a behavior – the cooking of a meal – we address the identity – you are a bad or good cook. The problem is behavior can change. It can improve, and that’s easy to accept.
But a constant change of identity is hard to deal with. It makes it challenging to know who we are or what behavior we must undertake to become who we want to be. What’s more, we’re all capable of good behavior, so when we undercut someone’s identity (you’re a bad cook) because of a single behavior (you cooked a meal I didn’t like), they can struggle to figure out how to improve. After all, if they are a bad cook, how can they make a good meal?
Instead, applying identity and behavior in the right way makes it easy to motivate people with one simple trick. And it’s super easy.
Positive Identity and Clear Behavior
If you want to motivate people you need to split your conversation into two groups: identify and behavior. First of all, always take opportunities where someone does something right to reinforce a positive identity. “This meal is delicious! You are a fantastic cook.” This creates an understanding in their mind of who they are and they will act in a way that reinforces their identity.
Secondly, when they do something that doesn’t match up, talk in terms of behavior, not identity. “You are fully capable of doing well in this class, but you didn’t study.”
With Evan and his dog, I explained it like this: he’s a good boy. That’s who is he. That’s his identity. When he’s not doing the right thing simply tell him “no”. He’s still a good boy; he just did something wrong.
One Simple Trick
If you want to motivate people with one simply trick, separate identity from behavior. When people do something well, assign an identity that something for them to own and ascribe too. Giving people a positive identity gives them something to shoot for.
For instance, if I believed I was a good citizen, I wouldn’t vandalize. That doesn’t fit with my identity. Reinforcing a positive identity causes people to adjust their behavior to fit.
Give people a good identity and talk about bad actions in terms of behavior. It’s a simple way to motivate people by helping them see themselves for what they can be.