Struggling to Get Motivated? Don't Ask for Advice--Give It

The simple, actionable idea is the exact opposite of the usual approach.

There's a lot of advice out there for the lazy and unmotivated: Take
baby steps! Set a timer! Enlist an accountability partner! But what if
the best way to tackle lack of motivation isn't to give any sort of
advice at all, but to ask for it instead?

That's the intriguing conclusion of a new article by a pair of
psychologists from Wharton and the University of Chicago highlighted
recently by Quartz's Leak Fessler (hat tip to the always fascinating
Marginal Revolution blog).

The unmotivated need more confidence, not more information.

The series of experiments from psychologists Lauren Eskreis-Winkler and
Ayelet Fishbach was based on a simple but powerful insight. Most times,
when people don't do what they should do, it's not from lack of
information. People don't keep smoking, after all, because they don't
know cigarettes will kill them. Nor do you fail to begin that big
project because you forgot the looming deadline.

Instead, the problem usually boils down to confidence. For one reason or
another, people don't believe they'll succeed, so they never get
started. Giving them advice, which means giving them information,
doesn't do anything to boost confidence. But what if you asked them for
advice instead?

No matter what type of struggling and unmotivated people Eskreis-Winkler
and Fishbach worked with, whether it was adults who couldn't get
themselves to save or lose weight, or kids struggling to succeed at
school, the same pattern held. Dishing out advice to those in a similar
situation boosted people's motivation. Here's the money paragraph from

Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach similarly found that 72 percent of
people struggling to save money said that giving advice motivated them
to save money more than receiving tips from experts at America Saves; 77
percent of adults struggling with anger management said they were more
motivated to control their temper after giving anger management advice
than they were after receiving advice from professional psychologists at
the American Psychological Association; and 72 percent of adults
struggling to lose weight said that giving weight loss advice made them
feel more confident about shedding pounds than did receiving advice from
a seasoned nutritionist at the Mayo Clinic.

These findings aren't just startling consistent; they're also startling
useful. No matter what area of life has you flummoxed, this study
suggests simply imagining yourself in the shoes of someone else with
similar problems and looking for solutions through that lens will do
more for your motivation than even the best pep talk or informational

Better decisions are just a little imagination away

And while Eskreis-Winkler and Fishbach's work looks pretty definitive,
they aren't the first psychologists to suggest that looking at your
problems as if they belonged to someone else is a powerful way to push
past mental roadblocks. An earlier study showed that people also make
wiser decisions when they pretend another person has their issues and
offer advice.

So next time you find yourself struggling to do something you know you
really should do (or the next time your employee is similarly
unmotivated) don't seek out advice, instead ask yourself (or your
employee) what someone else who found themselves in the same situation
should do. Psychology suggests that your confidence in handling the
problem will increase, and with it your motivation.

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