Setting a goal–and sticking to it–can be difficult for anyone. And whether you’re a scientist, business leader or Olympic athlete, when it comes to work goals, giving up is not an option because one’s career may depend on it. A new study examines how certain types of professionals sustain their motivation and enthusiasm over very long periods.
Motivation is defined as forces acting either on or within a person to initiate behaviour. The word is derived from the Latin term motivus (“a moving cause”), which suggests the activating properties of the processes involved in psychological motivation.
“People in contemporary economies seem to know that they should ‘think long term,’ when in fact they base their choices and behaviors primarily or even solely on short-term considerations,” wrote Barry, the Brownlee O. Currey Jr. Professor of Management at the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management in a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.
Barry and his co-author Thomas Bateman, of the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, write that long-term thinking is especially hard in American businesses because businesses are often pressed toward short-term success, even if that impedes on long-term planning or goals.
Also the authors wrote that there isn’t much research out there to help business leaders with long-term goals. “The motivational psychology behind long-term pursuits is markedly understudied. We seek to begin filling that gap.”
Psychologists study motivational forces to help explain observed changes in behaviour that occur in an individual. Thus, for example, the observation that a person is increasingly likely to open the refrigerator door to look for food as the number of hours since the last meal increases can be understood by invoking the concept of motivation. As the above example suggests, motivation is not typically measured directly but rather inferred as the result of behavioral changes in reaction to internal or external stimuli. It is also important to understand that motivation is primarily a performance variable. That is, the effects of changes in motivation are often temporary. An individual, highly motivated to perform a particular task because of a motivational change, may later show little interest for that task as a result of further change in motivation.