The Social Element in Motivation

As I launched my campaign to yet again run a 1/2 marathon and begin a training regiment that will involve early morning runs in the heart of winter, my wife encouraged me to join Method 360, an exercise class she’s been attending several times a week to strengthen her core and improve he overall fitness. 

She has, for lack of a better word, become hooked.  

So I joined.  After my 4th visit I could see that the owner/ instructor, Trish Gallen had nailed the recipe for motivation that Daniel Pink identified in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.


Autonomy – Mastery – Purpose


Autonomy: for every exercise Trish promotes, she has alternatives that do the same but give you an option based on your fitness level and as you fatigue. As a newbie who was fading fast during one of my first classes, Trish shared several options to all of us and we could select one during that circuit. It didn’t lessen the exercise but change was good.  Because I had choice, I couldn’t fail, I couldn’t quit and I couldn’t blame her for how crappy I felt!  The choice was there, I got to own the exercise and I took it.

Mastery: success is personal. It is in feeling you are improving and seeing results. In my first class, feeling lightheaded, I had to step out for 5 minutes while she carried on with the class. The next time I felt like vomiting at one point and my transition between exercise (15 seconds) was slow but I pushed through. by my 4th class I wasn’t the quickest and I wasn’t the most technically sound but I didn’t feel sick, and I didn’t stop. Additionally my form has improved as she isn’t assisting me as much anymore in adjusting my position.  I am gaining mastery!

Purpose: I’m getting older. Each year I run, I seem to get a whole new injury (calf, foot, achilles, etc). A diverse exercise class like this serves to improve many supporting muscles, thus making my running more efficient and less damaging. I exercise in order to run better, longer. My purpose is clear.

The elements are present to maintain my motivation; control, growing success, and a goal.

The structure of the classes surely meets the 3 points above but now that I know this, can’t I just do this all on my own?  No.  The one element not included here is that which ties them all together – Social, which in my opinion is critical.  Don’t confuse this with just being around other people who share a common goal and some rah-rah. Social is being human and all the “real” that comes with it. Trish and her instructors connect with those in class; sincerely. Its nothing they do intentionally, they just show their humanity by sharing their stories, making mistakes, they laugh at themselves, they’re open and transparent. Sure they know more than any in there about exercise but they listen, inquire and want to improve. It’s a connected experience.

As I reflect on this seemingly unconscious motivational approach I wonder how well we (learning professionals) do the same in our efforts to help people improve work performance?  
  • When formal course development is warranted are we involving the learners in the process?
  • Are we designing to “their” goals as well as that of the organization?
  • Is instruction encouraging and helping them see even incremental success? 
  • Is failure treated as a part of the learning process?
  • Are we offering alternatives to the traditional course model? Blended, performance support, coaching, mentoring, networking.


What about in the use of internal collaborative tools? 

  • Are certain behaviors being demanded or do people have the time and space to experiment and learn? 
  • Do they have a voice to express their concerns, fears, needs? 
  • Are business results noted and shared or are we caught up in counting likes and shares, uploads and views?  
  • Is the purpose clear? Is the tool helping them solve a problem specific to them?
  • Is Be Human a key component to adoption and use

You’ll know motivation is there when people fumble through the “exercise” of learning (or connecting), when they struggle, when they’re slow to start but keep coming back. You’ll know to keep encouraging and stay the course… they’re hooked.





Speaking of exercise I’d be remiss if I didn’t share that I run for charity.  Any donation amount (really, any!) will go a long way for me to help fellow Central New Yorkers and the Upstate Medical Foundation.  Check out my donation site and please spread the word and or give what you can.  Thank you!


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