Motivating High Performance

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We all know what makes for good performance. What makes for good motivation?

Motivation is a mystery; it’s one of those words like “stress”, or “jubilation” that fall into a category called “nominalizations”. These are words that we use to describe something that is intangible, and only exists for those who experience it. You can’t put my motivation in a bucket, or in a chair. Sure, it’s real for me, but virtually impossible for me to [tangibly] share with you.

Other states, such as “jealousy”, “anger” or “disappointment” are only known to others by observation – these states are just interpretations of behavior…

So, what I consider stressful (or motivating) could be completely foreign (or meaningless) to you. We only know and understand nominalizations through observed behavior and interpretation. In other words, if I see her rubbing her eyes and sighing, I might conclude that she is stressed…but it could be fatigue, or eyestrain, or new contact lenses, or nothing at all. I can’t be sure of her state; I can’t be sure of her motivation. All I have is what I observe, and what I interpret. So, what I think is motivation might not be anywhere near what’s really going on. So, why would I want to influence motivation, when it is so undetermined, uncertain, and difficult to explain?


A good educator helps the student to understand the difference between discipline and regret – providing the training and tools that are needed for success.


Expectations, on the other hand, can be described, quantified, and measured. Perhaps that is a better place to start, when it comes to motivation. After all, I can’t see your feelings or know your state of mind (and I’m a sensitive guy – I even cried at “Zombieland”, because Woody Harrelson is an emotional performer). But expectations are crystal clear. Sales gurus will tell you that high expectations yield high results. This phenomenon is called “The Pygmalion Effect”, after the great play by George Bernard Shaw. That play was also the basis for the musical, “My Fair Lady” – the story of Eliza Doolittle’s transformation at the hands of Professor Henry Higgins.

Considering the Pygmailion effect: Is it true? I mean, if my expectations are high, does your motivation improve in some way? Perhaps expectations are the key to motivation…

What Henry Higgins did in Pygmalion was not so much about motivation as it was education. I’m not sure what motivates anybody, and sometimes my own motivations are a mystery (even to myself). But, I can say with certainty that if I know how to do something, and I know why I should do something, that I’m a lot closer to taking action and …DOING SOMETHING. A good educator helps the student to understand the difference between discipline and regret – providing the training and tools that are needed for success. Action is the evidence – the only evidence! – of motivation.
Action creates performance.

Meanwhile, On the Street Where You Live:

What Higgins did in “Pygmailion” was provide Eliza with the kind of education that helped her to see a new world for herself. (His motivation? It was a wager, and one that he came to regret!) She learned; she understood why; she knew that nothing would change if she didn’t try to overcome her circumstances. Higgins helped her to believe that she could change, although he had to overcome his own doubts in the process. Eliza took action, achieving what many thought was impossible. Her belief system, combined with the tools and training she needed, created a miraculous outcome. The ultimate result was a complete transformation for Eliza, from “common guttersnipe” to upper-crust society maven. She cast aside her humble beginnings and thick cockney accent to become “My Fair Lady”.

If you want to create great performance, don’t focus on motivation. Give people the power to excel through teaching and communication, clear expectations, and an understanding of “why?”.

Hopefully, this post has provided you with some excellent motivation … whatever the heck that is.

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