Are you born to be motivated?

Experts explain why we're driven and how to increase motivation

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What motivates you?

Social interaction in group exercise settings can be a vehicle of encouragement and motivation. (Los Angeles Times file photo)

Can motivation be in your wiring or is this learned behavior? According to experts, it's a little bit of both.

"We do have different temperaments and different personality styles when we're born, but research shows that clearly our behavior, personality and motivation can be shaped," said psychologist, business consultant and author Paul White. "If you think of the word 'motivate,' the root is 'motive' -- which is a reason to act. When we're trying to motivate someone we're trying to give them a reason to act."

White said there are two broad categories of motivation — proactive motivation, where you're trying to reach a goal, and fear-based motivation, when you're trying to avoid something.

"A lot of people are fear-based, where anxiety sort of drives their lives, and then there are other people who look beyond that and are more moving toward a goal or an achievement," White said.

Cognitive psychologist Shlomo Breznitz, who spent decades researching the brain and co-authored the book "Maximum Brainpower," said a chaotic or unpredictable environment can also shape a person's motivation habits.

"When the subject is an environment that is random and there is nothing that you can do in order to get something or avoid something, these subjects develop what is called 'learned helplessness,'" Breznitz said.

Another motivation killer, Breznitz said, is when you're used to having everything done for you.

"We have come across this often with those who had parents who were too helpful, so they become very passive and unmotivated," Breznitz said. "When there is this kind of overprotection in childhood, this can reduce the drive of that person."

How a person is raised and whether they have hope will also factor in to a person's drive, White said.

"People who are severely abused or neglected…they generally have learned to give up because they feel that since nobody responds, it doesn't matter what they do," he said.

And don't underestimate the power of perseverance, White said.

"People want to quit when they fail the first time or simply because they're afraid of failure," he said. "Doing something once isn't going to get you some kind of reward. The Olympics are a great example of this — these young people practice time and time again to succeed."

Here are some tips to motivate yourself and others:

For yourself: Write down your goal.

"Figure out what you're trying to accomplish, and ask, 'What actions can help me get there?'" White said. "And if you're having a hard time moving on this or fears get in the way, then break it into smaller actions, just starting with the goal."

For yourself: Get support.

"The word encouragement means 'with courage' — it's to come alongside and give somebody the courage to overcome their fears," White said. "Motivation is highly impacted by our relationships and our social network. That's why we run with someone in the morning vs. running on our own. You need somebody else in the mix — a support system. It's tough to sustain effort over a long period of time without somebody else there encouraging you."

For others: Don't offer too much praise.

"There is a lot to be said for being a little bit stingy with reinforcements," Breznitz said. "If you get it every time, it loses the value. We don't give a reward because someone behaved at dinner. That's like rewarding someone for inhaling or exhaling. It is the frequent event you can't reward you need to reward the outstanding event."

For everyone: Use an optimal level of challenge.

"We need the optimal level of challenge for the brain to stay in shape," Breznitz said. "Think about something that is too easy -- you become bored very quickly. If it's too hard you become frustrated and leave it. To encourage motivation the level of challenge has to be just right- not too hard and not too easy. It takes work to find the optimal level of challenge because it requires a lot of attention, but it is very effective."

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel

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