The Motivation Equation

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In The Procrastination Equation, Dr. Piers Steel tells us:

EXPECTANCY x VALUE / IMPULSIVENESS x DELAY And there it is: the Procrastination Equation—inspired by the common elements that determine when we procrastinate, and crafted together from the most deeply researched elements of social sciences’ strongest motivation theories. The Procrastination Equation accounts for every major finding for procrastination. As the deadline for any task gets pushed further into the future, Delay increases and our motivation to tackle the tasks decreases. Impulsiveness multiplies the effects of Delay, and so impulsive people feel the effects of time far less acutely, at least at first.”

Piers Steele is a leading research scientist in the field of procrastination. After analyzing hundreds of studies on motivation, he came up with the following equation.

Motivation = Expectancy x Value / Impulsiveness x Delay or M = E x V / I x D

  • Expectancy is your confidence or self-efficacy. You believe you can achieve it.
  • Value is your desire. You want it.
  • Impulsiveness is distractions. Piers Steel tells us: “without impulsiveness, there would be no such thing as chronic procrastination”.
  • Delay is how far away your goal is.

If we increase expectancy and/or value in the numerator we increase our motivation. To increase expectancy we can increase our skills or self-efficacy. To increase value we can imagine all the positive outcomes for our future selves days, weeks, months, or years from now.

If we decrease our impulsivity and/or delay in the denominator we increase our motivation. To reduce impulsivity we can execute a Pomodoro or deep work time block, use the 5-minute take off, turn off notifications on our phone or computer, or be creative before reactive. To reduce delay we can break our big goal up into tiny goals and make daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly progress.

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